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.