The Catholic Meaning of Good Friday

clock March 29, 2013 02:02 by author John |

The Crucifixion of Jesus of NazarethGood Friday is the solemn commemoration of the passion and death of Jesus Christ. This day is the most sorrowful of any day in the history of the world for Christians. Jesus, innocent and without sin, freely offered His life for the redemption of the sins of the entire world.

How is this possible? How can the sacrifice of one man be enough to redeem the gruesome sins of mankind? The sacrifice on the cross was the offering of God Himself. God, the almighty and infinite master of the universe made an infinite offering by His sacrifice on the cross. Our sins, though many and serious are finite. They are limited, though they are numerous. We cannot count them. They are too many, but God, knowing and seeing all knows all of our sins.

His sacrifice is an eternal one, by which we receive an eternal reward. By our sins beginning in the Garden of Eden and continuing throughout the history of humanity, we sentenced ourselves to separation from God for eternity. God is perfect, and through our sins, we blemished ourselves such that we could not be united with God in Heaven.

God, however, is compassionate and gave us a redemption from our sins. The death of Jesus on the Cross is the eternal sacrifice. It was "Christ reconciling the world to himself" (2 Cor. 5:19). Christ in His mercy opened the Gates of Heaven for us.

There are many who freely choose to reject this gift. There are also many who accept it. Regardless of our response to this offering of His life, the gift was generously offered for the redemption of all. This gift is the manifestation of perfect love. Jesus was innocent of all sin. He gave the most precious gift that anyone could give: His Life. For, as it says in the Gospel of John, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.” (John 15:13).

This is the day when that famous verse, quoted in all corners of the world, written on signs at sporting events, and written on the hearts of all mankind came to fulfillment. John 3:16 tells us, “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.”

Let us not forget this amazing gift. Let us not reject this gift whether outright or through our sinfulness. Our Lord spared no pain, retained no shred of human dignity. He was scourged, crowned with thorns, spat upon, made to carry a cross through the streets, filled with a hostile crowd, nailed to a cross and killed for our sins. There is no sacrifice we can make that can even compare to His. For though we suffer, we are sinful. Our Lord was perfect and was tortured and killed for us.

We must conform our lives to goodness. We must sacrifice the pleasures of sinfulness so that we may be united with Him in Heaven. For though He died to redeem our sins, we must still accept this gift in our lives. We must live for Christ.



Year of Faith Catechism Study: CCC 595-605, 619-622 – Jesus’ Death As Ransom for our Sins

clock December 20, 2012 01:02 by author John |

Today’s Catechism sections discuss Jesus’ death as a redemptive act in the plan of God. Supporting material comes from St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Summa Theologica”.

Paragraph 2. JESUS DIED CRUCIFIED

I. THE TRIAL OF JESUS

Divisions among the Jewish authorities concerning Jesus

595 Among the religious authorities of Jerusalem, not only were the Pharisee Nicodemus and the prominent Joseph of Arimathea both secret disciples of Jesus, but there was also long-standing dissension about him, so much so that St. John says of these authorities on the very eve of Christ's Passion, "many.. . believed in him", though very imperfectly.378 This is not surprising, if one recalls that on the day after Pentecost "a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith" and "some believers. . . belonged to the party of the Pharisees", to the point that St. James could tell St. Paul, "How many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed; and they are all zealous for the Law."379

596 The religious authorities in Jerusalem were not unanimous about what stance to take towards Jesus.380 The Pharisees threatened to excommunicate his followers.381 To those who feared that "everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation", the high priest Caiaphas replied by prophesying: "It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish."382 The Sanhedrin, having declared Jesus deserving of death as a blasphemer but having lost the right to put anyone to death, hands him over to the Romans, accusing him of political revolt, a charge that puts him in the same category as Barabbas who had been accused of sedition.383 The chief priests also threatened Pilate politically so that he would condemn Jesus to death.384

Jews are not collectively responsible for Jesus' death

597 The historical complexity of Jesus' trial is apparent in the Gospel accounts. The personal sin of the participants (Judas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate) is known to God alone. Hence we cannot lay responsibility for the trial on the Jews in Jerusalem as a whole, despite the outcry of a manipulated crowd and the global reproaches contained in the apostles' calls to conversion after Pentecost.385 Jesus himself, in forgiving them on the cross, and Peter in following suit, both accept "the ignorance" of the Jews of Jerusalem and even of their leaders.386 Still less can we extend responsibility to other Jews of different times and places, based merely on the crowd's cry: "His blood be on us and on our children!", a formula for ratifying a judicial sentence.387 As the Church declared at the Second Vatican Council: . . .

Neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his Passion. . . the Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from Holy Scripture.388

All sinners were the authors of Christ's Passion

598 In her Magisterial teaching of the faith and in the witness of her saints, the Church has never forgotten that "sinners were the authors and the ministers of all the sufferings that the divine Redeemer endured."389 Taking into account the fact that our sins affect Christ himself,390 The Church does not hesitate to impute to Christians the gravest responsibility for the torments inflicted upon Jesus, a responsibility with which they have all too often burdened the Jews alone:

We must regard as guilty all those who continue to relapse into their sins. Since our sins made the Lord Christ suffer the torment of the cross, those who plunge themselves into disorders and crimes crucify the Son of God anew in their hearts (for he is in them) and hold him up to contempt. And it can be seen that our crime in this case is greater in us than in the Jews. As for them, according to the witness of the Apostle, "None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." We, however, profess to know him. And when we deny him by our deeds, we in some way seem to lay violent hands on him.391

Nor did demons crucify him; it is you who have crucified him and crucify him still, when you delight in your vices and sins.392

II. CHRIST'S REDEMPTIVE DEATH IN GOD'S PLAN OF SALVATION

"Jesus handed over according to the definite plan of God"

599 Jesus' violent death was not the result of chance in an unfortunate coincidence of circumstances, but is part of the mystery of God's plan, as St. Peter explains to the Jews of Jerusalem in his first sermon on Pentecost: "This Jesus (was) delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God."393 This Biblical language does not mean that those who handed him over were merely passive players in a scenario written in advance by God.394

600 To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of "predestination", he includes in it each person's free response to his grace: "In this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place."395 For the sake of accomplishing his plan of salvation, God permitted the acts that flowed from their blindness.396
"He died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures"

601 The Scriptures had foretold this divine plan of salvation through the putting to death of "the righteous one, my Servant" as a mystery of universal redemption, that is, as the ransom that would free men from the slavery of sin.397 Citing a confession of faith that he himself had "received", St. Paul professes that "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures."398 In particular Jesus' redemptive death fulfills Isaiah's prophecy of the suffering Servant.399 Indeed Jesus himself explained the meaning of his life and death in the light of God's suffering Servant.400 After his Resurrection he gave this interpretation of the Scriptures to the disciples at Emmaus, and then to the apostles.401

"For our sake God made him to be sin"

602 Consequently, St. Peter can formulate the apostolic faith in the divine plan of salvation in this way: "You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers... with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake."402 Man's sins, following on original sin, are punishable by death.403 By sending his own Son in the form of a slave, in the form of a fallen humanity, on account of sin, God "made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."404

603 Jesus did not experience reprobation as if he himself had sinned.405 But in the redeeming love that always united him to the Father, he assumed us in the state of our waywardness of sin, to the point that he could say in our name from the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"406 Having thus established him in solidarity with us sinners, God "did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all", so that we might be "reconciled to God by the death of his Son".407

God takes the initiative of universal redeeming love

604 By giving up his own Son for our sins, God manifests that his plan for us is one of benevolent love, prior to any merit on our part: "In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins."408 God "shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us."409

605 At the end of the parable of the lost sheep Jesus recalled that God's love excludes no one: "So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish."410 He affirms that he came "to give his life as a ransom for many"; this last term is not restrictive, but contrasts the whole of humanity with the unique person of the redeemer who hands himself over to save us.411 The Church, following the apostles, teaches that Christ died for all men without exception: "There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer."412

IN BRIEF

619 "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures" (⇒ I Cor 15:3).

620 Our salvation flows from God's initiative of love for us, because "he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins" (⇒ I Jn 4:10). "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself" (⇒ 2 Cor 5:19).

621 Jesus freely offered himself for our salvation. Beforehand, during the Last Supper, he both symbolized this offering and made it really present: "This is my body which is given for you" (⇒ Lk 22:19).

622 The redemption won by Christ consists in this, that he came "to give his life as a ransom for many" (⇒ Mt 20:28), that is, he "loved [his own] to the end" (⇒ Jn 13:1), so that they might be "ransomed from the futile ways inherited from [their] fathers" (⇒ I Pt 1:18).

In his “Summa Theologica” (3, 49), St. Thomas Aquinas discusses how Christ’s death reconciled us with God.

Article 5. Whether Christ opened the gate of heaven to us by His Passion?

Objection 1. It would seem that Christ did not open the gate of heaven to us by His Passion. For it is written (Proverbs 11:18): "To him that soweth justice, there is a faithful reward." But the reward of justice is the entering into the kingdom of heaven. It seems, therefore, that the holy Fathers who wrought works of justice, obtained by faith the entering into the heavenly kingdom even without Christ's Passion. Consequently Christ's Passion is not the cause of the opening of the gate of the kingdom of heaven.

Objection 2. Further, Elias was caught up to heaven previous to Christ's Passion (2 Kings 2). But the effect never precedes the cause. Therefore it seems that the opening of heaven's gate is not the result of Christ's Passion.

Objection 3. Further, as it is written (Matthew 3:16), when Christ was baptized the heavens were opened to Him. But His baptism preceded the Passion. Consequently the opening of heaven is not the result of Christ's Passion.

Objection 4. Further, it is written (Micah 2:13): "For He shall go up that shall open the way before them." But to open the way to heaven seems to be nothing else than to throw open its gate. Therefore it seems that the gate of heaven was opened to us, not by Christ's Passion, but by His Ascension.

On the contrary, is the saying of the Apostle (Hebrews 10:19): "We have [Vulgate: 'having a'] confidence in the entering into the Holies"--that is, of the heavenly places--"through the blood of Christ."

I answer that, The shutting of the gate is the obstacle which hinders men from entering in. But it is on account of sin that men were prevented from entering into the heavenly kingdom, since, according to Isaiah 35:8: "It shall be called the holy way, and the unclean shall not pass over it." Now there is a twofold sin which prevents men from entering into the kingdom of heaven. The first is common to the whole race, for it is our first parents' sin, and by that sin heaven's entrance is closed to man. Hence we read in Genesis 3:24 that after our first parents' sin God "placed . . . cherubim and a flaming sword, turning every way, to keep the way of the tree of life." The other is the personal sin of each one of us, committed by our personal act.

Now by Christ's Passion we have been delivered not only from the common sin of the whole human race, both as to its guilt and as to the debt of punishment, for which He paid the penalty on our behalf; but, furthermore, from the personal sins of individuals, who share in His Passion by faith and charity and the sacraments of faith. Consequently, then the gate of heaven's kingdom is thrown open to us through Christ's Passion. This is precisely what the Apostle says (Hebrews 9:11-12): "Christ being come a high-priest of the good things to come . . . by His own blood entered once into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption." And this is foreshadowed (Numbers 35:25-28), where it is said that the slayer* "shall abide there"--that is to say, in the city of refuge--"until the death of the high-priest, that is anointed with the holy oil: but after he is dead, then shall he return home." [The Septuagint has 'slayer', the Vulgate, 'innocent'--i.e. the man who has slain 'without hatred and enmity'.]

Reply to Objection 1. The holy Fathers, by doing works of justice, merited to enter into the heavenly kingdom, through faith in Christ's Passion, according to Hebrews 11:33: The saints "by faith conquered kingdoms, wrought justice," and each of them was thereby cleansed from sin, so far as the cleansing of the individual is concerned. Nevertheless the faith and righteousness of no one of them sufficed for removing the barrier arising from the guilt of the whole human race: but this was removed at the cost of Christ's blood. Consequently, before Christ's Passion no one could enter the kingdom of heaven by obtaining everlasting beatitude, which consists in the full enjoyment of God.

Reply to Objection 2. Elias was taken up into the atmospheric heaven, but not in to the empyrean heaven, which is the abode of the saints: and likewise Enoch was translated into the earthly paradise, where he is believed to live with Elias until the coming of Antichrist.

Reply to Objection 3. As was stated above (Question 39, Article 5), the heavens were opened at Christ's baptism, not for Christ's sake, to whom heaven was ever open, but in order to signify that heaven is opened to the baptized, through Christ's baptism, which has its efficacy from His Passion.

Reply to Objection 4. Christ by His Passion merited for us the opening of the kingdom of heaven, and removed the obstacle; but by His ascension He, as it were, brought us to the possession of the heavenly kingdom. And consequently it is said that by ascending He "opened the way before them."

Footnotes

378 ⇒ Jn 12:42; cf. ⇒ 7:50; ⇒ 9:16-17; ⇒ 10:19-21; ⇒ 19:38-39.
379 ⇒ Acts 6:7; ⇒ 15:5; ⇒ 21:20.
380 cf. ⇒ Jn 9:16; ⇒ 10:19.
381 Cf ⇒ Jn 9:22.
382 ⇒ Jn 11:48-50.
383 Cf. ⇒ Mt 26:66; ⇒ Jn 18:31; ⇒ Lk 23:2, ⇒ 19.
384 Cf. ⇒ Jn 19:12, ⇒ 15, ⇒ 21.
385 Cf. ⇒ Mk 15:11; ⇒ Acts 2:23, ⇒ 36; ⇒ 3:13-14; ⇒ 4:10; ⇒ 5:30; ⇒ 7:52; ⇒ 10:39; ⇒ 13:27-28; ⇒ I Th 2:14-15.
386 Cf. ⇒ Lk 23:34; ⇒ Acts 3:17.
387 ⇒ Mt 27:25; cf. ⇒ Acts 5:28; ⇒ 18:6.
388 NA 4.
389 Roman Catechism I, 5, 11; cf. ⇒ Heb 12:3.
390 Cf. ⇒ Mt 25:45; ⇒ Acts 9:4-5.
391 Roman Catechism I, 5, 11; cf. ⇒ Heb 6:6; ⇒ 1 Cor 2:8.
392 St. Francis of Assisi, Admonitio 5, 3.
393 ⇒ Acts 2:23.
394 Cf. ⇒ Acts 3:13.
395 ⇒ Acts 4:27-28; cf. ⇒ Ps 2:1-2.
396 Cf. ⇒ Mt 26:54; ⇒ Jn 18:36; ⇒ 19:11; ⇒ Acts 3:17-18.
397 ⇒ Is 53:11; cf. ⇒ 53:12; ⇒ Jn 8 34-36; ⇒ Acts 3:14.
398 ⇒ 1 Cor 15:3; cf. also ⇒ Acts 3:18; ⇒ 7:52; ⇒ 13:29; ⇒ 26:22-23.
399 Cf. ⇒ Is 53:7-8 and ⇒ Acts 8:32-35.
400 Cf. ⇒ Mt 20:28.
401 Cf. ⇒ Lk 24:25-27, ⇒ 44-45.
402 I Pt 1:18-20.
403 Cf. ⇒ Rom 5:12; ⇒ I Cor 15:56.
404 ⇒ 2 Cor 5:21; cf. ⇒ Phil 2:7; ⇒ Rom 8:3.
405 Cf. ⇒ Jn 8:46.
406 ⇒ Mk 15:34; ⇒ Ps 22:2; cf. ⇒ Jn 8:29.
407 ⇒ Rom 8:32; ⇒ 5:10.
408 ⇒ I John 4:10; ⇒ 4:19.
409 ⇒ Rom 5:8.
410 ⇒ Mt 18:14.
411 ⇒ Mt 20:28; cf. ⇒ Rom 5:18-19.
412 Council of Quiercy (853): DS 624; cf. ⇒ 2 Cor 5:15; I ⇒ Jn 2:2[ETML:C/].



Indulgences - Definition and Meaning: God's Mercy Dispensed Through the Catholic Church

clock December 18, 2012 21:40 by author John |

This article is the fifth in a series on Purgatory:

Part 1: Introduction to the Catholic Understanding of Purgatory
Part 2: What is Purgatory Like? The Catholic Understanding of the Pains of Purification
Part 3: How to Avoid Purgatory: 8 Specific Ways to Reduce or Eliminate your Time in Purgatory
Part 4: How to Help the Poor Souls in Purgatory
Part 5: Indulgences - Definition and Meaning: God's Mercy Dispensed Through the Catholic Church

What are Indulgences?

The word indulgence comes from the Latin "indulgentia", meaning kind or tender. This word later came to mean the remission of tax, debt, or punishment. This is the meaning of the word in the Catholic Church as well. An indulgence is the remission of the temporal punishment due to sin. Even though sins are forgiven, they must be atoned for, since they do damage to our relationship with God, and they harm others. Though the relationship with God is restored and the guilt removed for sins through the Sacrament of Confession, we must still make amends for the harm that our sins have caused. We believe that this debt will be repaid either on Earth or in Purgatory after our judgment. Indulgences are a way for us to repay some (or all) of the debt we have accumulated for our sins. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1471) defines indulgences in this way:

"An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints."

"An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin." Indulgences may be applied to the living or the dead.

As I mentioned in a previous article on Purgatory, it may be helpful to call to mind an example to illustrate the difference between forgiveness of sins and atonement for sins. If Bob spreads rumors about Sally and then asks Sally for forgiveness, and she forgives him, then the relationship is restored. However, there is still a problem in that Sally's reputation has been harmed and people who heard the rumors may have an unfavorable opinion of Sally. Bob must do everything he can to repair Sally's reputation. Until her reputation is restored, justice has not been satisfied. Purgatory is the place where unfulfilled justice is dispensed by the All-Just God.

An indulgence is not the same thing as the Sacrament of Confession, nor does it have the same effect. Gaining an indulgence does not fix our relationship with God the same way a Sacramental confession does. Our sins cannot be forgiven by gaining an indulgence. An indulgence simply lessens or removes the punishment we would have in Purgatory. In fact, an indulgence can only be gained for yourself when you are in the state of grace - which is a result of Sacramental Confession. An indulgence is not a guarantee of avoiding Hell or Purgatory.

How can the Church Grant Indulgences?

In Matthew 16:19, our Lord says to Peter,

"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

This is the power of binding and loosing. It is an incredible responsibility that our Lord confers on the first Pope. The Church has utilized this power to lessen or remove temporal punishment in Purgatory.

The "Treasury" of the Church

Christ, in His suffering and death purchased for us superabundant merits which are "stored up" by the Church. To this "treasury" of merits is added those merits gained by the Blessed Mother in her trials and heartbreak, as well as those merits gained by the saints. This treasury cannot be depleted and the Church confers these merits upon us as an agent of Christ in carrying out His command to "bind and loose". These merits release the penitent from the debt he owes the Church and from the temporal punishment he owes God as a satisfaction of God's perfect justice. An indulgence is not a means of ignoring or subverting Divine Justice, but rather is a way of paying the penalty we owe. The Church does not "own" the treasury of merit, but is simply the administrator of it.

Universal, Local, Perpetual and Temporary Indulgences

A Universal indulgence can be gained anywhere in the world. Other indulgences are available only in certain jurisdictions such as a diocese, city or country. There are many indulgences that can be gained in Rome or Jerusalem.

Perpetual indulgences are valid at any time. Temporary indulgences are available only on certain days or within certain time periods. An example of this is an indulgence that is granted during Jubilee Years.

Partial vs. Plenary Indulgences

A partial indulgence is one that removes part of the temporal punishment owed by the penitent. A plenary indulgence removes all temporal punishment owed by the penitent. If a person receives a plenary indulgence and then immediately dies, they will go straight to Heaven without any Purgatorial suffering.

In times past, the Church would place a particular value on a partial indulgence, such as "100 days". This meant that by completing the requirements for the indulgence, the penitent had removed "100 days" of their suffering. This was not meant to be construed as a literal value relative to days on Earth. Instead, what this meant was that the suffering removed was equivalent with "100 days" of the ancient canonical penance, which consisted of prayer, good deeds, fasting and alms-giving. This was always a relative value in terms of earthly penance, not purgatorial time. The specific values are no longer given to partial indulgences. They are simply called "partial", and left to God to determine the actual remission.

Conditions for a Plenary Indulgence

In addition to performing the prescribed act of penance to which the plenary indulgence is attached, the penitent must have completed the following 4 requirements:

1. Sacramental confession,
2. Eucharistic Communion
3. Prayer for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff.
4. Complete detachment from all sin, including venial sin.

The first 3 conditions must be satisfied within a reasonable amount of time (20 days before or after the act of penance). This requirement used to be 8 days, but in the Jubilee Year, this requirement was relaxed to 20 days by the Apostolic Penitentiary. If any of these requirements is not fulfilled, then the plenary indulgence becomes a partial indulgence.

Some Common Indulgences

Here are some common indulgences that can be obtained at any time. To gain the plenary indulgence associated with each task, the above-mentioned conditions must be fulfilled. There are many more indulgences that can be gained in specific places or at specific times.

Reading of Sacred Scripture

A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who with the veneration due the divine word make a spiritual reading from Sacred Scripture. A plenary indulgence is granted, if this reading is continued for at least one half an hour.

Recitation of the Marian Rosary (Rosarii marialis recitatio)

A plenary indulgence is granted, if the Rosary is recited in a church or public oratory or in a family group, a religious Community or pious Association; a partial indulgence is granted in other circumstances.

"Now the Rosary is a certain formula of prayer, which is made up of fifteen decades of "Hail Marys" with an "Our Father" before each decade, and in which the recitation of each decade is accompanied by pious meditation on a particular mystery of our Redemption." (Roman Breviary)

There have been 5 more mysteries added to the rosary, which are the Luminous Mysteries since the publication of the Roman Breviary, bringing the total number of mysteries to 20. The name "Rosary," however, is commonly used in reference to only a set of 5 mysteries or decades focused on a certain theme: Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious, and Luminous.

The gaining of the plenary indulgence is regulated by the following norms:

1. The recitation of one set of 5 decades only of the Rosary suffices; but the five decades must be recited continuously.
2. The vocal recitation must be accompanied by pious meditation on the mysteries.
3. In public recitation the mysteries must be announced in the manner customary in the place; for private recitation, however, it suffices if the vocal recitation is accompanied by meditation on the mysteries.
4. For those belonging to the Oriental rites, amongst whom this devotion is not practiced, the Patriarchs can determine some other prayers in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary (for those of the Byzantine rite, for example, the Hymn "Akathistos" or the Office "Paraclisis"); to the prayers thus determined are accorded the same indulgences as for the Rosary

Exercise of the Way of the Cross

A plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful, who make the pious exercise of the Way of the Cross (Stations of the Cross). The gaining of the plenary indulgence is regulated by the following norms:

1. The pious exercise must be made before stations of the Way of the Cross legitimately erected. This is generally done by the local bishop at various parishes, cemeteries, or chapels around the diocese.
2. For the erection of the Way of the Cross fourteen crosses are required, to which it is customary to add fourteen pictures or images, which represent the stations of Jerusalem.
3. According to the more common practice, the pious exercise consists of fourteen pious readings, to which some vocal prayers are added. However, nothing more is required than a pious meditation on the Passion and Death of the Lord, which need not be a particular consideration of the individual mysteries of the stations.
4. A movement from one station to the next is required. But if the pious exercise is made publicly and if it is not possible for all taking part to go in an orderly way from station to station, it suffices if at least the one conducting the exercise goes from station to station, the others remaining in their place.

Those who are "impeded" can gain the same indulgence, if they spend at least one half an hour in pious reading and meditation on the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For those belonging to Oriental rites, amongst whom this pious exercise is not practiced, the respective Patriarchs can determine some other pious exercise in memory of the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ for the gaining of this indulgence.

Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament

A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who visit the Most Blessed Sacrament to adore it; a plenary indulgence is granted, if the visit lasts for at least one half an hour.
 



How to Avoid Purgatory: 8 Specific Ways to Reduce or Eliminate Your Time in Purgatory

clock December 10, 2012 09:42 by author John |

PurgatoryThis is the third article in a series on the Catholic understanding of Purgatory.

Part 1: Introduction to the Catholic Understanding of Purgatory
Part 2: What is Purgatory Like? The Catholic Understanding of the Pains of Purification
Part 3: How to Avoid Purgatory
Part 4: How to Help the Poor Souls in Purgatory
Part 5:
Indulgences - Definition and Meaning: The God's Mercy Dispensed Through the Catholic Church

Purgatory is the state in which we make reparation for all of our sins which have not been satisfactorily atoned for during our earthly life. The punishment of purgatory is avoidable to varying extents based on how we atone for our sins in this life. Indeed, it is even possible to remove all temporal punishment for our sins before we die and immediately join our Lord in Heaven upon our death. Not only is this possible, but it should be our goal.

How is it possible to reduce or eliminate the pains of purgatory? There are several ways, which when combined, practically assure us of removing most if not all of the debt we have incurred for our sins. If we strive to achieve all of these goals, we will certainly enjoy eternal reward at the moment of our death. I have listed 8 specific ways to avoid Purgatory.

1. Avoid Sin

The first and best way to avoid Purgatory is to avoid the thing that causes us to find ourselves there in the first place: Sin. This is an incredibly difficult proposition, and is not entirely possible, since we are imperfect creatures. We can reduce the number and severity of the sins we commit through concerted effort to live by the commandments and by asking for the assistance of Divine grace.

It is not possible to completely avoid venial sins. On the other hand, it is possible to totally eliminate mortal sin in our lives. If we die in a state of mortal sin, we will suffer eternal damnation in Hell. If we die with confessed mortal sin that we have not done sufficient penance for, we suffer the most severe punishment in purgatory. We must strive to eliminate all mortal sin in our lives.

The next most dreadful cause of Purgatorial suffering is venial sin that is committed deliberately. The only thing separating deliberate venial sins from mortal sins is the severity of the sin. Deliberate venial sins show callousness toward God’s law and the people harmed by those sins. Similarly, we must strive to eliminate lesser venial sins, because punishment will be given for them as well. While we cannot completely eliminate venial sins, we can drastically reduce their frequency in our lives by avoiding near occasions of sin and making better decisions when tempted. The graces given to us by the reception of the sacraments are very helpful in reforming our lives.

2. Do Penance

The second way to lessen our punishment in purgatory is to do penance. Penance most commonly involves fasting, prayer and almsgiving. The more healthy penance we are able to do in this life, the less punishment we will suffer in purgatory. We can make any unpleasant experience into a penance by offering our pain, discomfort, or stress to God.

Penance helps us in 2 ways. First, it repays the debt incurred by our sinfulness. It is believed that the penance we do while still alive will be easier than the penance required of us after death.  Secondly, it helps us to comprehend the severity of our sins and thereby focuses us on avoiding sin the next time we are tempted. Why not be proactive and make penance a part of our daily routine?

3. Embrace Suffering

The third means to avoid purgatorial punishment is to embrace our suffering. This does not necessarily mean we should seek it out, but we should accept the suffering that we cannot avoid and bear it without complaint. Everyone has to face many and varied sorrows and pains in life. These result from both physical pains as wells as emotional distress.

We all have our crosses to bear. These pains are God's greatest graces, which so many of us neglect to embrace and in doing so, lose many of the graces offered to us. They are an opportunity for us to share in Christ’s Passion in our own way, however small and dissimilar to the agony He endured for our salvation.

4. Receive the Eucharist Worthily and Confess Your Sins

The fourth method of reducing or eliminating our time in purgatory is by making frequent reception of the sacraments of Confession and Holy Eucharist. We should confess our sins on a regular basis, not just when we have a mortal sin on our soul. Frequently confessing our sins provides us with grace to avoid those sins in the future.

We should strive to receive the Eucharist every day at mass in order to receive the graces that it bestows upon us. These graces cleanse us of our venial sins and also dispose us to avoid evil. Attending daily mass is easier for some than others due to working schedules and the availability of the sacrament, but the more we receive the Eucharist, the more graces we receive from God to live in more perfect conformity with His Will for us.

5. Ask God Specifically to Save You from Purgatory

The fifth way to avoid purgatory is to specifically pray to God for that purpose. Asking God for the grace necessary to avoid purgatory and be happy with Him in Heaven is an especially powerful method. When asking for this grace, if we do so with faith and perseverance, we will receive it. We should therefore pray daily that God will free us from purgatory. We ask God for so many other things, why not ask Him for something as important as avoiding the fires of Purgatory?

6. Resign Yourself to Your Own Death

The sixth way to avoid purgatory is by resignation to death. Pope St. Pius X granted a plenary indulgence to those who after receiving the Holy Eucharist at the hour of death, say the following prayer: “Eternal Father, from this day forward, I accept with a joyful and resigned heart the death it will please You to send me, with all its pains and sufferings.” The usual conditions of course apply to this plenary indulgence: Confession, prayer for the intentions of the Pope, and detachment from all sin. What better way to exit this life than with a “Get out of Jail Free Card” for the punishments in Purgatory.

Beyond the obvious impact of the plenary indulgence, resignation to death is something we should be living with anyway, since we will more carefully consider our actions if the reality of our own death is always present in our consciousness.

7. Receive the Anointing of the Sick (Last Rights/Extreme Unction)

The seventh means of reducing our suffering in purgatory is to receive the anointing of the sick (also known as Last Rights or Extreme Unction). This sacrament prepares us to bypass the pains of purgatory and immediately enter Heaven. We must properly prepare for the sacrament so that we can receive it while we have full use of all of our faculties. We must understand exactly what we are receiving to obtain its full graces. This is why it is important that others know of our desire to have the Anointing of the Sick when the end of our life is in sight.

8. Gain Indulgences

The final means of avoiding Purgatory is to make use of the generous indulgences that the Catholic Church has made available to us. Indulgences are specific ways to directly reduce or remove our suffering in Purgatory. There are two types of indulgence: partial and plenary. Partial indulgences remove part of the suffering due for our sins in purgatory, while plenary indulgences remove all of our due suffering. We should strive to make use of these opportunities for grace before we face the punishment of purgatory. Indulgences will be covered in the 5th article in this series.

 

Other articles you may like:

How Often Should Catholics Go to Confession?

Matthew 10 and a Kick in the Pants for the Soldiers of the New Evangelization

Top 10 Emotional Reasons People Don't Go to Confession and Why You Should Consider it Anyway



What is Purgatory Like? The Catholic Understanding of the Pains of Purification

clock December 8, 2012 21:59 by author John |
Purgatory
The Trinity with the Holy Souls in Purgatory By Corrado Giaquinto

This article is the second in a series on the Catholic understanding of Purgatory.

Part 1: Introduction to the Catholic Understanding of Purgatory
Part 2: What is Purgatory Like? The Catholic Understanding of the Pains of Purification
Part 3: How to Avoid Purgatory: 8 Specific Ways to Reduce or Eliminate Your Time in Purgatory
Part 4: How to Help the Poor Souls in Purgatory
Part 5:
Indulgences - Definition and Meaning: The God's Mercy Dispensed Through the Catholic Church

Purgatory is a place of atonement for the sins we have committed throughout our lives, for which we have not yet been satisfactorily purified. It is also the means by which any lingering attachment to sin is broken after we have completed our earthly journey. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines Purgatory as “A state of final purification after death and before entrance into Heaven for those who died in God’s friendship, but were only imperfectly purified; a final cleansing of human imperfection before one is able to enter the joy of Heaven.”

How will this purification take place? There are two forms of atonement that will cleanse us of our impurities before we can enter Heaven. The first is the pain of loss and separation from the Beatific Vision. The second is the physical suffering of fire. In his "Summa Theologica", St. Thomas Aquinas describes these methods of purification:

“In Purgatory there will be a twofold pain; one will be the pain of loss, namely the delay of the divine vision, and the pain of sense, namely punishment by corporeal fire. With regard to both the least pain of Purgatory surpasses the greatest pain of this life. For the more a thing is desired the more painful is its absence. And since after this life the holy souls desire the Sovereign Good with the most intense longing--both because their longing is not held back by the weight of the body, and because, had there been no obstacle, they would already have gained the goal of enjoying the Sovereign Good--it follows that they grieve exceedingly for their delay.”

These torments are tempered only by the existence of hope within our consciousness. That glimmer of light distracting us from our anguish is the knowledge that our separation is only temporary. We know that all those in Purgatory will attain their release after their final debt has been satisfied. That thought is perhaps the only thing which separates the torments of Hell from those of Purgatory.

While hope sustains the souls in Purgatory, the source of that hope is also the source of their pains of separation. They in some way have received at least a small taste of the ultimate joy which is the experience of God’s loving embrace, whether that stems from their experiences on earth or at their particular judgment, for without knowing what they hope for, they cannot entertain hope. Without knowing what they are separated from, they cannot suffer the pain of longing for it.

The following excerpt explaining the punishment in purgatory is from the book, "Read Me or Rue it" by Fr. Paul O’Sullivan:

"How Comes it that the Pains of Purgatory are So Severe?

1. The fire we see on Earth was made by the goodness of God for our comfort and well-being. Still, when used as a torment, it is the most dreadful one we can imagine.

2. The fire of Purgatory, on the contrary, was made by the Justice of God to punish and purify us and is, therefore, incomparably more severe.

3. Our fire, at most, burns this gross body of ours, made of clay; whereas, the fire of Purgatory acts on the spiritual soul, which is unspeakably more sensitive to pain.

4. The more intense our fire is, the more speedily it destroys its victim, who therefore ceases to suffer; whereas, the fire of Purgatory inflicts the keenest, most violent pain, but never kills the soul nor lessens its sensibility.

5. Unsurpassingly severe as is the fire of Purgatory, the pain of loss or separation from God, which the souls also suffer in Purgatory, is far more severe. The soul separated from the body craves with all the intensity of its spiritual nature for God. It is consumed with an intense desire to fly to Him. Yet it is held back. No words can describe the anguish of this unsatisfied craving."

“Read Me or Rue it” is not an official Church document, and we are not bound to believe everything it says about Purgatory, however, the descriptions of Purgatory it contains are well-founded among the writings of the Church Fathers. Given these terrible images of the suffering in Purgatory, we must logically consider how we can avoid this punishment, and how we can help those who are subjected to it presently. These subjects will be discussed in the next 2 articles in this series.

Other articles you may like:

How to Make a Good Catholic Confession
What is Mortal Sin (The Catholic Definition)
What is Venial Sin (The Catholic Definition)
A World Without God is a Hell on Earth



What is All Souls Day? (The Catholic Meaning)

clock November 2, 2012 10:47 by author John |

All Souls DayAll Souls Day is a Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed

All Souls Day is a commemoration of all the souls who having faith in God departed this life and now suffer in Purgatory. The Church holds that souls who have died and have not been cleansed of the temporal punishment due to them as a result of their sins or who have retained attachment to sin cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven without first being sanctified. These souls can be helped toward the reward of Heaven through the prayer and sacrifices of the Church Militant, that is to say, the faithful who are still living in the world.

All Souls Day is not a Holy Day of Obligation (but You Should Go to Mass Anyway)

In the ordinary form of the Roman Rite, All Souls Day is celebrated on November 2nd. In the extraordinary form, the feast is normally on November 2nd, but if the 2nd falls on a Sunday, the feast is transferred to November 3rd. It is not a holy day of obligation, but you should go to mass anyway, since our prayers, (particularly the mass) are efficacious for the poor souls in Purgatory. Our prayers and sacrifices for them help them reach the reward of Heaven more expediently. Those souls in Purgatory, grateful for our aid will pray for us as well.

Origin of All Souls Day

All Souls Day was originally commemorated during the Easter season. The feast was moved to October by the 10th century and eventually St. Odilo of Cluny ordered that it be commemorated on November 2nd in every Benedictine monastery under his direction. Eventually all of the Benedictines and also the Carthusians followed suit. This was then adopted by the Church as a whole in the 13th century.

Indulgence for Visiting a Cemetery

In her mercy, the Church has established a plenary indulgence (removal of all the temporal punishment due for your sins) for visiting a cemetery between November 1 - November 8 and a partial indulgence the rest of the year. To obtain the plenary indulgence on November 1-November 8, you must meet the following conditions:

1. Visit a cemetery and pray for the departed (even if only mentally)
2. Receive Communion on the day in which the indulgence is to be gained
3. Make a sacramental Confession within a the week of the indulgence
4. Rid yourself of all attachment to sin
5. Pray for the intentions of the Pope (one Our Father and one Hail Mary) on the day in which the indulgence is to be gained

 

Articles you may like

What is Mortal Sin?

What is Venial Sin?

Litany for the Poor Souls in Purgatory

Offering of the Precious Blood (Prayer for the Souls in Purgatory)

Eternal Rest Prayer

 



The Story of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, the Apostle of Divine Mercy

clock October 4, 2012 22:12 by author John |

St. Maria Faustina Kowalska
St. Maria Faustina Kowalska

October 5th is the feast of St. Faustina, the Apostle of Divine Mercy. Saint Faustina's full professed name was Maria Faustina Kowalska. She was a member of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy and a mystic visionary, bringing the world the devotion of the Divine Mercy.

Maria Faustina was the third of ten children, born Helena Kowalska on August 25, 1905 in Glogowiec, Poland, which at the time was part of the Russian empire. Her family was poor and deeply religious. At the age of 7, she was in adoration before the Holy Eucharist and felt called to the religious life. Her parents however would not permit her to enter the convent when she concluded finishing school. She worked as a housekeeper to support herself and her parents. She approached her parents twice more, asking to join a convent, each time being denied.

At the age of 19, Faustina went to a dance in a park in a nearby town. At the dance, she had a vision of Jesus suffering. She quickly went to a church, where she was told by Jesus to leave for Warsaw and join a convent. She took a small bag with her on the 130 mile trip the next morning, leaving without her parent’s permission and with no connections in Warsaw.

She arrived in Warsaw and entered the first church she saw, (St. James’ church) and attended mass. She asked the priest, Father Dabrowski, for guidance, and he recommended staying with a local lady he trusted until she could enter a convent.

Faustina was denied entry to several convents in Warsaw because she was penniless and uneducated. Several weeks into her search for a convent that would accept her, she came to the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, where the Mother Superior offered to accept her as a lay sister if she could find a way to pay for her habit. As a lay sister she was unlikely to advance to higher levels in the order due to her lack of education. Her duties would primarily be housekeeping chores for the convent.

She worked as a house maid for a year to save up money, posting money at the convent throughout the year to satisfy her end of the agreement with the Mother Superior. On April 30, 1926, she received her habit and took the name of Maria Faustina of the Blessed Sacrament. In April 1928, she took her first vows as a nun, with her parents attending the ceremony.

From February to April 1929, she was sent to the convent in Wilno (Vilnius, in present day Lithuania) as a cook. She would later return there and meet Father Sopocko, who supported her mission. In May 1930, she was transferred to the convent in Plock, Poland for about 2 years. In the autumn of 1930, she contracted Tuberculosis and was sent away to rest at a form owned by the convent. Several months later, she recovered and returned to the convent in Plock.

On the night of Sunday February 22, 1931, while she was in her cell in Plock, Jesus appeared to her as the "King of Divine Mercy" dressed in a white garment, with rays of white and red light streaming from his heart. Jesus told her:

"Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: "Jesus, I trust in You". I desire that this image be venerated, first in your chapel, and then throughout the world. I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish."

Jesus also told her that he wanted the Divine Mercy image to be

"solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter; that Sunday is to be the Feast of Mercy."

Faustina did not know how to paint, so she asked for help from some of the other nuns in the convent, but they did not assist her. Faustina returned to Warsaw to prepare to take her final vows as a nun in November 1932. On May 1, 1933 she took her final vows in Lagiewniki and became a perpetual sister of Our Lady of Mercy. She then was sent to Vilnius again to work as the gardener. Shortly thereafter, she met Father Michael Sopocko, the confessor to the nuns, who was also a professor at Stefan Batory University.

During her first confession to Fr. Sopocko, she revealed her visions and Jesus’ instructions to her. Fr. Sopocko insisted that she undergo a psychiatric evaluation, which she passed without issue. Sopocko grew to trust in Faustina’s mission, and supported her. It was Fr. Sopocko who encouraged her to keep a diary of her visions and conversations with Jesus.  He also introduced her to the artist Eugene Kazimierowski, who was also a professor at Stefan Batory University. Kazimierowski finished the first rendition of the image we now know as the Divine Mercy Image in June 1934. Several other artists would reproduce the image, the most famous of which was created by Adolf Hyla.

Faustina predicted that her message would be suppressed for some time, stating in her diary on February 8, 1935:

There will come a time when this work, which God is demanding so very much, will be as though utterly undone. And then God will act with great power, which will give evidence of its authenticity. It will be a new splendor for the Church, although it has been dormant in it from long ago.

This did come to pass. The Vatican in 1959 suppressed her messages, but the suppression was lifted in 1978 by Pope John Paul II.

On Good Friday, April 19, 1935, Jesus told her that He wanted the Divine Mercy image publicly honored. On Friday, April 26, 1935, Fr. Sopocko delivered the first sermon on Divine Mercy, with Sr. Faustina in attendance. The first mass in which the Divine Mercy image was displayed was on April 28, 1935, which was the second Sunday after Easter.

On September 13, 1935, Faustina wrote about a vision in which she was given the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. In the vision, she received the purpose of the Chaplet, namely to obtain mercy, to trust in Christ’s mercy, and to show mercy to others. In November of 1935, Faustina created the rules for a new contemplative religious congregation devoted to the Divine Mercy. In December, she visited a house in Vilnius that she had seen in a vision as the first convent for the new congregation.

The next month, Faustina visited Archbishop Jałbrzykowski to discuss the new congregation, but he reminded her of her perpetual vows to the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. In March, 1936, after telling her superiors of her thoughts about leaving her order to found a new order, she was transferred to Waldenow, which is southwest of Warsaw.

The first Divine Mercy pamphlet, which contained the image was created by Fr. Sopocko and given an imprimatur by Archbishop Jałbrzykowski. Copies were sent to Faustina in Warsaw.

Later in 1936, she became ill with what is believed to be tuberculosis and she was moved to the sanatorium in Pradnik, Krakow. She prayed the chaplet frequently for the conversion of sinners and kept her diary for the remaining 2 years of her life. In August of 1937, Fr. Sopocko asked Faustina to write the instructions for the Novena of Divine Mercy, which she received in a vision from Jesus on Good Friday of 1937.

The message of Divine Mercy grew in 1937. That year, the first holy cards with the Divine Mercy image were created, a pamphlet was published entitled Christ, King of Mercy, and on November 10, 1937, Faustina’s Mother Superior showed her the booklets while Faustina lay in her bed, her health deteriorating. The booklets contained the novena, chaplet, and the Litany of Divine Mercy. Meanwhile, her visions became more intense and she could sense the end of her life was near. By June of 1938, she was so ill that she could no longer write.

In September, Fr. Sopocko visited her in the sanatorium, finding her in very poor health, but in ecstasy, praying. In September, she was transferred back home to Krakow as her end was near, where Fr. Sopocko visited her one last time in the convent. On October 5, 1938, Faustina made a final confession and died in Krakow. She was buried on October 7 and now rests at the Basilica of Divine Mercy in Krakow.

The Divine Mercy Devotion

Divine Mercy Image

In 1942 Archbishop Jałbrzykowski was arrested by the Nazis, but Father Sopocko and other professors went into hiding near Vilnius for about two years. Sopocko used his time in hiding to establish a new religious congregation devoted to the Divine Mercy. After the War, Sopocko wrote the constitution for the congregation and assisted in founding the Congregation of the Sisters of the Divine Mercy. By 1951, there were 150 Divine Mercy centers in Poland.

After Faustina died, her sister nuns sent her writings to the Vatican. Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani tried unsuccessfully to persuade Pope Pius XII to condemn the writings. In 1959 he included her writings on a list he submitted to the newly elected Pope John XXIII in 1959. The Pope signed the decree placing her work on the Index of Forbidden Books. The Vatican forbade the Divine Mercy devotion, and reprimanded Sopocko, suppressing all of his work. The Divine Mercy writings remained on the Index until it was abolished on June 14, 1966 by Pope Paul VI.

In 1965 Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow who would later become Pope John Paul II opened a new investigation. In 1967 he submitted some documents about Faustina to the Vatican, requesting the start of the process of her beatification. The case was accepted for review in 1968.

In 1977, just before he was elected as John Paul II, Wojtyla asked the Vatican to reconsider the ban on the Divine Mercy devotion. In April 1978, the Vatican lifted the ban, and identified misunderstandings created by a poor Italian translation of Kowalska's Diary. Afterward, the questionable material could not be correlated with the original because of difficulties stemming from World War II and the subsequent Communist era.

Faustina was beatified on April 18, 1993 and canonized on April 30, 2000 - the first saint in the 21st century. Divine Mercy Sunday is now celebrated on the Sunday after Easter.



What Are the 7 Corporal Works of Mercy? (The Catholic Meaning)

clock October 3, 2012 05:45 by author John |

"And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?" He said to them in reply, "Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise." - Luke 3:10-11

The 7 Corporal Works of Mercy are:

  1. To feed the hungry;
  2. To give drink to the thirsty;
  3. To clothe the naked;
  4. To harbor the harborless;
  5. To visit the sick;
  6. To ransom the captive;
  7. To bury the dead.

Faith calls us to follow the 10 Commandment, to receive the Sacraments, and to pray, but it also calls us to practice charity for our neighbors when they are in need. While we know that faith is essential for our salvation, we also know that we cannot be saved by faith alone. As we see in the Book of James:

"You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,' and he was called 'the friend of God.' See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone." - James 2:22-24

These works of Mercy are the more practical and visible ways to exercise our faith to those in need. The first and second of these works are closely related. In contemplating them, we ask ourselves, how often do we help provide for the needs of those who are hungry and thirsty? Do we help out at food pantries; do we donate food or money to buy food for the hungry? Our witness can be extremely powerful by giving "our daily bread" to those who so desperately need it.

We are called to give clothing to the naked. This thought should compel us to consider the excess of clothing that many of us have. How many pairs of shoes do we need? How many pairs of pants and shirts are really necessary for us? Is it possible for us to donate these excesses of ours in order to bring hope to those who need it?

The issue of homelessness is very prominent in our world. Imagine the pain of those who truly have nowhere to go. Are our doors open to those who are in need? Do we offer to take in the homeless? Do we give money to the many Catholic shelters that provide such crucial aid to those who are unable to provide for themselves?

We must visit the sick. In doing so, we uphold the dignity of the human person. Consider the feelings of those who spend so much time in hospitals and nursing homes without the comfort of those they love. How many of our elderly are permanently confined to stark building with little love or attention paid to them? We should freely choose to visit the shut-ins, the sick, and the lonely. We can be a great source of hope in their lives.

Now the sixth work of mercy will undoubtedly perplex many. How many captives do we know? People are not kidnapped in our presence very often. This particular act of mercy is always of some value to us, however. Consider those in places without the right to freely practice religion. The mere act of going to mass likely brings the threat of imprisonment. Do we offer any help to these destitute faithful? Do we offer or even investigate the options available to us in providing help to them? Do we even pray for them? Consider also the possibilities of visiting the imprisoned. Do we care for those in jail? Let us not forget those who are imprisoned, especially those who are held captive because of their love for God.

Finally, the last of the works of the corporal works of mercy urges us to bury the dead. Fortunately, in our society, burying the dead is normally done with the necessary respect. There are situations, however, where this respect is forgotten and we treat the dead with neglect. Consider the cases of cryogenic freezing in the hope of reviving them many years later. Clearly this does not show the proper respect for their bodies. Consider those who turn their loved ones ashes into diamonds or other types of jewelry or who scatter their ashes. Of course there is also the disrespect show to those who are aborted. They are thrown in the dumpster as medical waste. Let us always show due respect for the bodies of those who have gone before us.

In practicing these corporal works of mercy, just as with the spiritual works of mercy, we build up the dignity of the human person. These are opportunities for grace in our daily lives. In exercising the works of mercy, we truly follow the commands that Christ gave us:

"Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?' And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'" - Matthew 25:34-40



What are the 7 Spiritual Works of Mercy? (The Catholic Meaning)

clock October 2, 2012 05:30 by author John |

Mercy is a virtue. It compels us to alleviate the suffering of another. The Church presents us with 7 spiritual and 7 corporal works of mercy. These are ways in which we can practice charity to others and thus bring about tremendous good in the world. The practice of these works is required of all of us. These works are binding. Though it may not always be possible to practice them, as the situation does not present itself to perform these works at all times, we should always take the opportunities to live by these works when possible.

The 7 Spiritual Works of Mercy:

  1. To instruct the ignorant;
  2. To counsel the doubtful;
  3. To admonish sinners;
  4. To bear wrongs patiently;
  5. To forgive offenses willingly;
  6. To comfort the afflicted;
  7. To pray for the living and the dead.

The first work is to instruct the ignorant. By this we are called to instruct others in the faith. This involves teaching formally and dispelling misconceptions and fallacies when they arise. How often do we hear people speaking as if they had authority, only to spread false teachings about Christ and His Church? When these situations arise, we must spring to action. We must therefore, be informed about our faith so that we may properly teach it to those who do not yet know the fullness of the truth.

When we encounter those who are unsure of their faith, we must affirm them in it and help them grow. Everyone’s faith is tested, as that is the only way it can grow. Untested faith is a house of cards, waiting to collapse. Our faith must be tested in fire so that it may be strong. There are times, however, when that fire causes the faith to be soft and malleable on its way to solidifying. During these times when our loved ones are suffering loss, persecution, or anger, and their faith is in doubt, we must stand by them and offer show them the way. We must show them the ultimate source of strength, Jesus.

The third of these works of mercy is to admonish the sinner. This can be the most difficult to carry out. We know that sinfulness is a very secretive and explosive matter. The sinner frequently recognizes his sins, but is defensive about them. Neglect of this particular work of mercy has led to our society being so morally relativistic. If the truth is not made known, it will be forgotten. Though it may cause strife at times, we must bear this cross and carry on. We must tell people when they are sinning. They will likely counter with the line “Stop judging me!” Of course we should not judge others, but sins are committed in plain sight, and so they must be addressed. We must not make assumptions about sins that are implied or that might not have taken place, but we must inform people when they are blatantly sinning.

We must bear wrongs patiently. This is also a very difficult task. Our pride gets in the way. We must not be taken advantage of, says our ego. Truly, when others offend us, injure us, attack us, or undermine us, we are called to “Turn the other cheek”. We can do no better than to imitate Christ, the silent victim, who by His patient, courageous endurance of all forms of bodily and mental torture. He was beaten, insulted and killed, yet in His acceptance, He purchased our redemption. How marvelous would our reward be if we could just bear the slightest wrongs with joy and hope in our eternal reward?

Inseparably bound with the patient endurance of offenses, is the forgiveness of them. When our heart is filled with bitterness and grudges, we find no room for the love of Christ within it. Forgiveness requires heroic virtue at times. Mercy dictates that we forgive others’ faults and wrongs, even when it pains us greatly and gives us no temporal satisfaction. Heroism requires sacrifice. Sometimes the greatest heroism stems from the sacrifice of pride. Forgiveness is an eternal virtue, as we will find forgiveness after death to the degree that we showed it to others in this life.

There are times when all we can do is to give a thoughtful word to someone in pain or sorrow. We must comfort the afflicted. In doing so, we help others cope with difficulties. We build up the dignity of our brothers and sisters in Christ when we give them our time and comfort, for those who suffer, sometimes suffer the most painful of ordeals when they find no one who is willing to help them in their struggles. They find their dignity and self-worth crushed. Let us never leave a friend in misery without some heart-felt words or a loving embrace to lift them out of their affliction.

Finally, the greatest and most powerful form of mercy is prayer, for though we can provide physical and emotional aid to our neighbors, the Lord God can provide the greatest aid, which is spiritual. Our prayers are the most important form of mercy we can give. It shows our ultimate dedication to the alleviation of the burdens of others. Our private intercession for our neighbors and for the departed brings us little fame or admiration from others, but in the end, when we stand before God, we will be able to give an account of our prayerful mercy to others, and so Jesus will in turn show us mercy.

These works are not optional. They are indeed binding and necessary for our eternal salvation. We are called to be merciful. The opportunities are frequent and urgent. Let us not pass by the afflicted in their times of trial. Let us love others through these spiritual works so that through our sacrifice, we may bring others to the greatest joy, which is the vision of God in all His splendor in Heaven.



Tuesday Ear Tickler: Frank Schaeffer Rails Against Belief in Hell

clock September 25, 2012 01:09 by author John |

The Tuesday Ear Tickler award is Solemn Charge’s weekly recognition of teachers who “Tickle the Ears” of those who “no longer endure sound doctrine”. In the spirit of 2 Timothy 4 2-4, this award serves to identify theological or doctrinal errors, dissent or hostility toward the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, or writing that undermines the purpose of each human soul – to know love and serve God so as to enjoy eternal happiness with Him in Heaven. I make no judgment of the writer’s intentions. Usually the winner of this award was raised in the 60’s so that right there is a mitigating factor toward their culpability for their actions. I do judge concrete actions and the quality of ideas, however…

Today’s winner is Frank Schaeffer writing on the CNN DisBelief Blog. We have a special treat for this iteration of the Ear Tickler Award: a good ol’ fashioned Hell denier! Schaeffer's father was a prominent Evangelical Christian Theologian, Francis Schaeffer. The apple may not have fallen far from the tree, but it seems to have rolled quite a way in this case. Schaeffer lays out his case for disbelief in Hell… (Schaeffer’s comments in the red quote boxes, my comments in black, Jesus' comments in red font.)

My Faith: The dangerous effects of believing in hell

Is it any coincidence that the latest war of religion that started on September 11, 2001, is being fought primarily between the United States and the Islamic world? It just so happens that no subgroups of humanity are more ingrained with the doctrine of hell than conservative Muslims and conservative Christians.

I see, so we are already lumping faithful Christians in with Islamic terrorists. This seems a little over the line until you realize that Schaeffer is an Obama lackey and a “pro-life, pro-Obama” oxymoron apologist. You know, the Obama that thinks pro-lifers are a terrorist group.

So whether you're an atheist or not, the issue of who's going to hell or not matters because there are a lot of folks on this planet – many of them extraordinarily well-armed - from born-again American military personnel to Muslim fanatics, who seriously believe that God smiles upon them when they send their enemies to hell.

At first, I thought this was just a sarcastic remark. Then after reading the rest of the article, I have come to realize that Schaeffer is not well-read when it comes to the teachings on hell, justice, and mercy. I do realize that the 9/11 terrorists may have thought they were purchasing their eternal reward with their actions, but it seems a bit juvenile to plaster that belief on the people who are defending our country. A quick 5-minute look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church would have served him well before making such ridiculous comments. By the way, the issue of hell will be very important for all of us, with implications reaching far beyond the worldly ones.

And so my view of "hell" encompasses two things: First, the theological question about whether a land of eternal suffering exists as God's "great plan" for most of humanity.

“God’s great plan for most of humanity”? These are the kinds of statements that reveal his lack of understanding of the subject matter. God’s plan for us is to know, love and serve Him in this life so that we can enjoy the rewards of our actions in Heaven. Hell is a choice some of us make. God doesn’t plan on any of us going to hell. He does however give us the choice to love Him and our neighbors. If we reject that choice, in the end, God is just giving us what we wanted when we rejected Him. Heaven is the joy of eternity with God. The eternity of sadness due to the separation from God is the part of hell that frightens me more than any temporal pains from fire.

Second, the question of the political implications of having a huge chunk of humanity believe in damnation for those who disagree with their theology, politics and culture, as if somehow simply killing one's enemies is not enough.

While there are many that believe this, it seems to me that a well-educated Christian would come to the conclusion, as the Catholic Church has, that God doesn’t damn people to hell because they don't hold a theological point or two. Damnation is a consequence of our pride and rejection of God’s grace.

Since Christianity is my tradition, I can say more about it. One view of God - the more fundamentalist view - is of a retributive God just itching to punish those who "stray."

Again, this is a shallow view.

The other equally ancient view, going right back into the New Testament era, is of an all-forgiving God who in the person of Jesus Christ ended the era of scapegoat sacrifice, retribution and punishment forever.

As Jesus said on the cross: "Forgive them for they know not what they do."

What Schaeffer is missing here is the fact that forgiveness must be sought out. God does not bestow forgiveness on any and every person regardless of their disposition toward Him. It is true that God forgives people no matter how severe their sins, but we must first humble ourselves to seek that forgiveness. It’s the humbling ourselves part that many cannot bring themselves to.

While Jesus did seek forgiveness for the people crucifying Him, he also said:

Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me. "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Matthew 18:4-6

That doesn’t sound all-forgiving to me. How about you?

That redemptive view holds that far from God being a retributive God seeking justice, God is a merciful father who loves all his children equally. This is the less-known view today because fundamentalists - through televangelists and others - have been so loud and dominant in North American culture.

Schaeffer doesn’t want a merciful father. He wants a non-confrontational grandfather who just gives his grandkids candy and a few dollars every time he sees them. A loving father disciplines His children so that they will develop virtue and love Him for giving them life, character and knowledge of good and evil. If your child runs into the street do you reward him or punish him? A loving father punishes appropriately so that the child learns from making mistakes.

But for all that, this redemptive view is no less real.

Why does our view of hell matter? Because believers in hell believe in revenge. And according to brain chemistry studies, taking revenge and nurturing resentment is a major source of life-destroying stress.

“Believers in hell believe in revenge”. How do you like that for a blanket statement? I believe in hell, but I also believe that revenge is a great way to reject God’s will for us to “love our enemies”. Revenge is a sure path to hell for the one executing the revenge. A principled person also believes in self-defense, which is what the United States is doing against those who seek to wipe us off the map.

We need “hell” like a hole in the head. It’s time for the alternative of empathetic merciful religion to be understood.

We need Schaeffer’s shallow views on hell like we need a hole in the head. Allow me to make this very clear. Hell is a choice. No one goes to hell by accident. If you end up there, it is because you rejected God and His mercy. While God is merciful, he is also just. By denying the existence of hell, you are denying God’s infinite justice. It wouldn’t make sense for all of the runners in a race to win the Olympic gold medal, no matter how slow they ran. Likewise, it wouldn’t make sense for God to award the eternal joy of Heaven to those who don’t want it or have forsaken the love of God for the instant gratification and fleeting fun of a depraved life. It would make even less sense for the reward of Heaven to be indiscriminately given to those who would live in disregard or contempt for the moral law and reject the many graces given to them to help them turn back to God.

The dangerous part about what Schaeffer spews here is that it nullifies the struggle each of us makes against evil within our own souls. If we don't believe in hell, then there is no way we can believe in Heaven either. How could a just God allow one without the other? What happens after we die? Do we all go to heaven? If so, then why should I struggle to do good if doing evil will get me the same reward? Why not have some carnal fun in the process? If there is no hell, why not just dispatch everyone that doesn't agree with me? Has Schaeffer really not thought about these questions? Or is he just trying to sell a book with a sensationalist article to get attention?

I hereby award the Tuesday Ear Tickler Award to Frank Schaeffer for Tuesday, September 25, 2012.