The Catholic Meaning of Ash Wednesday

clock February 13, 2013 05:22 by author John |

Ash WednesdayIt always makes me cringe when I have to explain to my non-Catholic (and many times even the Catholic ones) why I receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. It isn’t that I don’t like talking about my faith. It isn’t that people don’t respect my faith. The problem is that people are too comfortable. The ideas that Ash Wednesday calls to mind are so foreign – austere, morbid and penitential. These are all things that modern people and Americans particularly are not eager to talk about.

Ash Wednesday is a solemn reminder of our mortality, our short life, and our impending death. The question invariably is a simple one. “Why”?  Why do we want to think about our death? Why not just live for today and be happy? The answer is as simple as the question. We must think of our death because we do not know when it will be.

We must not let the affairs of this world overshadow the realities of the next. Whatever we do on earth will be forgotten by future generations. This thought should temper our pride and help us to focus on what is important. The words of Ecclesiastes 1:3-4 bring this reality home: “What profit has man from all the labor which he toils at under the sun? One generation passes and another comes, but the world forever stays.” Matthew 24:44 exhorts us to remember that we do not know when we will die: ‘So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

The imposition of Ashes upon our foreheads reminds us of our fleeting existence on earth: “Remember that thou art dust and to dust thou shall return”. The use of ashes was a symbol of grief, humility, and despair in the Old Testament. In Jeremiah, 6:26, sackcloth and ashes are used as a sign of mourning:  “O daughter of my people, gird on sackcloth, roll in the ashes. Mourn as for an only child with bitter wailing, For sudden upon us comes the destroyer.” 2 Samuel 13:19 brings us the use of ashes as a sign of sadness: “Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long tunic in which she was clothed. Then, putting her hands to her head, she went away crying loudly.”

Ash Wednesday brings us a second reality that we must acknowledge, which is our judgment before God when our earthly life is over. We must always be prepared for it, get our affairs in order, and clear our souls of the sinful baggage we haul around with us. If we are clinging to sin when we meet our death, then we must answer for it at our judgment.  Hebrews 9:27 reminds us: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment”. Wisdom 4:20 tells us: “They shall come with fear at the thought of their sins, and their iniquities shall stand against them to convict them.”

Ash Wednesday is a mandatory day of fasting and abstinence according to the laws of the Church. Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 are obliged to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The Guidelines for fasting are that we are allowed one normal meal and two smaller meals, which when added together are smaller than a normal meal. Snacks are not permitted, but beverages are permitted unless they are filling or constitute a meal like a shake. In addition, all Catholics 14 years old and older must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all the Fridays of Lent. Fish and meat products such as milk or eggs are permitted.

Fasting and abstinence, like the Lenten sacrifices that we are called to do help us order our priorities toward God. We give up things that we like so that we can remember what is truly important: God. Fasting and abstinence also help us build our resolve against sin by practicing deprivation of things that we enjoy. By saying no to meat or regulating our diet, we help control our urges, strengthening our will.

Finally, Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent. During this season, we keep our sins always in mind, remembering the tremendous cost of our rejection of God through these sins. We look ahead to Good Friday and the passion of Our Lord, which was brought about by the sins of the word, including our own. Jesus was tortured and killed because of our sinfulness. This should cause us to make a firm resolution to avoid sin.


Year of Faith Catechism Study: CCC 1038-1041, 1059 – The Last Judgment

clock February 12, 2013 01:02 by author John |

Today’s Catechism sections discuss the last judgment. Supporting material comes from St. Augustine’s “City of God”.

V. The Last Judgment

1038 The resurrection of all the dead, "of both the just and the unjust,"621 will precede the Last Judgment. This will be "the hour when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son of man's] voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment."622 Then Christ will come "in his glory, and all the angels with him .... Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.... and they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."623

1039 In the presence of Christ, who is Truth itself, the truth of each man's relationship with God will be laid bare.624 The Last Judgment will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life:

All that the wicked do is recorded, and they do not know. When "our God comes, he does not keep silence.". . . he will turn towards those at his left hand: . . . "I placed my poor little ones on earth for you. I as their head was seated in heaven at the right hand of my Father - but on earth my members were suffering, my members on earth were in need. If you gave anything to my members, what you gave would reach their Head. Would that you had known that my little ones were in need when I placed them on earth for you and appointed them your stewards to bring your good works into my treasury. But you have placed nothing in their hands; therefore you have found nothing in my presence."625

1040 The Last Judgment will come when Christ returns in glory. Only the Father knows the day and the hour; only he determines the moment of its coming. Then through his Son Jesus Christ he will pronounce the final word on all history. We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvellous ways by which his Providence led everything towards its final end. The Last Judgment will reveal that God's justice triumphs over all the injustices committed by his creatures and that God's love is stronger than death.626

1041 The message of the Last Judgment calls men to conversion while God is still giving them "the acceptable time, . . . the day of salvation."627 It inspires a holy fear of God and commits them to the justice of the Kingdom of God. It proclaims the "blessed hope" of the Lord's return, when he will come "to be glorified in his saints, and to be marvelled at in all who have believed."628


1059 "The holy Roman Church firmly believes and confesses that on the Day of Judgment all men will appear in their own bodies before Christ's tribunal to render an account of their own deeds" (Council of Lyons II [1274]: DS 859; cf. DS 1549).

St. Augustine in “City of God” (20, 3) discusses the Last Judgment.

Solomon, the wisest king of Israel, who reigned in Jerusalem, thus commences the book called Ecclesiastes, which the Jews number among their canonical Scriptures: Vanity of vanities, said Ecclesiastes, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit has a man of all his labor which he has taken under the sun? And after going on to enumerate, with this as his text, the calamities and delusions of this life, and the shifting nature of the present time, in which there is nothing substantial, nothing lasting, he bewails, among the other vanities that are under the sun, this also, that though wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness, and though the eyes of the wise man are in his head, while the fool walks in darkness, Ecclesiastes 2:13-14 yet one event happens to them all, that is to say, in this life under the sun, unquestionably alluding to those evils which we see befall good and bad men alike. He says, further, that the good suffer the ills of life as if they were evil doers, and the bad enjoy the good of life as if they were good. There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there be just men unto whom it happens according to the work of the wicked: again, there be wicked men, to whom it happens according to the work of the righteous. I said, that this also is vanity. Ecclesiastes 8:14 This wisest man devoted this whole book to a full exposure of this vanity, evidently with no other object than that we might long for that life in which there is no vanity under the sun, but verity under Him who made the sun. In this vanity, then, was it not by the just and righteous judgment of God that man, made like to vanity, was destined to pass away? But in these days of vanity it makes an important difference whether he resists or yields to the truth, and whether he is destitute of true piety or a partaker of it—important not so far as regards the acquirement of the blessings or the evasion of the calamities of this transitory and vain life, but in connection with the future judgment which shall make over to good men good things, and to bad men bad things, in permanent, inalienable possession. In fine, this wise man concludes this book of his by saying, Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is every man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every despised person, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 What truer, terser, more salutary enouncement could be made? Fear God, he says, and keep His commandments: for this is every man. For whosoever has real existence, is this, is a keeper of God's commandments; and he who is not this, is nothing. For so long as he remains in the likeness of vanity, he is not renewed in the image of the truth. For God shall bring into judgment every work,— that is, whatever man does in this life—whether it be good or whether it be evil, with every despised person,— that is, with every man who here seems despicable, and is therefore not considered; for God sees even him and does not despise him nor pass him over in His judgment.


621 ⇒ Acts 24:15.
622 ⇒ Jn 5:28-29.
623 ⇒ Mt 25:31, ⇒ 32, ⇒ 46.
624 Cf. ⇒ Jn 12:49.
625 St. Augustine, Sermo 18, 4: PL 38, 130-131; cf. ⇒ Ps 50:3.
626 Cf. ⇒ Song 8:6.
627 ⇒ 2 Cor 6:2.
628 ⇒ Titus 2:13; ⇒ 2 Thess 1:10.

Year of Faith Catechism Study: CCC 675-679, 682 – The Second Coming and Judgment

clock December 30, 2012 01:02 by author John |

Today’s Catechism sections explore the Second Coming and the Judgment of the living and the dead. Supporting material comes from St. Clement of Rome.

The Church's ultimate trial

675 Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers.573 The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth574 will unveil the "mystery of iniquity" in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.575

676 The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgement. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism,576 especially the "intrinsically perverse" political form of a secular messianism.577

677 The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection.578 The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God's victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven.579 God's triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgement after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.580

II. To Judge the Living and the Dead

678 Following in the steps of the prophets and John the Baptist, Jesus announced the judgement of the Last Day in his preaching.581 Then will the conduct of each one and the secrets of hearts be brought to light.582 Then will the culpable unbelief that counted the offer of God's grace as nothing be condemned.583 Our attitude to our neighbour will disclose acceptance or refusal of grace and divine love.584 On the Last Day Jesus will say: "Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me."585

679 Christ is Lord of eternal life. Full right to pass definitive judgement on the works and hearts of men belongs to him as redeemer of the world. He "acquired" this right by his cross. The Father has given "all judgement to the Son".586 Yet the Son did not come to judge, but to save and to give the life he has in himself.587 By rejecting grace in this life, one already judges oneself, receives according to one's works, and can even condemn oneself for all eternity by rejecting the Spirit of love.588


682 When he comes at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, the glorious Christ will reveal the secret disposition of hearts and will render to each man according to his works, and according to his acceptance or refusal of grace.

St. Clement of Rome speaks of the Second Coming of Christ in his work entitled, “Recognitions”…

Chapter 49. Two Comings of Christ.

His coming, therefore, was predicted by Moses, who delivered the law of God to men; but by another also before him, as I have already informed you. He therefore intimated that He should come, humble indeed in His first coming, but glorious in His second. And the first, indeed, has been already accomplished; since He has come and taught, and He, the Judge of all, has been judged and slain. But at His second coming He shall come to judge, and shall indeed condemn the wicked, but shall take the pious into a share and association with Himself in His kingdom. Now the faith of His second coming depends upon His first. For the prophets— especially Jacob and Moses— spoke of the first, but some also of the second. But the excellency of prophecy is chiefly shown in this, that the prophets spoke not of things to come, according to the sequence of things; otherwise they might seem merely as wise men to have conjectured what the sequence of things pointed out.


573 Cf. ⇒ Lk 18:8; ⇒ Mt 24:12.
574 Cf. ⇒ Lk 21:12; ⇒ Jn 15:19-20.
575 Cf. ⇒ 2 Th 2:4-12; ⇒ I Th 5:2-3; 2 ⇒ Jn 7; ⇒ I Jn 2:1 8, ⇒ 22.
576 Cf. DS 3839.
577 Pius XI, Divini Redemptoris, condemning the "false mysticism" of this "counterfeit of the redemption of the lowly"; cf. GS 20-21.
578 Cf. ⇒ Rev 19:1-9.
579 Cf ⇒ Rev 13:8; ⇒ 20:7-10; ⇒ 21:2-4.
580 Cf. ⇒ Rev 20:12 ⇒ 2 Pt 3:12-13.
581 Cf. ⇒ Dan 7:10; ⇒ Joel 3-4; ⇒ Mal 3: 19; ⇒ Mt 3:7-12.
582 Cf ⇒ Mk 12:38-40; ⇒ Lk 12:1-3; ⇒ Jn 3:20-21; ⇒ Rom 2:16; ⇒ I Cor 4:5.
583 Cf. ⇒ Mt 11:20-24; ⇒ 12:41-42.
584 Cf. ⇒ Mt 5:22; ⇒ 7:1-5.
585 ⇒ Mt 25:40.
586 ⇒ Jn 5:22; cf. ⇒ 5:27; ⇒ Mt 25:31; ⇒ Acts 10:42; ⇒ 17:31; ⇒ 2 Tim 4:1.
587 Cf. ⇒ Jn 3:17; ⇒ 5:26.
588 Cf. ⇒ Jn 3:18; ⇒ 12:48; ⇒ Mt 12:32; ⇒ I Cor 3:12-15; ⇒ Heb 6:4-6; ⇒ 10:26-31.

Year of Faith Catechism Study: CCC 668 – 674, 680-681 – Jesus Will Come Again in Glory

clock December 29, 2012 01:02 by author John |

Today’s Catechism sections discuss the Second Coming of Jesus. Supporting material comes from the Dogmatic Constitution, “Lumen Gentium”.

Article 7


I. He Will Come Again in Glory

Christ already reigns through the Church. . .

668 "Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living."548 Christ's Ascension into heaven signifies his participation, in his humanity, in God's power and authority. Jesus Christ is Lord: he possesses all power in heaven and on earth. He is "far above all rule and authority and power and dominion", for the Father "has put all things under his feet."549 Christ is Lord of the cosmos and of history. In him human history and indeed all creation are "set forth" and transcendently fulfilled.550

669 As Lord, Christ is also head of the Church, which is his Body.551 Taken up to heaven and glorified after he had thus fully accomplished his mission, Christ dwells on earth in his Church. The redemption is the source of the authority that Christ, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, exercises over the Church. "The kingdom of Christ (is) already present in mystery", "on earth, the seed and the beginning of the kingdom".552

670 Since the Ascension God's plan has entered into its fulfilment. We are already at "the last hour".553 "Already the final age of the world is with us, and the renewal of the world is irrevocably under way; it is even now anticipated in a certain real way, for the Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real but imperfect."554 Christ's kingdom already manifests its presence through the miraculous signs that attend its proclamation by the Church.555
. . . until all things are subjected to him

671 Though already present in his Church, Christ's reign is nevertheless yet to be fulfilled "with power and great glory" by the King's return to earth.556 This reign is still under attack by the evil powers, even though they have been defeated definitively by Christ's Passover.557 Until everything is subject to him, "until there be realized new heavens and a new earth in which justice dwells, the pilgrim Church, in her sacraments and institutions, which belong to this present age, carries the mark of this world which will pass, and she herself takes her place among the creatures which groan and travail yet and await the revelation of the sons of God."558 That is why Christians pray, above all in the Eucharist, to hasten Christ's return by saying to him:559 Maranatha! "Our Lord, come!"560

672 Before his Ascension Christ affirmed that the hour had not yet come for the glorious establishment of the messianic kingdom awaited by Israel561 which, according to the prophets, was to bring all men the definitive order of justice, love and peace.562 According to the Lord, the present time is the time of the Spirit and of witness, but also a time still marked by "distress" and the trial of evil which does not spare the Church563 and ushers in the struggles of the last days. It is a time of waiting and watching.564

The glorious advent of Christ, the hope of Israel

673 Since the Ascension Christ's coming in glory has been imminent,565 even though "it is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority."566. This eschatological coming could be accomplished at any moment, even if both it and the final trial that will precede it are "delayed".567

674 The glorious Messiah's coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by "all Israel", for "a hardening has come upon part of Israel" in their "unbelief" toward Jesus.568 St. Peter says to the Jews of Jerusalem after Pentecost: "Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old."569 St. Paul echoes him: "For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?"570 The "full inclusion" of the Jews in the Messiah's salvation, in the wake of "the full number of the Gentiles",571 will enable the People of God to achieve "the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ", in which "God may be all in all".572


680 Christ the Lord already reigns through the Church, but all the things of this world are not yet subjected to him. The triumph of Christ's kingdom will not come about without one last assault by the powers of evil.

681 On Judgment Day at the end of the world, Christ will come in glory to achieve the definitive triumph of good over evil which, like the wheat and the tares, have grown up together in the course of history.

The Dogmatic Constitution, “Lumen Gentium” (48) discusses the Second Coming of Christ:

48. The Church, to which we are all called in Christ Jesus, and in which we acquire sanctity through the grace of God, will attain its full perfection only in the glory of heaven, when there will come the time of the restoration of all things.(237) At that time the human race as well as the entire world, which is intimately related to man and attains to its end through him, will be perfectly reestablished in Christ.(238)

Christ, having been lifted up from the earth has drawn all to Himself.(239) Rising from the dead(240) He sent His life-giving Spirit upon His disciples and through Him has established His Body which is the Church as the universal sacrament of salvation. Sitting at the right hand of the Father, He is continually active in the world that He might lead men to the Church and through it join them to Himself and that He might make them partakers of His glorious life by nourishing them with His own Body and Blood. Therefore the promised restoration which we are awaiting has already begun in Christ, is carried forward in the mission of the Holy Spirit and through Him continues in the Church in which we learn the meaning of our terrestrial life through our faith, while we perform with hope in the future the work committed to us in this world by the Father, and thus work out our salvation.(241)

Already the final age of the world has come upon us (242) and the renovation of the world is irrevocably decreed and is already anticipated in some kind of a real way; for the Church already on this earth is signed with a sanctity which is real although imperfect. However, until there shall be new heavens and a new earth in which justice dwells,(243) the pilgrim Church in her sacraments and institutions, which pertain to this present time, has the appearance of this world which is passing and she herself dwells among creatures who groan and travail in pain until now and await the revelation of the sons of God.(244)

Joined with Christ in the Church and signed with the Holy Spirit "who is the pledge of our inheritance",(245) truly we are called and we are sons of God(246) but we have not yet appeared with Christ in glory,(247) in which we shall be like to God, since we shall see Him as He is.(248) And therefore "while we are in the body, we are exiled from the Lord (249) and having the first-fruits of the Spirit we groan within ourselves(250) and we desire to be with Christ"'.(251) By that same charity however, we are urged to live more for Him, who died for us and rose again.(252) We strive therefore to please God in all things(253) and we put on the armor of God, that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil and resist in the evil day.(254) Since however we know not the day nor the hour, on Our Lord's advice we must be constantly vigilant so that, having finished the course of our earthly life,(255) we may merit to enter into the marriage feast with Him and to be numbered among the blessed(256) and that we may not be ordered to go into eternal fire(257) like the wicked and slothful servant,(258) into the exterior darkness where "there will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth".(259) For before we reign with Christ in glory, all of us will be made manifest "before the tribunal of Christ, so that each one may receive what he has won through the body, according to his works, whether good or evil"(260) and at the end of the world "they who have done good shall come forth unto resurrection of life; but those who have done evil unto resurrection of judgment".(261) Reckoning therefore that "the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that will be revealed in us",(262) strong in faith we look for the "blessed hope and the glorious coming of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ"(263) "who will refashion the body of our lowliness, conforming it to the body of His glory(264), and who will come "to be glorified in His saints and to be marveled at in all those who have believed"(265).


548 ⇒ Rom 14:9.
549 ⇒ Eph 1:20-22.
550 ⇒ Eph 1:10; cf. ⇒ 4:10; ⇒ 1 Cor 15:24, ⇒ 27-28.
551 Cf. ⇒ Eph 1:22.
552 LG 3; 5; cf. ⇒ Eph 4:11-13.
553 I ⇒ Jn 2:18; cf. ⇒ I Pt 4:7.
554 LG 48 # 3; cf. ⇒ I Cor 10:11.
555 Cf. ⇒ Mk 16:17-18, ⇒ 20.
556 ⇒ Lk 21:27; cf. ⇒ Mt 25:31.
557 Cf. ⇒ 2 Th 2:7.
558 LG 48 # 3; cf. ⇒ 2 Pt 3:13; ⇒ Rom 8:19-22; ⇒ I Cor 15:28.
559 Cf. ⇒ I Cor 11:26; ⇒ 2 Pt 3:11-12.
560 ⇒ 1 Cor 16:22; ⇒ Rev 22:17, ⇒ 20.
561 Cf. ⇒ Acts 1:6-7.
562 Cf. ⇒ Is 11:1-9.
563 Cf. ⇒ Acts 1:8; ⇒ I Cor 7:26; ⇒ Eph 5:16; ⇒ I Pt 4:17.
564 Cf. ⇒ Mt 25:1, 13; ⇒ Mk 13:33-37; I ⇒ I Jn 2:18; ⇒ 4:3; ⇒ I Tim 4:1.
565 Cf. ⇒ Rev 22:20.
566 ⇒ Acts 1:7; Cf. ⇒ Mk 13:32.
567 Cf. ⇒ Mt 24:44; ⇒ I Th 5:2; ⇒ 2 Th 2:3-12.
568 ⇒ Rom I 1:20-26; cf. ⇒ Mt 23:39.
569 ⇒ Acts 3:19-21.
570 ⇒ Rom 11:15.
571 ⇒ Rom 11:12, ⇒ 25; cf. ⇒ Lk 21:24.
572 ⇒ Eph 4:13; ⇒ I Cor 15:28.

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

clock December 8, 2012 21:59 by author John |
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

Whoever is not Against Us is For Us

clock September 30, 2012 12:39 by author John |


At that time, John said to Jesus, "Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us." Jesus replied, "Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us. Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.

"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'"

The words of today's gospel are particularly timely and appropriate. Christ uses some very powerful and vivid images. For those that like to stir confusion and dissent into the people of God, this reading stands as a warning that they are not only causing harm to the souls of other people, but they are playing with fire, quite literally when it comes to their own soul.

We must ask ourselves, “Who is for us and who is against us?” Whoever is not against us is for us. This reading requires us to look carefully at those around us. Are those friends who tease you or “joke” with you about your large family, the rosary in your car, or the religious images in your home bringing you closer to Christ? Are they helping you grow in your faith? Are they “For us”?

Are the politicians we vote for really “For us”? Do they believe in the sanctity of human life? Do they protect the unborn? Do they defend the family unit against degradation from those who violate the natural law with unnatural acts and seek to call their deviancy “marriage”? Are these politicians helping you practice your religion? Are they respecting your conscience? Are they helping you raise holy children, who love God and His commandments?

On the other hand, you must ask the same questions in reverse. Are the politicians we vote for “Against Us”? Do they promote the destruction of human life? Do they allow or promote the murder of the unborn, calling it “choice”? Do they embolden the enemies of the family by promoting homosexual marriage and adoption? Are these politicians placing limits on the free exercise of your religion? Are they forcing you to violate your conscience? Are they making it harder to raise your children in the faith? Are they forcing sex education on your children who are too young to hear these messages? Do they mock your God and His commandments? Are they causing our children to stray from the faith?

Jesus tells us, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimedthan wit h two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire” How can we not take a step back and think about this statement? What is Jesus saying? He is saying that your soul is more important than anything else in your life, even your body. If there is something that is holding you back in your relationship with God, get rid of it! If your friends are causing you to sin, or to be embarrassed by your faith, get rid of them. They are not your friends. If politicians are impinging on your religious freedoms or placing “stumbling blocks” between your children and God, get rid of them. Vote them out of office!

Jesus does not mince words about those who cause sin, particularly in children:
Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him if a great millstone
were put around his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.

Life is too short to fill it with sin, indifference, or people that cause these spiritual diseases. Cut it off! Get rid of them! Get yourself and your family to Heaven. That is your mission. That is the only thing that will matter in the end. God will not ask how many Facebook friends you have or how many times you voted for “your parents’ political party”. He will ask how ardently you loved Him and how earnestly you lead your family in the journey to Heaven.

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

clock September 27, 2012 20:49 by author John |

Recently I stumbled upon a forum on a secular wedding website that was discussing preparations before marriage. The topic of confession came up, as did several candid opinions on the topic. There were a few people that mentioned being nervous, unsure how to confess, or embarrassed.

This made me ponder why many people don’t go to confession. I frequently assumed (probably incorrectly) that it was a defiant thing. I thought most people just didn’t agree with the practice. I decided to do a little unscientific research on the topic. I combed the Internet looking for the various emotional/non-defiant reasons people listed for not making use of the Sacrament of Penance. Here is the list in no particular order, with a few points to consider if this reason applies to you.

1. It has been too long (or never) since I have gone to confession, and I am afraid of that first part (It has been _______ since my last confession).

This was one of the reasons I saw over and over again. It seems many people are just plain afraid of telling someone that they haven’t been to confession in a long time (or never). If you have been struggling with this, know that the priest is acting in “In Persona Christi”, which means in the Person of Christ. Jesus wants you to come to Him no matter how long you have been away from Him.

Remember the story of the prodigal son? The son took all of his inheritance and left his father’s house to live a depraved life, wasting the inheritance. The son returned looking for a job from his father. The father welcomed him back home and treated him like a king, forgiving the son and rejoicing that he returned. Jesus is the same way. He will always accept you with open and welcoming arms. The priest will mirror this. While he might remind you that it is important to confess regularly, he will gladly hear your confession because he wants you to rebuild your relationship with Christ.

Be at peace, no matter how long you have been away, it is always better to return as soon as you can. The priest will not judge you for being away. There is nothing to be embarrassed about. You aren’t the only one with this dilemma, and you probably won’t be the person who has been away the longest that the priest has ever heard. Even if you are, that will most likely mean that the priest will give even more thanks to God for having the opportunity to welcome you back into the fold.

2. I know the priest and he knows me – I don’t want him to know my sins.

This is a common feeling, even for people that confess their sins monthly or more. We all have secrets, “skeletons in the closet”. It is reasonable for you to feel this way. After all, priests are people, just like you and me. It is embarrassing for someone you see on a regular basis to know your struggles and failings.

There is the option of going to a priest at a neighboring parish. This may not be the best choice in the long run, but there is nothing explicitly prohibiting you from choosing where you go to confession. There is a benefit to developing a relationship with your confessor so that he knows your struggles and can suggest ways for you to overcome them. Also, you may find that you have a “louder conscience” if you know that you will have to tell the priest about the sin later. This may help you avoid the sin in the first place.

3. I don’t know the “formula” to use when I go, and I don’t want to “mess anything up”.

I was a bit surprised when I saw this one. I didn’t realize people had this fear. I suppose it could be a bit awkward if you are not familiar with how confession works to just walk into the confessional and not know what to say. While there is a formula for people that frequent the sacrament, it is really just a guide to help the confession go smoothly. If you are totally clueless about what to say, have no anxiety about this one. Just let him know that you are not really sure how to proceed. The priest is ready and willing to guide you through the confession. You should at least have an idea of what your sins are before you go into the confessional. An examination of conscience will be a big help in getting you ready in that area.

4. I have done some really bad things and I am embarrassed.

Here’s the deal with this one: let’s use murder as an example, because that is one of the biggies. First of all, it is entirely possible that the priest has heard this sin before, but it is probably a safe bet that he doesn’t hear it every day. Rest assured that he will not freak out. Keep in mind that he is bound under a strict seal not to reveal your sins, no matter how terrible to another living soul ever. (See #10 for more on this point)

You should also keep in mind that the priest is not allowed to require you to turn yourself in. He may suggest it for the good of society or for your own good, but he cannot require it.

You have the right to anonymity in your confession. You can choose to go to a priest you have never met and sit behind a screen so he can’t see you. Given that you have so many safeguards to protect your anonymity and reputation, you shouldn’t worry about that.

Now, the embarrassment is a terrible feeling. Rather than being afraid of it, embrace it. The embarrassment is a good thing. It is guilt, and no matter how much the culture tries to get rid of it, guilt will never go away until you confess your sins. Your guilt is a gift from God; it is His grace working in you. It encourages you to change your life and come back to Him. Once you have confessed your sins, you will feel like a truckload of bricks has been lifted off of your back. It is liberating, refreshing, and you will probably walk out of the confessional with a smile on your face just from the feeling of relief.

5. I feel awkward telling my sins to someone else.

This is also a very typical and normal feeling. As with the embarrassment mentioned in the previous item, embrace the uncomfortable feeling. If confession was an easy thing to do, we would be more likely to sin. It is too easy to tell your sins to Jesus and not have true sorrow for them. Telling your sins to the priest ensures that you think twice about your sins.

The feeling of dread in telling your sins to someone else is a powerful motivator to avoid sinning in the future so that you don’t have to mention those bad things you have done any more. Rest assured that the priest is not there to judge, condemn, or belittle you, though you should be open to taking constructive criticism or correction – it will help you.

He can’t tell your sins to anyone else, and he genuinely wants to help you. This is the way Jesus wanted confession. Telling your sins directly to Jesus is a good thing to do on a daily basis. It shows that you are sorry for them, but the way God established this sacrament is confession to a priest. That is the only way we know of to be assured that your sins will be forgiven.

6. I’m afraid someone outside the confessional will hear me.

Some confessionals are more secluded and private than others. In general, it is best to speak in a gentle and soft, but still audible voice. Something you may not know is that people who overhear something from somebody else’s confession are bound under the same seal of secrecy as the priest. They are not allowed to divulge anything they overhear from a confession.

That being said, it is best to take some precautions if you think that sound may travel far enough to be heard. First, if you can hear someone else’s confession, it is generally expected that you will move out of hearing range or in the worst case scenario, just cover your ears and hum a tune. If you think someone may overhear you, you can always ask them to take a few steps back so as to protect your anonymity. Any reasonable person would agree to this. If not, you can always offer to trade places with them in line and just let them go first, backing off yourself so that people behind you get the clue.

7. I don’t want to go face-to-face and my church doesn’t have a screen.

You have the right to a screen between you and the priest to protect your anonymity. If your church does not offer one, bring it up with the pastor. If he still refuses, then you can certainly look for another parish that respects this mandate and offers a screen.

There can be some benefits to going face-to-face, if you are open to it. You may find that it helps to have a good relationship with your confessor. He can help you through your struggles and identify weaknesses you didn’t realize you had. 

8. A priest was angry/judgmental/rude to me last time.

This is inexcusable and just plain wrong. A priest should be gentle yet firm with a penitent. He has no right to be angry or rude (at least outwardly) with you. If you feel that the priest was out of line, you can mention it to the pastor of the parish (if the priest is not the pastor), or you can bring it up with the bishop’s office, which might have received other similar complaints and can correct him if necessary.

You should keep in mind, however that correction is not necessarily anger, judgment, or rudeness. Consider if you perceive honest and firm correction as something more than it is simply because it implicates you or you disagree with it. Sometimes we have a tendency to take things the wrong way. This is not always the case, but it does happen.

9. I’m not really sorry for my sins, and/or I don’t intent on changing, so what’s the point?

The point is that you are taking a step in the right direction. It is legitimate to stay away from confession if you feel that you have no intention of changing. Perhaps you should take a step back from yourself and think about what this type of a statement means. By saying this, you acknowledge that you are sinning, so that is a good first step.

What does it say though if you really don’t want to change? Well, to be honest, it says that you are rejecting God’s love and grace. God has given you the grace to accuse yourself of your sins. Why reject his grace, which might help you overcome them and be a better person? Your life will be better if you make the active and sometimes difficult decision to try to follow Him.

Sometimes the fear of doing something difficult or uncomfortable keeps us from making the right choice. We all make mistakes and most of the time we make those mistakes repeatedly. We all struggle with sins – each and every day. That is why confession is available to us in the first place.

There is no requirement that you expect to be perfect after confession. There is only the expectation that you will try. Let’s be realistic, we already know that you and everyone else in this world will fail at some point. The important thing is to get back up, dust yourself off, get to confession, and try again.

10. I know the priest is supposed to keep my confession a secret, but I think he might tell someone my sins.

The priest is forbidden from revealing your sins to anyone ever. He is not even allowed to reveal that he heard your confession at all. He is not allowed to record it or to let the police listen in. There are laws that protect the priest-penitent privilege. In the US, and most other countries, anything said in confession is not admissible evidence in a trial.

The church would treat a breach of this seal more harshly than your worst sin. The priest would be immediately excommunicated by breaking the seal. The penitent is placing incredible trust in the priest to keep this secret. Priests have given their life to protect this trust. I would go so far as to guess that more priests have been martyred protecting the seal of confession than have broken it. That is how serious this is. God gives the priests special graces to be able to forget confessions and helps them in this sacred duty of secrecy.


Other Articles You May Like:

A Thorough Catholic Examination of Conscience
How to Make a Good Catholic Confession
What is Mortal Sin (The Catholic Definition)
What is Venial Sin (The Catholic Definition)
Top 10 Emotional Reasons People Don't Go to Confession (and Why You Should Consider it Anyway)
What Does it Mean to Mention Sins in "Number and Kind" in Confession

Living Every Day as if it Was Your Last

clock September 17, 2012 20:09 by author John |
Thomas a Kempis
Thomas a Kempis

"Very soon your life here will end; consider, then, what may be in store for you elsewhere. Today we live; tomorrow we die and are quickly forgotten. Oh, the dullness and hardness of a heart which looks only to the present instead of preparing for that which is to come!

Therefore, in every deed and every thought, act as though you were to die this very day. If you had a good conscience you would not fear death very much. It is better to avoid sin than to fear death. If you are not prepared today, how will you be prepared tomorrow? Tomorrow is an uncertain day; how do you know you will have a tomorrow?" - The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis (Ch. 23)

In times past the great work of Kempis was an indispensable must-have book second only in importance to the Bible itself. Today, few people have even heard of it. The words surely were too difficult for many throughout the nearly 6 centuries since it was written. With each generation, many found it to be too much trouble and didn’t bother with passing it on to their children. Why dampen a good mood with a sobering reminder of our solemn duty to Christ?

Perhaps one of the most difficult passages is quoted above. It is a startling reminder of our human weakness and transience. We are just passing through this life. Our work, our causes, and our words, are lost to the world shortly after our death. The many years of our life are forgotten in a fraction of the time it took us to live them.

Why then do so many people live without regard for their afterlife? Are they simply ignorant of the realities of Heaven and Hell? Do they not understand? Has no one taken the time to teach them? Have they been taught and found the teaching too difficult to accept? It is likely a combination of these, but nonetheless, they cannot avoid judgment simply by burying their head in the sand. Judgment will come for each of us.

As Kempis urges us, “in every deed and every thought, act as though you were to die this very day.” The only way we know of to win the eternal reward of Heaven is to live each day in the state of grace. If you are not in the state of grace, get to confession. Nourish yourself with the Holy Eucharist.

At present, it seems that the battle for our soul is against retailers peddling sexual images in commercials, outspoken celebrities trying to pass off their depraved vision of fun as authentic happiness, or government officials requiring us to violate our consciences. These may be battles along the way on our journey through life, but they are not the source of our problems. As St. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:11-12, “Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.”

All of the manifestations of evil in the world would be vanquished within a generation or 2 if every Catholic person cleaned their soul on a regular basis and availed themselves of the sacraments. If evil could find no safe harbor in Catholics, we would soon begin to see the rest of the world drawn to our ranks. Let’s do our part in this battle. Let’s make sure our own spiritual house is in order. Let’s live each day as if it was our last, glowing with the radiance of our soul, purified for Christ.

We All Confess at Least Once

clock September 16, 2012 19:32 by author John |
stained glass window
Image Source: Flickr User -

Last week I attended a meeting after work. Training. Blah. Meetings after work strike me as a particularly heinous form of punishment. Not only are you held captive during time that is supposed to belong to you, but you are tired from working all day, and in my case driving an hour from the office at my client to my own company’s office. To make things worse, there was PowerPoint. Lots of PowerPoint.

At the meeting, we received training for an exam we would need to take with a manager. This manager is very particular and a bit of a perfectionist, which means we would have to know the material – all of it. Every last detail. There was a lot of material too. One of the other managers offered to give us a practice exam with him before we had to face the music of the real exam. We all agreed that was a nice gesture and helpful too. Still the real test was going to be a real pain.

Every time I begin feeling sorry for myself,  I call to mind the Passion and Death of Jesus – on a Cross, nails in His hands and feet, crown of thorns, scourging, spitting, mocking, gasping for breath, bleeding…Yeah, maybe I can suck it up a little. That usually helps me get off the feeling sorry for myself train.

Anyway, beyond all the usual tired, bored, rather-be-somewhere-elseness, there was another stress I was dealing with – yeah, it was Thursday and tomorrow I had planned to go to confession. It wasn’t a major stress, it was just one of those back of the mind type things – I kept thinking to myself “Don’t forget, you have to get up early tomorrow, so you can get to work early, so you can leave early, so you can get to confession right after work.“

Normally, confession is just one of those things I do whenever I think about it. I try to go frequently; otherwise, it turns into more of an ordeal if you know what I mean. I had some thoughts pop into my head, you know the type: “Hmmm, it is getting late, this meeting is going longer than I planned. I’ll be up late. It is going to be an early morning. Well, I don’t HAVE to go to confession.” Maybe it was just the tired speaking, but I found myself trying to talk me out of going to confession. This type of thing never ends well, so I try to dispel the negative thinking as soon as it shows up. Luckily, or maybe more accurately, by the grace of God, I didn’t talk myself out of going to confession.

Well, the next day, after work, I did get to confession, thanks be to God. No thanks to the guy who decided that he needed to cause gridlock by moving up into the intersection just as his light turned red. No thanks to the guy who cut me off twice on the way to the church. Yeah, I do a lot of driving. That is why I try to get to confession as often as possible. Anyway, I unloaded the spiritual baggage and moved into the pew for penance and a little reflection time.

Looking up at the stained glass window of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I saw lots of light streaming through. The church was dark, and all of the light in the church was coming through this one window. It reminded me of the light at the end of the tunnel you hear about when people are approaching death. It was a beautiful quiet moment. This must be a little like seeing Jesus at the end of your life. It was just Jesus and me – alone. After finishing my penance and saying a rosary to start the 54 day election novena, I began to think about what this moment meant.

I thought about what it will be like when I meet Jesus for the face-to-face when everything is said and done. What would I say? Would I say anything? Would he do all the talking? Worse yet, would he make me do all the talking? How am I going to explain everything I have done in my life? How am I going to explain all of my sins? Then it occurred to me that I have been practicing all of my life. I have been going to confession, admitting my mistakes and resolving to stop making those mistakes. It is a bit like practicing for the big game. You only get one shot, so wouldn’t it make sense to practice a few times before you take the field?

We all go to confession at least once whether we like it or not. We will all stand before God at the end of our lives to give an accounting for our actions. Why not get a little practice in beforehand?