A while ago I posted a series of answers to some questions a student of mine had posted on this blog, and due to the intricacy of some of the questions I had decided to divide the Q&A into two parts. You can refresh your memory by visiting Part I of the questions here. Today, I'll be taking care of Part II of the questions. Hopefully there'll be something in there for you that you've always been curious about.
1.) Did the Mary the Mother of God remain a virgin right up to her assumption?
It is believed that Mary remained a virgin for the remainder of her earthly life. Many non-Catholic Christian denominations reject this notion, however, based on what is written in scripture, the Holy Bible. These non-Catholic Christians will maintain that Mary did not remain a virgin and indeed had other children as there are apparent references to the "brothers of Christ" or siblings of Jesus.
A couple of questions any sensible Christian would need to answer then, if they maintain that Mary did not remain a virgin and had other children, are these:
a.) If Mary had other children, then where were they or why weren't they mentioned when Jesus was lost for three days in Jerusalem at the temple during Passover (Luke 2:39-52)?
b.) When Jesus hung on the crucifix with Mary, his mother, and the "disciple whom he loved" (commonly accepted as John the apostle) and charged this disciple with the responsibility of taking Mary into his own home (John 19:26), if Mary had other children, then why wasn't this responsibility issued with them? If such children existed, then this would have been a grave offense as it was customary for Jewish parents to be taken into the homes of their own children.
c.) Why is Jesus referred to as "the son of Mary" and not "a son of Mary" in Mark 6:3?
Yes, "brothers" of Jesus are also mentioned in this passage (James, and Joseph, and Jude, and Simon; and sisters), but it may have also been the case that as Joseph was considerably older than Mary, he very well may have had children from a previous marriage; he may very well have been widowed. So any siblings of Jesus were likely to be step-brothers or step-sisters. They very well may as well have been cousins, but since there was no word in Hebrew or Aramic for "step-brother/sister" or "cousin", "kin" or "kinsfolk" would have been the word used to describe the relationship Jesus had with these others, and the use of the word "brothers/sisters" has been used errnigly.
2.) What does it mean to be Baptised, receive Communion, or to be Confirmed?
Let's start with the basics. The Oxford dictionary defines each of the above as:
Baptism: "the Christian rite of sprinkling a person with water or immersing them in it, symbolizing purification and admission to the Christian Church".
Baptism remits the baptised of Original Sin.
Communion (Holy Communion): "service of Christian worship at which bread and wine are consecrated and shared; the Eucharist".
Confirmation: "the rite at which a baptised person affirms their belief and is admitted as a full member of the Christian [Catholic] Church."
In the Catholic rite of Confirmation, the candidate receives the Holy Spirit in the same way the apostles and other followers of Christ did in the upper room on the feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). The gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to the candidate at Confirmation.
So in short, to be baptised means to be received in to the community of Church and to be remitted of Original Sin; to receive Communion is to share in the Eucharistic celebration; and to be Confirmed is for one to affirm their faith in the Catholic faith and receive the Holy Spirit.
Further information: http://www.catholicenquiry.com/faq/what-are-the-seven-sacraments.html
3.) What parts of the Bible talk about the gifts of the Holy Spirit?
1 Corinthians 12:1-14 (The Holy Spirit/charismatic gifts); Romans 12:6-8 (operative gifts); and Ephesians 4:11 (administrative gifts).
4.) What parts of the Bible talks about the love of God?
This is a very broad question and very difficult to answer with specificity; it is revealed to us in scripture that God loves us abundantly, and this is demonstrated from the beginning of the Old Testament to the end of the New Testament.
As you are aware, God desires that all His children be with Him and that all come to full repentance (2 Peter 3:9), but if I was to pick one verse from scripture that makes commentary on the breadth and depth of God's love for us all, it would be this:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." - John 3:16 (NAB)
There are other verses in the Bible I could point to but in fear of using up all the bandwidth available on the Internet telling you about how much God loves us, it might be easier to suggest that looking to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John would be the best place to start making attempt to comprehend of how much God truly loves every single one of us.
5.) How do our prayers effect/influence God's plan?
God definitely has a plan for each and every single one of us, and He, ultimately, wants us to take the path that will lead us to Him, but here's the thing: we have free will and sometimes we don't do as God desires and we may stray from that path. The good thing to know is that we can always get back on that path by centring ourselves on God and using prayer as a means to discover His will for us.
Can prayer change God's plan for us? In short, no it can't, as God knows what's best for us and He alone knows our heart's truest desires (1 Chronicles 28:9). In the end, what we think, do, or say in life determines how God's plan works in our lives; it all comes back to free will.
I've certainly experienced times in my own life where I've heard the voice of God stirring within me and being lead to do something. At times I've ignored it and rejected it quite violently. Now looking back I wish I hadn't because much hurt and pain came from that rejection of that stirring from within ("...Oh, that today you would hear his voice: Do not harden your hearts..." - Psalm 5:7-8).
The best thing we can do is to pray so that we may know God's plan. God answers all of our prayers, but we have to accept that the answer may be "no" on certain things and this is not necessarily a bad thing.
God knows best and by the grace of God we may grow to accept how His will works in our lives.
6.) How is Love, Hope and Faith defined in the Bible?
Can I suggest you read the following as a starting point?
Love: 1 Corinthians 13; Matthew 25:34-40; John 13:14-15; John 13:34-35; John 14:15; John 15:9; John 16:27; Hebrews 13:1-3.
Hope: 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Peter 1:13; 1 Peter 3:14-15; Galatians 5:5; Romans 15:13; Jeremiah 29:11-13.
Faith: Romans 4:3; Romans 5:1; 1 Corinthians 2:5; Ephesians 6:16; 2 Timothy 4:7; James 2:14-26; 1 Peter 1:9; John 14:1; Romans 10:4; 2 Timothy 1:13; Revelation 3:20.
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I hope these responses have been sufficient.