Halloween, Indulgences, and Luther

Luther Theses by Ferdinand Pauwels

This year we get an extra hour on Halloween night. If you go trick-or-treating, make sure you wear a mask. 🙂 Might be better to spend the extra hour praying.

On Halloween 1517, Martin Luther criticized the pope for selling indulgences. This led to a debate that clarified some Catholic teachings. Not everyone who dies goes straight to heaven or hell. If you’re going to hell, you go straight there. But if you’re going to heaven, you probably need some purification first. All the souls in purgatory will go to heaven eventually, once they have made up for all their sins.

Going to college costs a lot of money. But if the government or a foundation gives you a tuition grant, you pay less. The pope can authorize grants for the souls in purgatory, to shorten their time of purification. The grant comes from the goodness of Christ, our Lady, and all the saints. It’s like a huge bank of holiness, from which the pope can authorize withdrawals, to serve as “scholarships” for souls to get out of purgatory. The pope can award those grants because he holds the office of St. Peter, the visible head of the Church on earth.

A “plenary” indulgence is a full-ride scholarship to get a soul out of purgatory. Usually we have one day in November to obtain the full-ride scholarship for a deceased loved one, by going to pray in church. Which day? El Dia de Los Muertos, of course–All Souls Day, November 2. And we would normally have the following week to obtain a plenary indulgence by visiting a cemetery.

jackolanternThis year, though, things are a little different. People wear masks every day, not just on Halloween. It’s harder to go to church this year, because it’s harder to go anywhere. Plus, a lot of people are sick.

So His Holiness has extended the period of time when we can get full-ride scholarships for the dead. We have the entire month of November. Plus, we can do so from home.

When praying at home, it’s good to have an image of the Lord Jesus or the Blessed Mother. To obtain the indulgence, you can read the Beatitudes, or John 14, or any gospel passage that we use at funerals. Or you can say a Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet. You need to say a prayer for the dead, like Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. Then say an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be for the pope’s intentions.

The Holy Father also allows us to obtain a plenary indulgence this year by visiting a cemetery “mentally.” Again, this does not mean watching a movie like Pet Cemetery. It means thinking about the people in the graves in a real cemetery, and praying for them. Also, the pope says we can obtain a full-ride indulgence this year by offering to God all our difficulties and sufferings.

Five hundred years ago, the debate that Martin Luther started forced everyone to recognize something about indulgences. Namely: you have to renounce sin, with the intention of going to confession and Holy Communion, in order to obtain an indulgence. This year, that means planning to receive these sacraments as soon as you safely can, whenever that may be.

tombstone crossPope Leo X recognized that Martin Luther had done everyone a favor by initiating a debate that clarified Church teaching. Before Luther started the debate, Catholics were widely confused about whether or not you could obtain an indulgence in lieu of going to confession. In other words, some people thought you could buy your way out of purgatory, without repenting of all your sins.

Pope Leo sent his top theologian, Thomas Cajetan, to debate with Luther. When the Church found some of Luther’s teachings heretical, Luther appealed from one authority to another. He appealed to a panel of university professors, then to an ecumenical Council, then to the Holy Roman Emperor. Each time, they held an open debate. Luther had the chance to explain himself in full, and there were many opportunities for compromise.

The Catholic Church benefitted from the debates. Luther was a prolific writer who understood the power of a new invention, the printing press. Church officials did not question Luther’s right to publish his ideas. To the contrary, everyone took for granted that he did have that right, at least until a final judgment of heresy. Cajetan and other theologians argued with Luther, in order to convince him, using clear evidence, that he had published untrue doctrines.

My point is: We have gone backwards, when it comes to having this kind of open theological debate among Catholics. Pope Leo hoped to convince Luther by offering good answers to Luther’s objections. The pope never assumed that Luther should fall in line simply because the pope told him to. The questions at hand were serious, and a lot of faithful Catholics were genuinely confused. Insisting on blind obedience wasn’t going to work.

I’m almost done with my first book. I think my second might be about this, about the kind of arguments that occurred in the Church in the first part of the sixteenth century, and about how having debates like that could help us now.

Happy Samhain 🙂

Helping the Poor Souls Make it Right


Zacchaeus wasn’t just a corrupt tax collector. He didn’t just benefit himself, and the occupying foreign power, at the expense of his own people’s sufferings. He was the chief tax collector. He served as Chairman of the Board of Exploiters. [Spanish]

I myself can hardly relate to Zacchaeus. I have never had to climb a tree to see over a crowd in my life.

But Zacchaeus did more than just swindle people. He also made prudent investments. He made some honest profits on the money he had gained dishonestly. So, when Christ called him, and Zacchaeus turned his heart to God, the notorious tax collector had enough honest money in his coffers to pay back those he had wronged, four times over.

In other words, you would have wanted someone like Zacchaeus to cheat you. Filches your money; invests it and quadruples the value; then turns honest, and gives you back the whole thing, principle and profit.

…During November we Catholics pray especially for…the dead.

If we could be certain that our loved ones have made it all the way to heaven; if we could be sure that they are totally at peace, free of all debts to God and man, altogether reconciled to the truth; if we could know all this for sure, then we wouldn’t pray for them. Rather, we would pray to them.

On the other hand, if we had no hope whatsoever that our beloved dead could reach the goal; if we despaired of their salvation, then we wouldn’t pray for them then, either.

We pray because we hope. Death swallows us human beings up into a great darkness. But we believe that God’s light shines beyond what we can see. So it’s worth praying.

Which means that: Between the certainty that we don’t have, and the despair that we don’t feel, about our deceased loved ones getting home to God—we figure some intermediate state exists. Some temporary state between heaven and hell. What is it? Whatever it is, it must involve purification.

Dom Prosper Gueranger

Here’s Dom Prosper Guéranger’s answer to the question, What is Purgatory?

It is a place in which souls stand in need of refreshment, for the piercing flames of purification are keenly felt. Moreover, it is a place where there is no light, so there is nothing to distract them from their fearful sufferings. Furthermore, it is a place where sweet peace reigns not; there, is ceaseless agitation, the soul striving towards God whom it may not reach; there, in direst trouble and anguish, the misery of the poor soul in having thus put herself into such straits of wailing sorrow and frightful pain. Yes, Purgatory is indeed a place the very opposite of that abode where reign endless refreshment, light, and peace. These three expressions are of the highest importance, because they reveal to us, that whenever we pray for the Dead, the succor that reaches them by our means, is always in the form of refreshment, light, and peace.

So we pray. That our beloved dead will have the refreshment, light, and peace of our prayers. And thereby make progress along the path of purification, toward the ultimate goal.

Which raises another question: How exactly does someone make progress toward heaven, after death?

What happened with Zacchaeus teaches us the answer. Zacchaeus saw God, from up in the tree. The Lord called Him closer, and of course Zacchaeus wanted to respond.

To get closer, Zacchaeus had to do two things: He had to receive mercy from God, so he could start fresh in his relationship with Him. And Zacchaeus also had to make right again all the wrong he had done, as best he could.

Now, we honest human beings acknowledge that our sins weigh heavily in the balance of justice. Who doesn’t fail in his duties in this life? Duties to family, to church, to neighbor, to the poor and vulnerable. We have a duty to the truth, to respect it completely. We fail. We have a duty to use all the material means we have to help others. We don’t. We have a duty to receive everything as a gift, and give thanks, and seek only the higher things of God. We get sidetracked.

God mercifully forgives sinners who repent and gives us a fresh start in our relationship with Him. But there’s a lot of debt to settle up. We can start while we’re still making our pilgrim way on earth. Whatever debts remain when we die, we settle in purgatory. Our time in purgatory gets shorter and easier with every prayer someone says for us, every Mass someone has offered for us, every sacrifice someone makes for us.

We hope that someone will do these things for us, when we pass on. Which means the least we can do is pray and fast and make sacrifices and have Masses said for our beloved dead. And for all the poor souls in purgatory.

Zacchaeus & Purgatory

Zacchaeus said, “I will repay four times over whatever I have extorted from anyone.”

I had the opportunity to visit Jericho a few years ago. A hardscrabble place, with a harsh desert wind. And: tense. Palestinian territory. Israeli soldiers with huge guns guarding checkpoints.

2013 November calendarI think we can imagine that Jericho’s air coursed with tension back when the Lord Jesus walked the earth, too. And the tension swirled around this man Zacchaeus. He wasn’t just a corrupt tax collector. He was the chief tax collector. He had grown rich while abusing his countrymen and capitalizing on their woes.

I myself can hardly relate to Zacchaeus. I have never had to climb a tree to see over a crowd in my life. But Zacchaeus stood short of stature, and he wanted to lay eyes on the rabbi from the north.

If we really think about it, we have to conclude the following: Not all of Zacchaeus’ money came to him dishonestly. If it had, then he could not have given half of his largesse to the poor and still also paid back all those he cheated four-fold. Apparently, Zacchaeus had cheated people, but he also made prudent investments and honest profits on them. He industriously climbed the sycamore tree to see the Lord. He must have industriously increased his money, too.

Continue reading “Zacchaeus & Purgatory”

Purgatory Pain

If you feel like re-living the experience of reading the explanation I gave of I John 5:4 when we read it at Holy Mass last year, click here

…Painful Hoya loss last night. But we will live to fight another day. Huge game against Connecticut on Saturday.

And there are other things that cheer a guy up, like:

1) It does a heart good to see the Holy Father celebrate Mass on Epiphany in an even more beautiful Roman fiddleback chasuble than the one he wore last year.

2) In Spe Salvi, the same excellent Pope gives the most exquisite one-sentence explanation of Purgatory I have ever read.

The Pope is explaining I Corinthians 3:12-13:

No one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, the work of each will come to light, for the Day will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each one’s work.

The Holy Father proposes that the fire of Purgatory may be nothing other than the gaze of Christ.

He gazes upon us with perfect justice and perfect love. His gaze discloses all truth; nothing is hidden; all falsehood is laid bare. For most of us, this will be agonizing.

But there is hope: The gaze of perfect justice is also the gaze of infinite love. He demands pure truth BECAUSE He loves us so much. As the Pope puts it:

The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy
(Spe Salvi 47).

Matsui Rocks + Suffrages for the Dead

ALDS Game 1 - New York Yankees vs. Minnesota Twins

speed bump reaperThe World Series has never lasted until the Memorial of St. Charles Borromeo before…

…If ever there were a month for meditating on the Four Last Things, November is it…

…During the Year of the Priest, any Catholic may obtain a Plenary Indulgence by going to Mass on the first Thursday of the month.

Applying such an indulgence to the soul of a deceased priest would be a kind deed.

The Four Last Things

The Resurrection by Signorelli, in the Brizio Chapel in the Duomo in Orvieto
The Resurrection by Signorelli, in the Brizio Chapel in the Duomo in Orvieto
“This is the will of my father, that everyone who sees the Son of Man and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40)

In the month of November, nature’s life cycle comes to an end. The leaves wither and fall from the trees, and birds fly south for the winter. The night grows longer and longer. The time has come for us to meditate on the Last Things.

There are four Last Things, plus one very important next-to-last thing, namely Purgatory.

The first of the four Last Things is death. Sooner or later, death comes for everyone. Only a fool would refuse to prepare himself for it.

We can thank the good Lord that he has given us our Catholic faith to help us face death with courage and a calm mind. Others are not so fortunate. The inevitability of death hangs over unbelievers like a dark cloud.

We can penetrate the cloud, because the Lord Jesus has taught us what lies beyond death. After death comes the second of the Last Things: Judgment. Jesus Christ, the all-knowing, all-seeing God will judge every human being. He will take everything into account. His judgment will be perfectly just.

When we are judged by Christ at the most supreme of all courts, there are only two possible sentences. The two sentences are the third and fourth Last Things.

If my sins are counted against me and are not remitted by the Precious Blood shed for us on the Cross, then I will be condemned to hell. I will suffer for all eternity. My conscience will accuse me forever, and I will endure the permanent agony of being separated from the only true happiness. At the end of time, my body will rise again from the grave with all the other bodies, and then my torments will only increase.

May it please the Lord, our Lady, the angels and the saints to deliver us all from this!

On the other hand, if we meet death shining with the brightness of Christ, clothed with the grace of His sacraments, outfitted with the virtues that He has lived in us, and provided-for by the merits of His saints, then we will not be condemned for our sins. Our sins will be pardoned.

This means that the sweetest sound we can hear in this life are the words by which our souls are washed clean after a good Confession: “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” May we all go to God in a state of grace.

Facade of the Duomo
Facade of the Duomo
If we do go to Him in grace, then everlasting happiness awaits us. We will rest in the infinite truth of God forever, contemplating His beauty with bottomless awe, united with all the saints. Heaven is the fourth Last Thing.

Obviously, heaven is the place of perfect justice, purity, and goodness. Most of us, then, will have to be purified in order to enter heaven.

We do not know the details about the purification of purgatory. We do not know how long it takes or exactly how it happens. What we do know is that 1) it is necessary, and 2) we can help each other get through it.

This is why the month for meditating on the Last Things is also the month for praying for our dead. The least we can do is to try to help those who have gone before us to get to heaven as soon as possible. When we die, and—please God—begin our purification, we will want others to help us get through it.

What can we do to help the souls in Purgatory? Here are four ways to shorten Purgatory for our beloved dead:

1) Have Masses said for them. Every Mass can be offered for a particular intention, including the repose of a particular soul.

Interior of the Orvieto Duomo
Interior of the Orvieto Duomo
2) We shorten purgatory for people by obtaining indulgences. The Church, being a very solid spiritual institution, possesses an enormous spiritual bank account. It is the treasury of the merits of Christ and His saints. This bank has the most precious deposits in the universe, and they are also the most secure.

An indulgence is a withdrawal from this bank, which we can make on behalf of a deceased loved one. It is like a bailout for the afterlife. All we need to do is to renounce all sin and then do one of the pious acts which the Church recommends. One of those acts is to come to church on All Souls Day to pray for the dead.

The third thing we can do to help the souls in Purgatory is to pray for them at any time in any place. Every prayer helps.

Lastly, we can help the poor souls in Purgatory by making sacrifices for them, offering something up for them.

May it please God that we will all be together in heaven someday, with all the people we love!

Victory for an “Average” 6-2 Team?

Santana Moss
Santana Moss
After the Redskins beat the Detroit Lions this afternoon, John Riggins declared on ESPN Radio that the Redskins are “a mediocre, an average team.”

Cannot agree with him. To quote from the strange McDonald’s Monopoly commercial with Dwight Howard: The Redskins have mad skills.

Perhaps the Redskins lack ‘perfect focus.’ There is no doubt that the ‘Skins have a maddening tendency to march down the field, and then not put the ball in the endzone.

But winning games by hook or by crook counts as a mad skill. In fact, it is the most important skill in football.

Redksins' W gets double thumbs-up from mom
Redksins' W gets double thumbs-up from mom
The exciting thing is this: We play the 5-2 Pittsburgh Steelers next Monday night, November 3, the day after All Souls Day. Yeah, boy: Bring it on!

This WILL be an acid test of the mediocrity or non-mediocrity of the 6-2 Redskins. Monday Night Football. FedEx Field. 6-2 vs. 5-2. NFC vs. AFC. A huge game.

Time to start getting siked.