Tag Archives: forgiveness

No Fear in Love

Today, my community did an exegesis of John 20-21.

What struck me the most is found in John 20:21 and 21:3.

When Jesus appeared to His disciples (who were hiding in fear, locked up in the upper room), He said “Peace be with you”.
These words were uttered to the very disciples who betrayed Him through denial; who fled the cross. Jesus didn’t reprimand them, neither did He bring up anything about the past. He simply said: “Peace be with you.”

This brings me so much hope. It is a prefigurement of Heaven. When we see Jesus face to face, I know that He will say “Peace be with you”.

Indeed, peace drives out fear. And in the past month of struggling, I’ve come to realize that peace cannot be attained until we surrender everything to Jesus — to simply say to Jesus “This is all I have, it’s not much. But take them. All I have is Yours.”

It is in the surrender to God and the vulnerability of our very selves that His love can penetrate our souls. Jesus can do nothing if our hearts are closed to His will. Often, I wonder: how do I know what is God’s will for my life? I’ve come to understand through experience that it’s probably the thing that brings most peace in your heart. You’ll know it when you feel it.

Back to the story of Jesus appearing to His disciples. After that encounter with Christ, they allowed the love and mercy of God to penetrate their hearts, and the very next day they were no longer fearful and stuck in that room; they went about their day and went fishing (Jn 21:3).

Indeed, God is love and He is the bringer of peace. Love indeed drives out all fear, only if we allow our hearts to be open and vulnerable and receive the peace that God has promised to us.


Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

Image: PD-US

Loving Poorly

Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.
― Henri J.M. Nouwen

I love poorly. Every single moment. Especially when I fail to think about God in going about my daily life.

Do I initiate conversation with my parents, with whom I fell out 15 years ago? What if they start harassing me again with the past? I’ve taken so long to heal from the hurts, and what if they hurt me again?

Do I smile at people around me? What if they start to think that it’s an “open invitation” and then they start being creepy and stalk me?

Do I give that poor man some money for a meal? Do I buy him a meal? What if he demands more and more? 

I really like what Henri Nouwen has to say about forgiveness. I have failed my family, the lonely and neglected, and the poor and hungry around me. I need to love better.


Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.
Image: PD-US

Remain in Me

Before meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was “breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord,” and yet today we remember him as a great evangelizer and prolific New Testament writer. What happened? Nothing less than an inbreaking of divine grace.

For the powers of humanity, there are a great many situations that are beyond hope: souls that have been irrevocably corrupted, systems that are beyond repair. But for God, no one is beyond hope. No matter how hardened a person, God can break through any barriers to offer them mercy and an opportunity for transformation. He stopped Paul right in his murderous path, turned him away from Damascus and out into all the world a changed man. He channeled Paul’s zeal toward its natural, rightly ordered purpose: building up the Kingdom of God. In the same way, our own human purpose can only be understood through an encounter with the divine.

Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood remains in me and I in him (John 6:56).
Jesus has given Himself to us in the Eucharist as an opportunity for encounter with Him, that we too might be transformed by His grace. He instituted this sacrament so that we might share a radical intimacy with Him. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati understood this deeply—he received Communion daily, meeting Jesus every morning and carrying Him throughout the rest of the day. This is the key to his sanctity: not Pier Giorgio’s own goodness, but his openness to divine grace, to deep intimacy with and vulnerability before God.

“I urge you with all the strength of my soul to approach the Eucharist Table as often as possible. Feed on this Bread of the Angels from which you will draw the strength to fight inner struggles.”
—Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Conversione_di_san_Paolo_September_2015-1aThe great things that Paul achieved after his conversion stemmed from this intense closeness with God and awareness of God’s perfect love. This is what opened Paul’s heart to allow God to work through him rather than imposing his own will. When the scales fell from his eyes and he saw his life with sudden clarity, he fell to his knees in humility before God. Throughout the rest of his life, as he wrote and preached and converted a great many souls, he was ever aware that it was all due to God working in him: It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20). Paul knew all too well the cold, cruel man he would be without God, and thus he was able to recognize that any good fruits that flowed from his work were not due to his own power or talent or goodness, but from Jesus Christ working through him.

1. Domenico Morelli, Conversion of Saint Paul / PD-US
2. Caravaggio, The Conversion of Saint Paul / PD-US

Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.

The Treasure of Sin?

Some of us (me definitely included) fall into despair sometimes when we believe that we are too damned.

"The confession" by Pietro Longhi, ca. 1750
The Confession, Pietro Longhi, ca. 1750

We detest sin — as we all should! — but we detest sin not because we desire the good, but we detest it out of frustration, out of a belief that God might not forgive us again.

Peter Kreeft in his book Three Philosophies of Life talks about the Treasure of Sin and he has basically given me hope again!

Wait. What?! Sin? A treasure? Yes, read on.

“But we are all philosophers, unless we are animals. Men live not just in the present but also in the future. We live by hope. Our hearts are a beat ahead of our feet. Half of us is already in the future; we meet ourselves coming at us from up ahead. Our lives are like an arc stretching out to us from the future into the present. Our hopes and ideals move our present lives. Animals’ lives are like an arc coming to them out of their past; they are determined by their past. They are pushed; we are pulled. They are forced; we are free. They are only instinct, heredity, and environment; we are more; we are persons.

The determinists, from Marx and Freud to Skinner, who deny this fact, insult us infinitely more than any preacher who shouts sin and damnation at us. It is a great compliment to call a man a sinner. Only a free man can be a sinner. The determinists mean to steal from us the great treasure of sin. They deny us our freedom, and therefore our hope, our ability to live not just from our determined past but also from our undetermined future.”

— Kreeft, Three Philosophies of Life, p. 29


Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

The God of Second Chances

After Jesus had revealed himself to his disciples and eaten breakfast with them,
he said to Simon Peter,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time,
“Do you love me?” and he said to him,
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
—John 21:15–17

Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Sorrow_of_Saint_Peter_(La_douleur_de_Saint_Pierre)_-_James_TissotA few weeks earlier, Peter had stood outside the courtyard of the high priest, weeping bitterly. He had disowned Jesus not once, not twice, but three times, just as Jesus had predicted. Peter was filled with grief when he realized what he had done: despite the fact that he had vowed to stand by Jesus in every possible trial, despite his complete devotion, he had buckled at the first bit of pressure and cast aside the One who meant everything to him.

We might imagine that we would defend our faith in any circumstance, but when those situations actually arise, often our discomfort leads us to hide our true colors and pretend that we are just another face in the crowd, not a follower of Christ. There’s a fine line between trying not to force our faith upon others and hiding it altogether, and it can be all too easy amid a secular environment to act as though we are ashamed of our relationship with Jesus.

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Saint_Peter_Walks_on_the_Sea_(Saint_Pierre_marche_sur_la_mer)_-_James_Tissot_-_overallYes, there will be consequences for defending Christ. But there are worse consequences for denying Him. We can’t allow the possible reactions of others to distance us from the Source of all joy and love, as though their approval were the real key to our happiness. And in fact, we might be surprised at others’ openness to our faith—it might end up being a point of connection between us.

Chances are, at one point or another we’re going to mess this up. We’re going to drop the ball when presented with opportunities to witness to our faith, and we’re going to hide our light under a bushel basket out of fear. But Peter shows us that this, too, can be a path to grace. When we realize our shortcomings and failures, we can follow the way of Peter, the way of humility. We can begin to understand that we will never be able to carry out our grandiose plans on our own, that we are truly dependent upon Jesus for everything.

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Meal_of_Our_Lord_and_the_Apostles_(Repas_de_Notre-Seigneur_et_des_apôtres)_-_James_TissotOur God is a God of second chances. How tender Jesus was to Peter, to grant him this moment: He set the scene over again, with a charcoal fire burning just as there was in the courtyard of the high priest, and asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” And three times, Peter was able to reply, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He was given a second chance, a do-over of the worst mistake he’d ever made. Jesus saw Peter’s sorrow and contrition, and in His mercy He stepped in to restore the relationship. Not only that, but He entrusted the Church to Peter as the first pope. He cast Peter’s sins as far as the east is from the west, giving him a fresh start. He does this for us, too. No matter how badly we’ve messed up, he will give us another chance if we’re willing to try again—and, this time, to call upon His help to guide us.

1. James Tissot, The Sorrow of Saint Peter / PD-US
2. James Tissot, Saint Peter Walks on the Sea / PD-US
3. James Tissot, Meal of Our Lord and the Apostles / PD-US

Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.

Human Brotherhood

In Matthew’s Gospel (5:20-26), Jesus urges us to seek true resolution and reconciliation in our anger, always maintaining a spirit of brotherhood toward others and not allowing that anger to fester. Sometimes we read this passage and think it means we’re supposed to be completely at peace all the time, never having an ounce of irritation toward anyone. But really, the spirit of brotherhood that Jesus talks about means acknowledging and working through our anger, not bottling it up or pretending it doesn’t exist. We can’t resolve our anger if we don’t allow ourselves to feel it—the only thing we’ll achieve by ignoring it is to let resentment build quietly within us. And we also can’t hold too tightly to our anger and our pride if we are going to be able to forgive someone who has hurt us. We can look to Jesus’s own example in the Gospels of how we are to respond to anger: acknowledging the issue and acting upon it, while never nursing our anger or holding a grudge.

Anger, fear, sorrow, and frustration are natural human emotions, signs not of weakness but of a need for action within our relationships—both our relationship with God and our relationships with other people. Personal connection and reconciliation are what will initiate healing and peace within us. If we truly care about another person, we will desire to truly mend our relationship with them, not just hide the cracks in its foundation. And if we care about our own hearts, we will want to be freed from the burden of our own hostility. We are meant to be in community with one another, just as we are meant to be in communion with God—and if we neglect our human relationships, then our relationship with God will suffer. This is why Jesus urges His disciples:

Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.

—Matthew 5:23–24

Image: Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, The Rage of Achilles / PD-US

This post was originally published at Work in Progress.

Confession: Growing in Relationship with God

"The confession" by Pietro Longhi, ca. 1750
The confession by Pietro Longhi, ca. 1750

As we sat in the confession queue one Saturday afternoon at the Cathedral, my (newly-minted Catholic) boyfriend remarked to a friend: “I’ve never seen a church with a section where everyone’s sitting together and we all know we’ve screwed up in one way or another.”

Indeed, the sacrament of Confession is an incredible gift. As Catholics, we understand conversion to be the work of a lifetime, not just a one-off event. We are not in Heaven yet, and we are not perfect. Just as we make mistakes and hurt one another in our human relationships, so do we make mistakes and wound the Body of Christ when we sin. Baptism brings us into communion with God, but we still have to grapple with the consequences of the Fall: “a darkened intellect, a weakened will, and an inclination towards evil” (concupiscence). The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh weak. (Matthew 26:41)

As a human body requires medicine to facilitate its recovery from disease, so does the Body of Christ require reparation to cleanse and reunite its sinful earthly members. Confession is an injection of sacramental grace, a booster shot to strengthen us and repair the bonds we break when we act selfishly, sinning against Love.

If you stand in need of the Divine Physician, do not delay – He is waiting to revive your soul today!

Jesus hearing this, saith to them: They that are well have no need of a physician, but they that are sick. For I came not to call the just, but sinners.
Mark 2:17

We are all earthen vessels – imperfect, shaped too much by the world around us, easily cracked, not very beautiful – but nonetheless holding a heavenly treasure. That treasure is God’s love.

As earthen vessels tended by God’s loving hands, our cracks are healed through the Sacraments of Confession, Eucharist, and the Anointing of the Sick. Eventually, we will become golden chalices, perfected by the refining fires of Purgatory where demons and temptations can no longer interfere with our purification.
Good News Reflections

Healer of Souls

Over the past week, the Gospel readings have contained many scenes of healing from Jesus’s public ministry. We know that Jesus performed many miraculous healings during His life and continues to do so today. The healing springs of Our Lady of Lourdes, whose feast we celebrated on Saturday, have brought about countless healings that have baffled doctors and defied human understanding. We know that Jesus’s healing power is still active today. But reading about all these healings also raises an uncomfortable question: What about the people who don’t receive physical healing? What about the people who make pilgrimages to Lourdes, seeking a cure, and leave with no physical change? What about saints like Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, who prayed constantly and yet suffered an excruciating death? How do we reconcile the fact that God allows some people to be freed entirely from the burden of their disease with the reality that many who pray desperately for healing still suffer and die?

We can begin to understand this mystery through the story of Jesus healing the paralytic:

And when he returned to Caper′na-um after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your pallet and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—“I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.” And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

—Mark 2:1–12

Jesus does eventually heal this man, but His first action shocks everyone in the room: He forgives the man’s sins. This is not why the people went to such lengths to bring him before Jesus. Not only was this not what they were asking of Him, it was an act that seemed blasphemous! How could He forgive sins? But Jesus did this both to reveal His divinity and to put first things first. The people were asking for a physical healing, but Jesus wouldn’t settle for just that. He knew that unless this man received forgiveness of sins, unless he received the healing of his soul, he would never be truly healed. Jesus’s ability to make the man walk again is a manifestation of His healing power, but the most miraculous thing about this story is that the man’s sins were forgiven. That is the part that matters most. Jesus was asked to perform a quick fix—to heal just the man’s body—but He gave the man what he didn’t know he needed, healing him inside and out.

Some are granted both spiritual and physical healing, some just spiritual—but that spiritual healing is the greater priority, the most important thing. Unless our souls are healed and our sins forgiven, we are unwell, and if we are healed interiorly, we can bear any physical suffering. We can ask for healing and confidently expect our prayer to be answered: for regardless of the path we are called to follow, whether we are to give God glory through allowing Him to heal us physically or by offering up our sufferings, He will heal our souls, and His grace will shine through us. If our story is not to be one of miraculous healing, then He wants to give us the grace to bear our sufferings with joy and recognize their great purpose. If we earnestly ask to be healed, He will not fail to give us the interior healing that transcends any physical maladies. Ultimately, Jesus wants us to be healed both spiritually and physically; it pains Him to see us suffer. He wants us to be physically healed, too, but He also knows that we will certainly find physical healing in Heaven, and sometimes He uses our sufferings to help us—and the other souls for whom we offer our sufferings—to get there. Let us look to Pier Giorgio Frassati, who despite his terrible illness never wavered in his joy. He was not granted physical healing, but his soul was fully restored and awakened, and because of that he was able to see even his trials through the lens of grace. The promise of healing in the Gospel stories is there for each of us. When we haven’t found the cure that we’d hoped for, we don’t need to despair or worry that we will be forgotten. We are not forgotten. Everyone’s story is different, but He desires each of us to receive the most precious of gifts: interior healing of the soul, forgiveness of sins, and the promise of Heaven.

The Little Saint of Great Mercy

Maria_GorettiToday we celebrate the feast of St. Maria Goretti, the Little Saint of Great Mercy. Her story reminds us that we are never beyond hope, that no one is beyond the reach of God’s grace. By forgiving her murderer and praying for his conversion, she not only kept herself from falling into sin; she reached out and helped a man who had been deeply corrupted, showing mercy to the person who, it would seem, deserved it the least. No one would have blamed her if she had been unable to forgive this man, whose evil actions led to her excruciating death and ultimately tore apart her family. But she not only forgave him; she desired his conversion, saying that she wanted him with her in Heaven. She appeared to him after her death, expressing her mercy toward him. And her murderer, Alessandro Serenelli, who had been utterly unrepentant and vicious even in his imprisonment, was converted overnight—a miracle whose impact would play out over the course of his lifetime.

Maria held fast to virtue even at the cost of her life, knowing that the joys and sufferings of this world are fleeting, that what truly mattered was preparing her eternal soul for Heaven—as well as Alessandro’s soul. She desired Heaven not just for herself, but for everyone, even sinners, even the very man who brutally murdered her. Even when he was at his very worst, she still understood that he was a human being, a child of God, meant for a life much greater than the one he was living. Not only that, she still believed there was hope for him, because she trusted in the boundless mercy of God.

Great miracles and graces have come as the fruits of Maria’s sacrifice. Let us call upon her for help in our own lives: to be fortified in virtue and purity, to be merciful and forgiving toward those who have wronged us, and to humbly appeal to God’s great mercy, which covers all our sins.

Heroic and angelic St. Maria Goretti, we kneel before you to honor your persevering fortitude and to beg your gracious aid. Teach us a deep love for the precepts of our Holy Church; help us to see in them the very voice of our Father in Heaven.

May we preserve without stain our white baptismal robe of innocence. May we who have lost this innocence kneel humbly in Holy Penance, and with the absolution of the priest, may the torrent of Christ’s precious Blood flow into our souls and give us new courage to carry the burning light of God’s love through the dangerous highways of this life until Christ our King shall call us to the courts of Heaven. Amen.

Image: Giuseppe Brovelli-Soffredini, painting of Maria Goretti / PD-US

A Biblical Look at Confession

A friend of mind had just learned of my decision to join the Catholic faith. He was nice about it, that is, he didn’t give me the “whore of babylon” reaction.

He dropped me off after a slice of pizza and said, “You know, there’s just one thing I could never do.”
“Whats that?”
“Confession. I could never confess to a priest.”
“Don’t want to or just don’t understand it?”
“Don’t understand it. It makes no sense.”
“I know what you mean. I didn’t understand it either, but you know where Jesus appears to the Apostles in John 20…” I went on with my elevator speech.
“Well that’s your interpretation, and you guys use a different Bible.”
“Right, but first of all, we both use the Gospel of John. But what did the early Christians use? They didn’t have a Bible.”
“What? Of course they did.”
“No, I assure you, the Scriptures weren’t all written the night of Pentecost.”

I was immediately cut off with, “No, Shaun, stop – please. I don’t want to hear it.” If I learned one thing for sure in Patrick Madrid‘s graduate course in Apologetics with Holy Apostles College and Seminary, it is that any argument between Protestants and Catholics eventually boils down to Sola Scriptura. It’s really a conversation for another day, or lifetime. Here though, let’s talk about how to discuss confession with your objector.

A frequent objection is the need to confess sins to a priest in order to be forgiven. Many objectors will call it an “invention”. I used to object as well, citing the Church’s medieval need of knowing the private lives of each of their adherents. Silly reasons like that were enough for me, but there exist better objections. One is that it doesn’t say anywhere in the Bible that we need to confess to a priest. Let me give praise to this objection for wanting evidence in the Scriptures. To this objection I will give three points to support the Catholic position and also a conclusion.

Objection: Confession is not biblical.

On the contrary:

Need of Confession

First, we need to understand that as human persons we are subject to imminent and sometimes frequent sin. Paul tells us in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and that implies the need for forgiveness and reconciliation. No Protestant would disagree. So the question is: do we need to confess to God the Father at all? Yes. Jesus, when asked how to pray, includes “forgive us our debts (sins), as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). If that’s not enough, John writes, “If we confess our sins, he [God the Father] is faithful and just, and will forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” which is unmistakable proof that the scriptures require confession of sins (1 John 1:9). The plurality of our sins implies the plurality of confessing.

Jesus’ Authority to Forgive Sins

Indeed one won’t argue the value in confession to God. But we also know from Scripture that Jesus, a separate person of the Trinity, has the authority to forgive sins: “The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Matthew 9:6). Forgiving sins is a regular part of Jesus’ ministry, on earth. Right after his baptism and temptation, he is immediately doing three things: forgiving sins, healing, and teaching. These highlights of His ministry did not die with him and there must have been some means of continuing His ministry on earth.

Authority given to the Apostles

After His resurrection He appears to the 11 and says:

As the father has sent me, so I am sending you … receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:21-23).

Was Jesus talking about general forgiveness in social interaction or a real authority? The answer is in the words of Jesus. The word “sent” (Latin, apostello) is translated “to go to a place appointed” and the “sending” (Latin, pempo) is simply “to send”. Therefore, they [ the Apostles] are sent from Jesus as He was sent by God. The objector also has to understand the difference in “like” and “as” where “like” shows likeness (similarity) and “as” shows sameness. “As the father has sent me, so I am sending you” is ‘I am sending you with the authority I was sent with.’ 

Not enough on the “authority” part? Jesus makes it quite clear when He says “Whoever listens to you, listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (Luke 10:16). That’s not out of context as Jesus is talking about the unrepentant towns to which the Apostles were sent with His authority. There is a clear link between repentance and the authority of the Apostles!

Conclusion: Ambassadors of Christ

Jesus left earth though, and left us a church to continue His ministry. Remember, His ministry consists of healing and teaching, as well as forgiveness of sin (Matthew 9:35, 9:6, respectively). So as the Church is His body, truly, He must have left a way in which the ministry can continue for ultimate salvation. He had the authority to forgive sins on earth and the Church continues this so long as there is an ongoing need to forgive sins. Paul clearly tells us, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). Paul then writes, “we are ambassadors of Christ” (20). Ambassadors are delegated officials sent with the authority of their higher official. Paul was indeed saying that He, as an Apostle, was trusted with the authority of the one who sent him.

There is no mistake to be made here, the Church has the authority to forgive sins. First, there is a clear need to confess sins to God in plurality. Second, Jesus had the authority to forgive sins, it was a regular part of His ministry on earth. Third, Jesus left earth but His ministry needed to continue and this authority was given to the Apostles.

The Protestant must answer this question: if each part of Jesus’ ministry was commissioned to the Apostles, why exclude forgiveness of sins? That is, if Jesus gives His Church, His own Bride, His authority to cast out demons (Mark 16:17), heal (18), and preach the Gospel (15), why is the last part of his ministry, forgiveness of sin (John 20:23), excluded? I follow-up with the answer given by Jesus to the same objection when told He was blaspheming for forgiving sin:

Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” (Matthew 9:5). Further, Matthew writes, “When the crowds saw this they were struck with awe and glorified God who had given such authority to human beings” (9:8).

Remember: this ministry and authority is not due to the goodness of the priest, or the poiousness of the Church. Indeed there are bad people in the Church, but the Church is intimately identified with Jesus (Romans 12:5, 1 Corinthians 12:13, 27, Ephesians 1:22-23, Colossians 1:17) who is blameless and holy (Ephesians 5:27).


A Defense of Indulgences

indulgences classic carsWhen I first heard about indulgences I was pretty skeptical; they can sound so cold, clear-cut and strangely precise in an imprecise world.

Now that I understand the role of indulgences a bit more, I have become an avid indulgence collector. My fellow sisters tease me because I get really pumped up when I hear about available indulgences.

For anyone who has no idea what I am talking about, indulgences are defined in the Catechism as “a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven” (CCC 1471). Indulgences are graces that are attached to performing various actions when a person has a certain disposition of repentance and detachment from sins, goes to confession, receives communion and prays for the pope’s intentions. Some examples of actions that may have indulgences attached to them are participating in pilgrimages, visiting certain churches during the year of faith, or even something as simple as reciting a prayer.

Still have no idea what I am talking about? Stay with me. A lot of people protest that indulgences are not necessary because God already saved us from our sins. They are right; Jesus saved us from our sins. But indulgences come in after a person’s sins have been forgiven.

I like to think of this like so. Imagine life as a long cross-country car ride, (I’ll let you decide which coast is heaven…). Your Father gave you his pristine classic car for the journey, (a.k.a your soul after baptism). You try your best to take care of it but along the way you make some bad judgments and ding the car. A few times you put some really bad dents in it after some especially poor decisions.

Thankfully, your Father is the best auto-repair guy in the world; he has shops all over the place ready to repair cars. But you feel reluctant to stop in. Finally, you pass by one of his shops on the road and go in and apologize to the mechanic on duty – knowing it will get back to your Father. Your Father, immediately upon hearing your admission of guilt, rushes to the shop and lets you know that he forgives you and appreciates your sincere remorse.

You are grateful for your Father’s forgiveness; it doesn’t erase the dents, but it puts you back in good relationship with your Father. So the Father says, “We are going to work on getting these dents out. It is going to take some time and if we are not complete by the time you reach the end of your journey you might need to stop over for a while at one of my shops before you have fun at the beach. But if you stick with me I am going to take care of this.”

The Father then pauses, “Of course some of my auto body shops along the way can make you beach-ready immediately. You don’t need to go to these auto shops to get to the beach but they are just a demonstration of how much I love you. If you happen to pass by or go a little out of your way to get to one, I would recommend it.”

_ _ _

This analogy is not perfect but I hope it helps you to understand how Catholics understand indulgences, particularly where they come in. In other words, we believe that when sin is forgiven the effects of sin do not just disappear. We experience this when we are entrenched in a particular sin that has wreaked havoc in our lives for many years. Even when we receive God’s forgiveness it does not erase the consequences of sin. God’s forgiveness does not magically take away the dents – the need for purification and healing.

Catholics believe that if you reach the end of your life and your car still has dents, but you are sorry for sin and want to join God in heaven, then you will likely go to purgatory for some last minute touch-ups. If you have difficulty accepting this – think of entering the gates of heaven alongside Mother Teresa – whose soul I would imagine was pretty squeaky clean compared to yours and mine. Mother Teresa gleams as she passes by St. Peter and he nods in appreciation. But before you enter the gate, St. Peter, seeing the smudges and dings on your soul, says, “Hello there friend, do you want to get a little tune-up before going into the party like that?” You blush and look down at yourself then say, “Ya, I would. I’ll admit I’m not totally ready for this.”

Indulgences are the auto-body shops that help get us ready to enter the gates of heaven while we are on earth so we don’t have to get a bunch of last minute touch ups in purgatory. Indulgences do not save us. Jesus has already provided the grace of salvation to all of us. But the grace that Jesus’ death provided us is available to us throughout our lives not just to help us enter heaven but to sanctify us and help us to enter heaven with gleaming souls. The Church is the conduit of many graces – the Eucharist, confession, etc. But it also provides opportunities to completely erase the dents we have acquired through life up until now through indulgences. The extraordinary graces available to us in an indulgence come from the graces that Jesus made available through his death and resurrection – it is not an invention of the Church – the Church simply dispenses these graces, (like it does with the sacraments).

We don’t need indulgences to enter heaven. Indulgences are like an extra bonus, an abundance of grace available to the Church to pour out on us through the generosity of God. We can try to gain indulgences for ourselves but perhaps more importantly we can also offer indulgences for other souls in need of grace, particularly the souls in purgatory.

So, indulge yourself and join me as an avid “collector” of indulgences.

It does a soul good!

Obviously, I cannot cover the ins and outs of indulgences in a blog post so if you want to learn more, check out these links:

  1. Catholic Encyclopedia: Indulgences
  1. Myths about Indulgences
  1. Introduction to Indulgences
  1. Gaining Indulgences
  1. A Primer on Indulgences

Are You Willing to Forgive?

prodigal-sonAs human beings we are an emotionally fragile bunch. That however is not a bad thing. Indeed, it is our emotional state that most readily separates us from the animal kingdom. We perceive love, joy, surprise, anger, sadness and fear, and we can deliver those positive or negative emotions to others in the way we act. These negative emotions when given or received, hurt, and can hurt very deeply. The old school yard response to bullies runs, ’sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me’. It may be a cute rhyme but it’s not true. What affects us most deeply is not the physical insults that come our way but those which offend us on a personal level. To have a trusted friend betray us hurts. To have a sibling insult another sibling hurts. These hurts are very real and they do not easily dissipate.

Society has some plan as to how to deal with physical insults. Courts and prisons are full of people who have caused physical hurt to another in some way. This is not the same with emotional hurt. Sometimes we will be initially unaware that our words and actions (or our response to those words) have offended another. Even those who are most careful may still at some point offend another person. There is no shortage of friendships and families that have broken down because deliberate or indeliberate offence has occurred. These delicate situations are not easy to resolve because all parties may, to some extent, have hurt another by their actions, choices or words. Recall the parable of the Prodigal son who offended his father by taking his inheritance to indulge in a wasted life. In time he returned truly sorry for his actions and his father forgave him but the one person who could not forgive was the older brother who had remained at home always faithful. In the end, by his anger, the older brother became as guilty as the younger.

The reason rifts do not get resolved is because too many of us feel justified in our positions of hurt or anger at another. People can spend a lifetime explaining the precise way in which they have suffered offence, and this may well be true, but at that point there are only two options. One can remain convinced of the need for the other person to reform and thus remain hurt and angry forever, or make a conscious decision to forgive. Now as soon as people hear about forgiveness they get specific ideas of what that means, for example, ‘I am happy to forgive as long as…’, or, ‘we can only move forward when…’. This is not genuine healing forgiveness. Forgiveness in the truest sense is a highly radical proposition, one not known well by a neo pagan society. Forgiveness involves an unconditional all embracing love of the other regardless of what offence, hurt or anxiety has been given us. This type of forgiveness involves taking our gaze from the other onto our own lives to examine where we may have given offence. It is rare that one person is completely innocent while the other is completely guilty.

True forgiveness brings about a love that is patient, kind and rich in mercy. Even if we are truly the innocent one, forgiveness will be quick to turn the other cheek. Those who follow the Christian faith will recognise the ancient petition in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’. Here it seems clear that personal forgiveness from God is completely dependent on our willingness to unreservedly forgive others, and be happy about that forgiveness. We must not remain thinking that our forgiveness makes us a better person than the one who we have forgiven. If we remain as the righteous older brother in the story of the prodigal son, we cannot say we have forgiven. If we do not acknowledge that our actions may have offended another, we cannot say we have forgiven. What we are too often looking for is a judge and jury, we want to have our story heard and be told who is guilty and innocent. This sort of mentality will never find peace because mercy is always greater than justice. The person who spends his life looking for justice will always be hurt and never have the opportunity to be truly happy. So go on, reach out in true forgiveness and see your life transformed.