Q: When Jesus died and the souls went to heaven, what happened to the people who died before? Did they go to heaven?

A: Good question, for we know that following Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, he opened the gates of heaven in order that we may enter and spend all eternity with him. As Catholics, we also profess and recognize the truth that Jesus personally went to visit the souls of our brothers and sisters who lived and died before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Jesus made heaven accessible not just for us who lived following his Resurrection and Ascension to the Father, but also for those who waited for Jesus’ arrival in human history.

Just think how grateful the faithful whose names we read in the Old Testament were when Jesus came for them? We have such great biblical giants like Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Elijah who placed their hope in the living God and now they would see him, Jesus the Christ.  The story of the faithful who lived before Jesus’ birth ends on an eternally happy note. Their hopes have been fulfilled by the same Jesus in which we place all hope.

Q: Does everyone have their own guardian angel, or do people share guardian angels?

A: The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines a guardian angel as an angel “assigned to protect and intercede for each person.” It seems to me the answer is in the One who assigns the angel and for what purpose the angel is assigned. God loves us more than we can know, and he also has at his disposal heavenly beings whom we cannot see or recognize with human eyes and ears. We should take great comfort that Jesus loves us so dearly that he will go through extraordinary means to guide us and to keep us safe. The Old Testament is full of stories for helping, or guardian angels. Even after the Church was established by Jesus Christ, we were aware of guardian angels.

Also, we believe that the guardian angel, by its very name, serves us as a guide and a guardian. That being said, we do not know whether or not each of us has only one or more than one guardian angel. As your bishop, I just ask you do not intentionally test their abilities, just be grateful for their presence. Guardian angels are a sure sign that we are never alone.

Q: Are Catholics who live in the United States presently being persecuted for their faith? If so, how?

A: This is a particularly timely question for as a bishop, as a leader in the Catholic Church, I have the ability to view the “larger picture” of the Church in our beloved country. Persecution comes in many forms and at times can even attempt to cloak its existence and its intention. For instance, the recent national health care initiative, while attempting to fulfill the right of health care available for all people, directly attacks the religious rights of all believers. Unfortunately, our concerns are going unheeded to the extent our government refuses to uphold its obligation to respect religious rights of religious believers.  Laws which violate our faith beliefs are a direct form of persecution. We also must remember that it is not just non-Catholics who persecute Catholics, but also Catholics who persecute Catholics. Unfortunately, we realize this is not altogether new for even the New Testament provides proof that this occurred in the early years of the Church.

I just attended meetings (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) in Baltimore  and was edified to witness firsthand the fraternal resolve we bishops possess to defend our religious freedom and to challenge the heavy burden placed on us fellow citizens by an unjust health care provision mandate. This mandate reduces freedom of religion to freedom of worship. To be a Catholic is not to be a “member of a club,” which meets every Sunday. In order to be truly free to exercise our faith is to be unfettered to live our faith 24/7. Religious freedom permits one to live his or her faith outside the box (church building).

Together let us celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ remains among us for he wishes all of us to go to heaven and has provided us with guardian angels to look over us. May our nation and its government preserve our religious freedom so that we may freely exercise Jesus’ invitation to “come and follow me.” How may our younger brothers and sisters follow Jesus?  Pope Francis has instructed that we should take to heart the following Beatitudes as we prepare for World Youth Day 2016, in Krakow, Poland: “Blessed are the poor in spirit. For theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. ... Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. ... Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Mt 5: 3, 8, 7).

May God bless you as we welcome this Advent Season of hope.

To “Ask the Bishop,” write Office of Christian Formation and Schools, P.O. Box 969, Steubenville, OH 43952, attention, Joseph M. Taylor, catechetical consultant and youth ministry coordinator, or email jtaylor@diosteub.org.