Archives for 2012

Baltimore Catechism: on indulgences

Baltimore Catechism

Lesson 21

231 Q. What is an indulgence?
A. An indulgence is the remission in whole or in part of the temporal punishment due to sin.

I have explained before what the temporal punishment is; namely, the debt which we owe to God after He has forgiven our sins, and which we must pay in order that satisfaction be made. It is, as I said, the value of the watch we must return after we have been pardoned for the act of stealing. I said this punishment must be blotted out by our penance. Now, the Church gives us an easy means of so doing, by granting us indulgences. She helps us by giving us a share in the merits of the Blessed Virgin and of the saints. All this we have explained when speaking in the Creed of the communion of saints.

*232 Q. Is an indulgence a pardon of sin, or a license to commit sin?
A. An indulgence is not a pardon of sin, nor a license to commit sin, and one who is in a state of mortal sin cannot gain an indulgence.

If you are in a state of mortal sin you lose the merit of any good works you perform. God promises to reward us for good works, and if we are in the state of grace when we do the good works, God will keep His promise and give us the reward; but if we are in mortal sin, we have no right or claim to any reward for good works, because we are enemies of God. For this reason alone we should never remain even for a short time in mortal sin, since it is important for us to have all the merit we can. Even when we will not repent and return to Him, God rewards us for good works done by giving us some temporal blessings or benefits here upon earth. He never allows any good work to go unrewarded any more than He allows an evil deed to go unpunished. Although God is so good to us we nevertheless lose very much by being in a state of mortal sin; for God’s grace is in some respects like the money in a bank: the more grace we receive and the better we use it, the more He will bestow upon us. When you deposit money in a savings bank, you get interest for it; and when you leave the interest also in the bank, it is added to your capital, and thus you get interest for the interest. So God not only gives us grace to do good, but also grace for doing the good, or, in other words, He gives us grace for using His grace.

233 Q. How many kinds of indulgences are there?
A. There are two kinds of indulgences – plenary and partial.

234 Q. What is a plenary indulgence?
A. A plenary indulgence is the full remission of the temporal punishment due to sin.

“Full remission”; so that if you gained a plenary indulgence and died immediately afterwards, you would go at once to Heaven. Persons go to Purgatory, as you know, to have the temporal punishment blotted out; but if you have no temporal punishment to make satisfaction for, there is no Purgatory for you. Gaining a plenary indulgence requires proper dispositions, as you may understand from its very great advantages. To gain it we must not only hate sin and be heartily sorry even for our venial sins, but we must not have a desire for even venial sin. We should always try to gain a plenary indulgence, for in so doing we always gain at least part of it, or a partial indulgence, greater or less according to our dispositions.

235 Q. What is a partial indulgence?
A. A partial indulgence is the remission of a part of the temporal punishment due to sin.

*236 Q. How does the Church by means of indulgences remit the temporal punishment due to sins?
A. The Church by means of indulgences remits the temporal punishment due to sin by applying to us the merits of Jesus Christ, and the superabundant satisfactions of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the saints, which merits and satisfactions are its spiritual treasury.

“Superabundant” means more than was necessary. (See explanation of communion of saints in the “Creed.”)

237 Q. What must we do to gain an indulgence?
A. To gain an indulgence we must be in a state of grace and perform the works enjoined.

“Works” – to visit certain churches or altars; to give alms; to say certain prayers, etc. For a plenary indulgence it is required in addition to go to confession and Holy Communion, and to pray for the intention of our Holy Father the Pope; for this last requirement it is sufficient to recite one Our Father and one Hail Mary. Now, what does praying for the intention of the Pope or bishop or anyone else mean? It does not mean that you are to pray for the Pope himself, but for whatever he is praying for or wishes you to pray for. For instance, on one day the Holy Father may be praying for the success of some missions that he is establishing in pagan lands; on another, he may be praying that the enemies of the Church may not succeed in their plans against it; on another, he may be praying for the conversion of some nation, and so on; whatever he is praying for or wishes you to pray for is called his intention.

There are three basic ways of gaining a partial indulgence. A partial indulgence can be gained by: 1) raising one’s heart to God amidst the duties and trials of life and making a pious invocation, even only mentally; 2) giving of oneself or one’s goods to those in need; 3) voluntarily depriving oneself of something pleasing, in a spirit of penance.

A partial indulgence is also granted for reciting various well-known prayers, such as the acts of faith, hope, charity and contrition, and for performing certain acts of devotion, such as making a Spiritual Communion.

To gain an indulgence you must also have the intention of gaining it. There are many prayers that we sometimes say to which indulgences are attached, and we do not know it. How can we gain them? By making a general intention every morning while saying our prayers to gain all the indulgences we can during the day, whether we know them or not. For example, there is a partial indulgence granted us every time we devoutly make the Sign of the Cross or devoutly use an article of devotion, such as a crucifix or scapular, properly blessed by any priest. Many may not know of these indulgences; but if they have the general intention mentioned above, they will gain the indulgence every time they perform the work. In the same way, by having this intention all those who are in the habit of going to confession every two weeks are able to gain a plenary indulgence when they fulfill the other prescribed conditions for gaining a plenary indulgence, even when they do not know that they are gaining the indulgence.

Since partial indulgences were formerly designated by specific amounts of time, you sometimes see printed after a little prayer: An indulgence of forty days, or, an indulgence of one hundred days, or of a year, etc. What does that mean? Does it mean that a person who said that prayer would get out of Purgatory forty days sooner than he would have if he had not said it? No. I told you how the early Christians were obliged to do public penance for their sins; to stand at the door of the church and beg the prayers of those entering. Sometimes their penance lasted for forty days, sometimes for one hundred days, and sometimes for a longer period. By an indulgence of forty days the Church granted the remission of as much of the temporal punishment as the early Christians would have received for doing forty days’ public penance. Just how much of the temporal punishment God blotted out for forty days’ public penance we do not know; but whatever it was, God blotted out just the same for one who gained an indulgence of forty days by saying a little prayer to which the indulgence was attached. But why, you may wonder, did the early Christians do such penances? Because in those days their faith was stronger than ours, and they understood better than we do the malice of sin and the punishment it deserves. Later the Christians grew more careless about their religion and the service of God. The Church, therefore, wishing to save its children, made it easier for them to do penance. If it had continued to impose the public penances, many would not have performed them, and thus would have lost their souls.

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving 2012

Give thanks to the LORD, invoke his name;
make known among the peoples his deeds!
Sing praise to him, play music;
proclaim all his wondrous deeds!
Glory in his holy name;
let hearts that seek the LORD rejoice!
Seek out the LORD and his might;
constantly seek his face.
Recall the wondrous deeds he has done,
his wonders and words of judgment,
You descendants of Abraham his servant,
offspring of Jacob the chosen one!

I hope that you and your family had a blessed, happy and safe Thanksgiving.

Review: Catholicism


It seems presumptuous for a 279 page book to have a title like “Catholicism” with its history of thousands of years and a deep, beautiful faith. Yet, somehow, Father Robert Barron‘s book captures its essence surprisingly well.

My hopes for the book, the written accompaniment to the excellent Catholicism DVD series, was high. Moreover, Fr. Barron is someone I follow and respect so my expectations were further elevated. While I have not seen the full DVD series, I have seen those portions broadcast on television. They are a work of art: an excellent narrative skillfully told, breathtaking video, beautiful soundtrack – all skillfully woven together. This book essentially takes the story told there and presents it in a complimentary form.

The story is presented in classic Father Barron style. If you are familiar with his videos, you will find the same sort of insight, reasoning, excitement, phrasing and pacing in the book. I heard him reading it to me.

One thing the book is not – a fast read. It took me much longer than usual for a book this size. Not that it was particularly difficult, but because it is thought provoking.

Like Catholicism itself, the target audience for the book is really everyone. Don’t like Catholicism but are fair minded? Thinking about possibly, maybe, tentatively looking into Catholicism? In any stage of RCIA? Fallen away from your Catholic faith? Faithful Catholic head-over-heals in love with your faith? Read this!

Father Barron describes it thus: “What I propose to do in this book is to take you on a guided exploration of the Catholic world, but not in the manner of a docent, for I am not interested in showing you the artifacts of Catholicism as though they were dusty objets d’art in a museum of culture. I want to function rather as a mystagogue, conducting you ever deeper into the mystery of the incarnation in the hopes that you might be transformed by its power.”

I think that he succeeds. I was particularly pleased with Father’s presentation of the Mass, the source and summit of the Christian life. You will not find a dull, mechanical catalog of its component parts together with an overview of the vessels and vestments used (as I have found by some authors). Instead, Father Barron eloquently and beautifully presents the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as it really is. A small snippet:

From a Catholic point of view, this coming together of faith in the Incarnation and faith in the real presence is of great significance, for the Eucharist is nothing other than a sacramental extension of the Incarnation across space and time, the manner in which Christ continues to abide, in and embodied way, with his church.

The book is structured into 10 fairly long chapters:

  1. Amazed and Afraid: The Revelation of God Become Man
  2. Happy are We: The Teachings of Jesus
  3. “That Than Which Nothing Greater Can Be Thought”: The Ineffable Mystery of God
  4. Our Tainted Nature’s Solitary Boast: Mary, The Mother of God
  5. The Indispensable Men: Peter, Paul, and the Missionary Adventure
  6. A Body Both Suffering and Glorious: The Mystical Union of Christ and The Church
  7. Word Made Flesh, True Bread of Heaven: The Mystery of The Church’s Sacrament and Worship
  8. A Vast Company of Witnesses: The Communion of Saints
  9. The Fire of His Love: Prayer and The Life of The Spirit
  10. World Without End: The Last Things

Also included are Acknowledgments, an Introduction (“The Catholic Thing”), A Coda (“It’s All About God”) and an Index. Black and white pictures of people and places are sprinkled throughout the text. The center of the book includes a nice bonus: 8 pages of full-color artwork and other images printed on high-quality paper.

I recommend this book without reservation and have added it to my Great Books list (very few, very select, highly recommended books). I am in very good company recommending it: Archbishop Charles Chaput, Scott Hahn, George Weigel, Raymond Arroyo, Mike Aquilina and many more. Buy it for yourself and give it as a gift. You probably know a lot of people who could benefit from it.

Full Disclosure:  This book was provided to me at no charge by WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. They seek only my honest, real opinion and that is what I give!

7 Quick Takes Friday (set #80)

7 Quick Takes Friday

This week: Scott Hahn’s awesome video on the New Evangelization (and our faith in general). Father Barron addresses extreme secularism as illustrated by a Chicago Sun-Times columnist. A proposed documentary on same sex attraction and genuine Church teaching. An amazing image from hurricane Sandy. Another 90 second creation story. A recent surprise for one military family. Miracle invention – The Popinator (as in “popcorn”, not “pope”).

— 1 —

Scott Hahn speaks here about the New Evangelization, but it is sooooo much more than that! He beautifully presents our faith, covering a lot of ground, in just a few minutes. I was expecting this to be interesting, but it is awesome.

Spotted by Marcel

— 2 —

Father Barron is unimpressed with Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberger’s uninformed, anti-religious, secular mind. “I think what we ought to do, we religious people, is engage in a kind of non-violent resistance to this very violent, very aggressive move. We should” …   “bring religious language very much into the public conversation.”

— 3 —

How do we reach the masses (and for that matter, many Catholics) with genuine Church teaching? Projects like this. I donated (via this link).

Spotted by Fr. Z

— 4 —

Only hurricane Sandy’s outer bands swept over NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL. A thin haze of ice crystals in cirrus clouds produced an interesting natural phenomenon:

NASA Luminous Arcs

We will see in it what we will. Some see a mouth receiving the Blessed Sacrament. Thanks to Elizabeth Scalia for spotting it.

— 5 —

Another creation in 90 seconds video:

Spotted by Father Zuhlsdorf

— 6 —

The sound quality of the following video is horrible. Fortunately, you will not need it…

Spotted by Matthew Archbold

— 7 —

Your hands are full, but you need a piece of popcorn. How can technology solve this problem?

(Don’t rush out to buy one – they don’t really exist.)

Some random thoughts or bits of information are worthy of sharing but don’t warrant their own full post. This idea was started by Jennifer Fulwiler at Conversion Diary to address this blogging need. So, some Fridays I too participate when I have accumulated 7 worthy items. Thank you Jen for hosting this project!

Elsewhere: so many converts!


It is intriguing to me why so many people become Catholic. These are adults who were in other Christian communities, other religions or none at all. Common threads run through their stories, but each remains unique – and a deliberate, personal, informed choice to be Catholic.

Brantly Millegan, a young, Evangelical convert himself, continues to write some excellent pieces on his blog Young, Evangelical, and Catholic. I last featured aspect one of his pieces on the early Church and in some 7 Quick Takes Fridays (here and here).

This is his latest on piece – this time on converts, complete with a zillion links:

Yes, people do choose to join the Catholic Church.

Both my wife and I joined the Catholic Church as adults (see My Faith Story). The website Why I’m Catholic has a great (and growing) collection of stories of people who joined the Church. There are so many great stories. Obviously, there’s the stories of people like Paul, Augustine, Ambrose, Emperor Constantine, John Cardinal Newman, Dorothy Day, Alasdair MacIntyre, Edith Stein, and G.E.M. Anscombe, Francis Beckwith (who was president of the Evangelical Theological Society when he converted), Scott Hahn, and Richard Neuhaus.

There’s also the bisexual atheist blogger who just became Catholic this last summer, the former evangelical/emergent church co-author of the book Jesus for President who found his way back to the Church via Catholic Social Teaching, the pro-life leaders Lila Rose, Abby Johnson, Bernard Nathanson, and Bryan Kemper, the Wheaton College Bible professor who crossed the Tiber a year and a half ago and the steady stream of disaffected Anglicans joining the Catholic Church. Even former speaker of the house and recent presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (who produced a great documentary on John Paul II) and former prime minister of the U.K. Tony Blair have jumped aboard.

Below are four stories of people who joined the Catholic Church as adults who I think many people probably don’t know about (at least I was surprised to learn about their stories!). One was a convicted homosexual playwright who converted on his death-bed, another was an ex-Marxist who authored the “eco-Bible,” the third was a drafter of the U.N’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the last one was the founder of a whole new academic discipline.

Death-bed conversion of a homosexual playwright: Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

A contributor to the aestheticism movement and best known for his play The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde is also a well-known example of a famous person convicted under laws in the 19th century that punished homosexual acts. What is not as well-known, however, is that he joined the Catholic Church literally on his death-bed. Though born into an Anglican family, his interest in the Church started as a young man. A meeting with Pope Pius IX left a big impact on him, and he read the writings the Cardinal Newman, another great convert to the faith. At the age of twenty four, he actually was set join the Catholic Church, but decided against it at the last minute.

A quarter of a century later, after serving his prison sentence, he unsuccessfully tried to go on a six-month Jesuit retreat. He later developed cerebral meningitis. With his health deteriorating, a friend called for a priest. The priest conditionally baptized him (Wilde had a vague memory of being baptized as a child) and gave him Last Rites. He died the next day.

The liberal environmentalist nobody knew was Catholic: E. F. Schumacher (1911-1977)

Schumacher was a protégé of John Maynard Keynes as a young man and had an accomplished career as an economist. For much of his adult life, he was an avowed Marxist atheist. But a visit to Burma in the early 1950s and seeing how Buddhism shaped the economic life of the country got him to start rethinking his atheism. Upon returning to England, he decided to look into the Christian tradition and read the writings of St Thomas Aquinas, St Teresa of Avila, and St John of the Cross, and the lives of other saints. He also read modern Catholic thinkers Rene Guenon, Etienne Gilson, G. K. Chesterton (another convert), and Jacques Maritain (another convert, see below). A friend eventually persuaded him to read the papal social teaching encyclicals. A friend of his relates how he responded:

He replied, ‘No, no, I’m sure that the Popes are very holy men living in their ivory tower in the Vatican but they don’t know a thing about the conduct of practical affairs…   But this friend…   insisted that he should read the social encyclicals, Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno above all…   He did so and was absolutely staggered. He said, ‘here were these celibates living in an ivory tower…   why can they talk a great deal of sense when everyone else talks nonsense’…   (source)

Pope Paul VI’s encyclical reaffirming the Church’s stance against the use of contraception Humanae Vitae came out as he was getting closer to wanting to join the Church. Though many criticized the teaching, Schumacher was in full support: “If the Pope had written anything else, I would have lost all faith in the papacy.” (source) For his wife and daughter, who had also been considering Catholicism, Humanae Vitae was the final assurance that the Catholic Church was the right place to be. After years of being intellectually convinced of Catholicism, he was eventually received into the Church.

Two years later, he published the book Small is Beautiful: Economics as if people mattered. Touted by TIME magazine as the “eco-Bible”, the best-seller simply explained in non-theological language the ideas of Catholic social teaching. When he died four years later a celebrity among liberal environmentalists, most still didn’t know he was Catholic. His daughter has related that, as word got out, many were “astounded” and “thought it was a real let-down, a betrayal.” (Read more about his conversion here.)

There is more in Brantly’s full piece, including pictures at: The Converts to Catholicism You Didn’t Know About.

UPDATE: Brantly continues with 4 more notable, interesting converts in More Converts You Didn’t Know About.

My special interest is in those who blog, telling their story and continuing journey. I have assembled a good list, along with links to other good sources of online convert stories. There is also a good list of convert stories published in book form. Explore it at Convert Stories.