Catholics/Mark 16:17-18

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Question
Father, What is the Catholic take on Mark 16:17-18, (handling snakes, drink poison, etc ) ?

Answer
This is a very good question.

The position of the Church is the same as the position of Christ in regard to such matters.

Here is what Christ had to say to Satan when Satan said (in essence) the very same thing to him:

"It is also written: 'do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

Here is the correspondence between Jesus and the devil: (Matthew 4: 5-7)

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
   and they will lift you up in their hands,
   so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’"

7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

The Bible promises that God will indeed watch over us and protect us. It does not, however, follow that we should go out and pick up snakes, drink poison, throw ourselves off a cliff, etc.  Such things in and of themselves serve no purpose, except to force the hand of God.  God's hand will not be forced because we want to test his promises.

However, when God has a plan and a call for us and we are engaging in that call, then God protects us.  In the history of the Church, many saints were protected when engaging in God's work.  Monks tried to poison Saint Benedict but God spared him.  The Gospels note that Jesus himself was unable to be touched by those who wanted to kill him until the hour had come.  

When you read the book of Acts, you see that when Peter and Paul were engaging in ministry, God preserved them.  They still had to suffer and die for God, but this did not happen until God allowed it.  

God will indeed protect Christians from suffering and pain when they are engaging in the work of God. This does not, however entail that Christians will never have to face suffering and death.  It also does not entail that Christians should foolishly pick up things they know are harmful or drink poison.  

Catholics, therefore take a more balanced position on those texts than the extreme wing of the Pentecostals.  

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Father Dave Bechtel

Expertise

I am a Catholic priest in good standing and in active ministry in the Diocese of Scranton PA. I can answer most any question about the Catholic Faith, however my area of specialization is Systematic Theology. Systematic Theology is a branch of theology that focuses on the fundamental tenants of the Faith and the Dogmas of the Faith. I have specialization on the Reformation and Catholic vs. Protestant theology/issues and answering Protestant challenges to the Faith.

Experience

I was ordained in June of 2008. Since that time the thrust of my ministry has been specialized. In my first assignment I was an assistant pastor. A year later I was sent to work in education. I spent six (6) years in education and have now assumed my first pastorate. While education was the thrust of my ministry, nevertheless I continued to have a hand in parish ministry, hospital chaplaincy and prison chaplaincy. Now that I am out of education I will obviously be focusing more on parish work than specialized ministry. I have two years of formal Clinical Pastoral Education and prior to ordination I successfully pursued Board Certification for health care ministry through the NACC. My certification needs to be renewed and I plan to seek dual certification in health care ministry (NACC and APC) when I renew my certification. I have a breadth of experience working with Protestant ministers and collaborating with them to achieve the goals of hospital pastoral care and chaplaincy. These ministers run the spectrum from the liberal to the conservative.

Education/Credentials
Bachelors of Science-- University of Scranton PA Masters of Arts Theology--- Saint Mary's Seminary and University Baltimore MD Masters of Divinity--- Saint Charles Borremeo Seminary Philadelphia PA Board Certified Chaplain (up for renewal)

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