November 20, 2015

Some Thoughts on Indulgences

The other day at lunch we got to talking about indulgences. One of the brothers confessed that he didn't really understand the concept. It's hard enough to grasp, I suppose. Continuing to think on it, I went back and read Indulgentiarum doctrina, Paul VI's apostolic constitution on the subject following Vatican II.
An indulgence is the remission before God of the temporal punishment due sins already forgiven as far as their guilt is concerned, which the follower of Christ with the proper dispositions and under certain determined conditions acquires through the intervention of the Church which, as minister of the Redemption, authoritatively dispenses and applies the treasury of the satisfaction won by Christ and the saints. (norms, 1)
It seems to me that the practice of indulgences depends on a few things. I think of three:

First, it depends on the idea that expiation is something apart from forgiveness and pardon. Sin injures the creation, and though a sin be forgiven and absolved, God's justice demands that the injury be somehow corrected or undone. This is accomplished through acts of penance, the good use of the sufferings of this life, or the purification of purgatory thereafter. An indulgence remits this responsibility to expiate the injury we do to the universe by our sins.

Second, it depends on the very basic assertion of Christianity, which the document also makes, that the Church is "minister of the Redemption of Christ" (38) I think it's easy to have the idea that redemption and salvation is something basically transacted between the individual soul and God ("Jesus my personal savior") and that the Church exists as a more or less human institution to promote and encourage this. A Catholic ecclesiology is much deeper than that, of course. Such would assert that the Church, as the Mystical Body of Christ, is herself the mediation of the salvation God wills for the world and which we have in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, it pertains to the Church to minister this redemption. It is in this sense that we can understand extra ecclesiam nulla salus, 'outside the Church there is no salvation.' As the Catechism explains, this phrase "means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body." (846)

Third, the doctrine and practice of indulgences depends on a strong and spiritual sense of the communion of saints. All the baptized are in communion with each other. Or, as Indulgentiarum doctrina puts it, "[t]here reigns among men, by the hidden and benign mystery of the divine will, a supernatural solidarity." The sins of one are an injury for all, but the merits and salvation of each are also a benefit to all. From this communion or solidarity derives a certain fungibility of grace on which the idea of indulgences depends. The Church, as "minister of the Redemption of Christ" can apply the merit of one to another. This communion of saints is catholic in the sense of embracing all of time and space, and so the individual Christian, as a member of the Church, can apply an indulgence gained to one of the faithful departed. (norms, 3)

November 11, 2015

Venerable Update

Among many noteworthy happenings back when I was parochial vicar in Yonkers, one day in 2008 an Italian friar showed up and announced that he was the archbishop emeritus of Izmir (i.e. Smyrna) and that he was making a pilgrimage to one of the earthly assignments of our own Venerable Solanus Casey. (Original post here.) Among other things he related that he was working on the cause for canonization of his parents, Sergio Bernardini and Domenica née Bedonni. Read about them here.

Well today at lunch I found myself sitting next to the same Archbishop Giuseppe. I reminded him that we had met once before and I asked how his parents were moving along. He was happy to say that they were now venerable, another step toward blessed and perhaps saint.

Archbishop Giuseppe is not the only priest I have ever met who was trying to canonize his parents. There's also Fr. Raffaele of the Carmelites, whose parents Ulisse and Lelia are Servants of God. You can read about them in Italian here.

You can find Fr. Raffaele giving daily inspiration on Twitter
or in the back corner of Santa Maria della Vittoria (which is also Cardinal O'Malley's Roman church) saying his rosary and receiving local penitents like me.

November 9, 2015


Sometimes I get a little worried about the future of the Order.

But what to do about my worry?

Looking at the history of religious life, it seems to me that reform and renewal in religious life comes from one place: saints.

When I was in the OFM the buzzword was 'refounding.' This was going to bring renewal. And I have encountered other buzzwords along the way in my journey in religious life. Mostly they seem sterile when it comes to generating reform and renewal.

So, again, what we need, it seems to me, are saints.

But what does this mean practically?

First of all, I must ask God in prayer for the saint who will bring reform and renewal to the Order.

Then, I must be open to the possibility that God wills to make one of my confreres into this saint. Therefore, charity towards my brother must mean treating him and interacting with him so as to support and encourage his sanctity. Anything less is not really love.

November 2, 2015

All Souls

The first entry in the Martyrology today:
The commemoration of all the deceased faithful, wherein devout Mother Church--having just encouraged the fitting celebration of all her children rejoicing in heaven-- busies herself interceding before God for all souls who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and who sleep in the hope of resurrection, and also for all those from the beginning of the world whose faith is known to God alone, that, purged of the contagion of sin, they may merit to enjoy the eternal beatific vision.
For the first time in my priesthood, I celebrated today all three Masses of All Souls, according to the privilege granted to all priests by the bull Incruentum altaris of Benedict XVI. The first, concelebrating at the regular conventual Mass, I offered for the deceased of my family. The second and third I offered alone (according to the directions of Fr. McNamara, whom I tend to trust on liturgical questions) for all the faithful departed and for the intention of the Holy Father, as is prescribed. (I still feel scruples about celebrating Mass alone, and wonder if simply desiring to offer the sacrifice is a 'just and reasonable cause,' but priests seem to do it. It's not something I do often.)

All of these things--prayers for the dead, Masses offered for them--speak to me of hope and of a merciful God. A God whose desire for our salvation goes beyond the limits of our earthly life, providing even a means to be purified of our sins after our bodily death. That means we call purgatory, without affirming much else about it.

May all the faithful departed, as well as all the holy souls from the beginning of time whose faith is known to God alone, by his mercy, rest in peace. Amen.

October 31, 2015


Catherine of Siena is beautiful in the Office of Readings today:
The eternal Father, indescribably kind and tender, turned his eye to this soul and spoke to her thus: 
‘O dearest daughter, I have determined to show my mercy and loving kindness to the world, and I choose to provide for mankind all that is good. But man, ignorant, turns into a death-giving thing what I gave in order to give him life. Not only ignorant, but cruel: cruel to himself. But still I go on providing. For this reason I want you to know: whatever I give to man, I do it out of my great providence.
That's the whole story of misery and sin; we twist the good gifts God has given us into a sort of violence towards ourselves, We grasp at what is freely given to all and try to hoard it for ourselves. We cling to miserable little consolations rather than risk opening ourselves up to the Consoler who is the Spouse of the soul.
The moral theology of the devil starts out with the principle: "Pleasure is sin." Then he goes on to work it the other way: "All sin is pleasure." 
After that he points out that pleasure is practically unavoidable and that we have a natural tendency to do things that please us, from which he reasons that all our natural tendencies are evil and that our nature is evil in itself. And he leads us to the conclusion that no one can possibly avoid sin, since pleasure is inescapable. 
After that, to make sure no one will try to escape or avoid sin, he adds that was unavoidable cannot be a sin. Then the whole concept of sin is thrown out the window as irrelevant, and people decide that there is nothing left but to live for pleasure, and in that way pleasures that are naturally good become evil by de-ordination and lives are thrown away in unhappiness and sin. (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 93)

October 30, 2015

Hemo the Magnificent

As a child I was interested in religion and I experienced some attraction to Jesus. But since I had no formal religious upbringing, where did I get these ideas? Various places, I suppose, but one that I've been reminded of recently is the film Hemo the Magnificent--on blood and the circulatory system--which I saw at least once in elementary school. Watching it now, it's amazing that something with so much explicit Christianity was shown in a public school. I'm sure it wouldn't fly nowadays.

The film begins with Leviticus - "the life of the flesh is in the blood" (17:11) and ends with St. Paul.

October 28, 2015

Finding a Spiritual Director

I also wanted to share some good news. After some adventures and awkward moments--including asking a Cardinal of the Roman Church, true story--I think I have found a spiritual director here in Rome. When the time was right I had the inspiration to send an email in a certain direction, and right away I was led to someone who seems good.

We had a first meeting, which seemed to go well. He recommended that I no longer use the meditation period between Morning Prayer and Mass to pray the Office of Readings, but that I use it for meditation in the strict sense, what in the Capuchin tradition we call mental prayer.

He also recommended that I reread Thoughts Matter by Sr. Mary Margaret Funk. Also a very good idea. She writes:
This book is intended for a person who is looking seriously for the right path on the spiritual journey. According to John Cassian, a fourth-century monk, renunciations are required of us if we are on that journey. First, we must renounce our former way of life and move closer to our heart's desire, toward the interior life. Second, we must do the inner work (of asceticism) by renouncing our mindless thoughts. This renunciation is particularly difficult because we have little control over our thoughts. Third, we must renounce our own images of God so that we enter into contemplation of God as God.