Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"How to Be a Better Catholic"

Eucharistic Adoration this Friday will be from 7:30-8:30 pm in the SAA Church.
The following comes from “How to Be a Better Catholic” in the Daily Roman Missal (6th Edition, 2003).

Spiritual Game Plan

- Get up at a fixed time, as early as possible. Eight hours of sleep should be enough. More than this or less than seven hours of sleep is usually not healthy.
- Offer your day to God through the intercession of our Lady.
- Work with order and intensity during the day as a way of serving God. Set goals and establish priorities in order to develop a practical schedule. Sanctifying ordinary work is the goal of our life.
- Try to attend Mass, receiving holy Communion, as often as possible. This is the best sacrifice we can offer to God. Prepare yourself for the Mass by spending some time in prayer.
- Spend some time in mental prayer before the Blessed Sacrament (15 minutes, if possible).
- Pray the Angelus at noontime (During Eastertime, say the Regina Caeli instead).
- Pray the Rosary – if possible with your family – offering each decade for a specific intention.
- Do some spiritual reading, Start with the New Testament or some well-known spiritual book. Ten to fifteen minutes is sufficient.
- Make a short examination of conscience at the end of the day before going to bed. Two or three minutes is enough. Follow these steps: Humble yourself in the presence of God. Tell him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean”. Ask for light to acknowledge your defects and virtues and to see the dangers and opportunities of the day. Ask for repentance, amendment, and encouragement.

- Center all activities around the holy Mass on Sunday, the Lord’s day. It is also a family day – for rest and spiritual growth.
- If you do not receive holy Communion every day, receive at least on Sundays and holy days of obligation.
- Saturday is traditionally dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Honor her and some special prayer, such as the Hail Holy Queen.

- Go to Confession at least once a month. It is a sacrament of joy. Pope John Paul II says, “God is always the one who is principally offended by sin – ‘tibi soli peccavi’ (‘Against you only have I sinned’) – and God alone can forgive.” He does so through the ministry of the priest in the sacrament of Penance, which “is the ordinary way of obtaining forgiveness and remission of mortal sins committed after Baptism.” “every serious sin must always be stated with its determining circumstances, in an individual confession.” (Reconciliation and Penance, 33).
- Seek and follow the spiritual guidance of a wise, prudent, and knowledgeable priest.
- Spend a few hours in recollection, best done before the Blessed Sacrament. Consider how you are directing your life toward God.

- Spend two or three days each year in silence, speaking with God only. A few days of retreat are necessary for the soul in the same way that the body needs a vacation. It is a yearly opportunity for conversion.

- Stay in the presence of God: be aware that he is always close to you. Try to please him in everything as a child tries to please his/her parents.
- Thank God for the graces that he constantly gives you.
- Do everything for love of God: this is purity of intention. Always purify your intention. Make acts of contrition and atonement for your sins and sins of others.
- Try to live as you would like to die. We shall die as we have lived.

Monday, April 28, 2008

6th Sunday of Easter - homily

You’ve heard much commentary and many reactions to the Papal visit, especially the Papal Mass. One comment that I’ve heard from many people is that they were so struck by the experience of 46,000 people saying the responses and singing the hymns in unison. For some, it was an experience of Heaven with what sounded like angelic choirs singing God’s praises in unison. It was an overwhelming experience for many people, and one that I think we were not expecting. One reaction I’ve had to the Mass was that it was an experience of the Holy Spirit. In light of that experience and today’s readings, it is fitting to ask, ‘who is the Holy Spirit and what evidence is there of the Spirit’s activity in the world?’

There is much evidence from Scripture about the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit. In the life of Christ, the Spirit is very much present. It is “by the power of the Holy Spirit” that Christ is conceived and brought into the world. Jesus is “led by the Spirit” at significant events in his life. And, as we just heard in the second reading, it is “in the Spirit” that Christ was raised from the dead.

In the life of the early Church, the Spirit is all over the place. We hear from the Acts of the Apostles throughout the Easter season; many scholars refer to the Acts of the Apostles as the “Gospel of the Holy Spirit”. The Spirit is mentioned at the beginning of Acts, descending on the Apostles as tongues of fire at Pentecost. There are many references to the Apostles being “filled with the Spirit” in their preaching and teaching. The Spirit directed and instructed the Apostles in their decisions and actions in setting up the early Church. The Spirit even spoke on a few occasions in Acts.

But, who is the Holy Spirit? Our theology tells us that He is the third person of the Holy Trinity. Christ tells us more about the Spirit in the Gospel. The Spirit is the “Advocate” or “Consoler”. Christ is the first Advocate; the Spirit is the second. He is the “Spirit of Truth”. The Spirit has been guiding the Church for 2000 years since Pentecost in Truth. We can have great confidence as Catholics that the teachings of our Church have been based in Truth because the Church is led by the Spirit of Truth.

The Spirit is the one through whom Christ comes to us. He tells us that he “will not leave us as orphans” and that He “will come to us”. This is all on the heels of telling us that He will send the Spirit. It is through the Spirit, then, that Christ comes to us. We know this is true when it come to the Eucharist, especially if we pay attention to the words of the Eucharistic prayer. In a few minutes, I will ask the Father, “send your Spirit upon these gifts to make them holy, that they may become for us the body and blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ”. We have no clue HOW this happens – no clue how the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. But, we believe THAT it happens through the power of the Holy Spirit.

As Jesus comes to us in the Spirit, may the Spirit help us to love Jesus and know the love of our Father. May each one of us know the love of the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit.

Friday, April 25, 2008

"Remains in me"

Eucharistic Adoration tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. All who wish to adore Jesus in the Eucharist are invited!!
An anonymous blogger recently posted the following comment about the Eucharist:

“It's one thing to have an intellectual belief that Jesus meant it in the literal sense, but another to truly experience it. And, why do so many Christian religions still interpret it figuratively?”

I think that I’ve told the story before, but, if not, I’ll repeat it. I was speaking to a young woman years ago who was in a Lutheran Bible college. She was very well-versed in Sacred Scripture and I learned much from her. I asked her about John 6 with great interest. She paused, and thought aloud, ‘John 6, John 6…I’m sorry, what is John 6 about?” I reminded her that it was the Bread of Life discourse – when Jesus taught about the Eucharist. After going through that exquisite chapter together, she said with some frustration, “I’ve never studied that chapter!” She went to her pastor to find out why they skipped over that one; he, of course, asked her who she had been talking to!

Starting with the Reformation about 500 years ago, Protestants have interpreted John 6 and the teaching on the Eucharist as being symbolic only. One of the main reformers, Martin Luther, changed Christ’s words from “this is my body” to “this symbolizes my body” when he established the King James Version of the Bible. Even though there are 30,000 different Protestant denominations, they all continue the teaching of the reformers – that the bread and wine are symbols only of the Body and Blood of Christ. So, tradition would be one answer to your question, Anon. It is a tradition that continues to “protest” against the Tradition of the Church that was instituted by Christ. As the following reflection by Fr. Wells (see post from 10/9/07) indicates, it is a tradition that is the result of sin.

“First of all, it was the prayer of Jesus that, ‘they be one, as you Father, are in me and I am in you.’ Unity is intended by God to be one of the distinctive marks of the Church. The summit, the source, and the principle sign of that unity is the Eucharist. Now, thank God, we have discovered in recent decades how much we have in common with other Christians, especially when compared with those who have no faith. We can, and should, pray and study together; we should engage in common works of Christian charity and we should build each other up in our attempts to love and serve the Lord. However, the rediscovery of how much we have in common does not erase the divisions that exist within the body of those who call themselves Christian. And we must not forget that our disunity is the result of sin – and sin always has painful consequences.”

Finally, here are some beautiful insights about the Eucharist from another anonymous blogger:

I’m not real insightful when it comes to scripture readings so I went on line to see what I could find on The Bread of Life Discourse. As I expected, there were numerous web sites with information, some more helpful than others. One particular article ended with a prayer that caught my attention (catholic-resources.org/John/Sharing6). It was a long, deep prayer by Teilhard de Chardin and I had to read it more than once.

Teilhard de Chardin’s prayer addresses our thoughts before approaching the altar for communion. It is with the hope of: “…discernment of the infinite perspectives hidden beneath the smallness and closeness of the host within which you are concealed. Already I have accustomed myself to recognize beneath the inertness of the morsel of bread a consuming power which, as the greatest doctors of your Church have said, far from being absorbed into me, absorbs me into itself.”

The last four words are what made me stop, think and realize that I totally missed the - “remains in me” part of (John 6: 56). “Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood remains in me and I in him.” I realized I have been approaching communion with the “I in him” perspective; i.e. with consumption of the host, Jesus becomes part of me. I do believe this to be true, but it is what I should be thinking of and being thankful for as I walk away from communion.

When I approach the altar for communion, I should be thinking of whether or not I have given to Jesus, contemplating my worthiness of being part of Him of remaining in Him. As the prayer points out in its’ last sentence, “In the host, Lord Jesus, you offer me my life.” In order to receive more, I must first offer back my life to the host. Then I will be living, “Through Him, in Him and with Him…”

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"Embrace (your vocation) with joy"

On Sunday evening, I took five of our high school young men to a vocations event called the “Project Andrew Dinner”. They joined about 20 other high school men from nearby parishes for Mass, dinner, talks on the priesthood, and a vocations video. The guys seemed to enjoy the night and benefit from it. During the event, one of our young men said that he feels he has a vocation to the priesthood and wanted to know how to pursue it. Thanks be to God, the parents, and your prayers, eight young men from our parish and youth group have attended vocations events in the past three months. Please keep praying that more of our young men and women will hear the call to priesthood and religious life, and respond generously. You have powerful prayers!
Speaking of vocations, here are excerpts from the Holy Father’s address to young people and seminarians in New York on Saturday. To view the full text, please click on today’s title.

Dear young people, finally I wish to share a word about vocations. First of all my thoughts go to your parents, grandparents and godparents. They have been your primary educators in the faith. By presenting you for baptism, they made it possible for you to receive the greatest gift of your life. On that day you entered into the holiness of God himself. You became adoptive sons and daughters of the Father. You were incorporated into Christ. You were made a dwelling place of his Spirit. Let us pray for mothers and fathers throughout the world, particularly those who may be struggling in any way – socially, materially, spiritually. Let us honor the vocation of matrimony and the dignity of family life. Let us always appreciate that it is in families that vocations are given life.

Gathered here at Saint Joseph Seminary, I greet the seminarians present and indeed encourage all seminarians throughout America. I am glad to know that your numbers are increasing! The People of God look to you to be holy priests, on a daily journey of conversion, inspiring in others the desire to enter more deeply into the ecclesial life of believers. I urge you to deepen your friendship with Jesus the Good Shepherd. Talk heart to heart with him. Reject any temptation to ostentation, careerism, or conceit. Strive for a pattern of life truly marked by charity, chastity and humility, in imitation of Christ, the Eternal High Priest, of whom you are to become living icons (cf. Pastores Dabo Vobis, 33). Dear seminarians, I pray for you daily. Remember that what counts before the Lord is to dwell in his love and to make his love shine forth for others.

Religious Sisters, Brothers and Priests contribute greatly to the mission of the Church. Their prophetic witness is marked by a profound conviction of the primacy with which the Gospel shapes Christian life and transforms society. Today, I wish to draw your attention to the positive spiritual renewal which Congregations are undertaking in relation to their charism. The word charism means a gift freely and graciously given. Charisms are bestowed by the Holy Spirit, who inspires founders and foundresses, and shapes Congregations with a subsequent spiritual heritage. The wondrous array of charisms proper to each Religious Institute is an extraordinary spiritual treasury. Indeed, the history of the Church is perhaps most beautifully portrayed through the history of her schools of spirituality, most of which stem from the saintly lives of founders and foundresses. Through the discovery of charisms, which yield such a breadth of spiritual wisdom, I am sure that some of you young people will be drawn to a life of apostolic or contemplative service. Do not be shy to speak with Religious Brothers, Sisters or Priests about the charism and spirituality of their Congregation. No perfect community exists, but it is fidelity to a founding charism, not to particular individuals, that the Lord calls you to discern. Have courage! You too can make your life a gift of self for the love of the Lord Jesus and, in him, of every member of the human family (cf. Vita Consecrata, 3).

Friends, again I ask you, what about today? What are you seeking? What is God whispering to you? The hope which never disappoints is Jesus Christ. The saints show us the selfless love of his way. As disciples of Christ, their extraordinary journeys unfolded within the community of hope, which is the Church. It is from within the Church that you too will find the courage and support to walk the way of the Lord. Nourished by personal prayer, prompted in silence, shaped by the Church’s liturgy you will discover the particular vocation God has for you. Embrace it with joy. You are Christ’s disciples today. Shine his light upon this great city and beyond. Show the world the reason for the hope that resonates within you. Tell others about the truth that sets you free. With these sentiments of great hope in you I bid you farewell, until we meet again in Sydney this July for World Youth Day! And as a pledge of my love for you and your families, I gladly impart my Apostolic Blessing.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Papal Mass homily - Yankee Stadium

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In the Gospel we have just heard, Jesus tells his Apostles to put their faith in him, for he is “the way, and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). Christ is the way that leads to the Father, the truth which gives meaning to human existence, and the source of that life which is eternal joy with all the saints in his heavenly Kingdom. Let us take the Lord at his word! Let us renew our faith in him and put all our hope in his promises!

With this encouragement to persevere in the faith of Peter (cf. Lk 22:32; Mt 16:17), I greet all of you with great affection. I thank Cardinal Egan for his cordial words of welcome in your name. At this Mass, the Church in the United States celebrates the two hundredth anniversary of the creation of the Sees of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Louisville from the mother See of Baltimore. The presence around this altar of the Successor of Peter, his brother bishops and priests, and deacons, men and women religious, and lay faithful from throughout the fifty states of the Union, eloquently manifests our communion in the Catholic faith which comes to us from the Apostles.

Our celebration today is also a sign of the impressive growth which God has given to the Church in your country in the past two hundred years. From a small flock like that described in the first reading, the Church in America has been built up in fidelity to the twin commandment of love of God and love of neighbor. In this land of freedom and opportunity, the Church has united a widely diverse flock in the profession of the faith and, through her many educational, charitable and social works, has also contributed significantly to the growth of American society as a whole.

This great accomplishment was not without its challenges. Today’s first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, speaks of linguistic and cultural tensions already present within the earliest Church community. At the same time, it shows the power of the word of God, authoritatively proclaimed by the Apostles and received in faith, to create a unity which transcends the divisions arising from human limitations and weakness. Here we are reminded of a fundamental truth: that the Church’s unity has no other basis than the Word of God, made flesh in Christ Jesus our Lord. All external signs of identity, all structures, associations and programs, valuable or even essential as they may be, ultimately exist only to support and foster the deeper unity which, in Christ, is God’s indefectible gift to his Church.

The first reading also makes clear, as we see from the imposition of hands on the first deacons, that the Church’s unity is “apostolic”. It is a visible unity, grounded in the Apostles whom Christ chose and appointed as witnesses to his resurrection, and it is born of what the Scriptures call “the obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5; cf. Acts 6:7).

“Authority” … “obedience”. To be frank, these are not easy words to speak nowadays. Words like these represent a “stumbling stone” for many of our contemporaries, especially in a society which rightly places a high value on personal freedom. Yet, in the light of our faith in Jesus Christ – “the way and the truth and the life” – we come to see the fullest meaning, value, and indeed beauty, of those words. The Gospel teaches us that true freedom, the freedom of the children of God, is found only in the self-surrender which is part of the mystery of love. Only by losing ourselves, the Lord tells us, do we truly find ourselves (cf. Lk 17:33). True freedom blossoms when we turn away from the burden of sin, which clouds our perceptions and weakens our resolve, and find the source of our ultimate happiness in him who is infinite love, infinite freedom, infinite life. “In his will is our peace”.

Real freedom, then, is God’s gracious gift, the fruit of conversion to his truth, the truth which makes us free (cf. Jn 8:32). And this freedom in truth brings in its wake a new and liberating way of seeing reality. When we put on “the mind of Christ” (cf. Phil 2:5), new horizons open before us! In the light of faith, within the communion of the Church, we also find the inspiration and strength to become a leaven of the Gospel in the world. We become the light of the world, the salt of the earth (cf. Mt 5:13-14), entrusted with the “apostolate” of making our own lives, and the world in which we live, conform ever more fully to God’s saving plan.

This magnificent vision of a world being transformed by the liberating truth of the Gospel is reflected in the description of the Church found in today’s second reading. The Apostle tells us that Christ, risen from the dead, is the keystone of a great temple which is even now rising in the Spirit. And we, the members of his body, through Baptism have become “living stones” in that temple, sharing in the life of God by grace, blessed with the freedom of the sons of God, and empowered to offer spiritual sacrifices pleasing to him (cf. 1 Pet 2:5). And what is this offering which we are called to make, if not to direct our every thought, word and action to the truth of the Gospel and to harness all our energies in the service of God’s Kingdom? Only in this way can we build with God, on the one foundation which is Christ (cf. 1 Cor 3:11). Only in this way can we build something that will truly endure. Only in this way can our lives find ultimate meaning and bear lasting fruit.

Today we recall the bicentennial of a watershed in the history of the Church in the United States: its first great chapter of growth. In these two hundred years, the face of the Catholic community in your country has changed greatly. We think of the successive waves of immigrants whose traditions have so enriched the Church in America. We think of the strong faith which built up the network of churches, educational, healthcare and social institutions which have long been the hallmark of the Church in this land. We think also of those countless fathers and mothers who passed on the faith to their children, the steady ministry of the many priests who devoted their lives to the care of souls, and the incalculable contribution made by so many men and women religious, who not only taught generations of children how to read and write, but also inspired in them a lifelong desire to know God, to love him and to serve him. How many “spiritual sacrifices pleasing to God” have been offered up in these two centuries! In this land of religious liberty, Catholics found freedom not only to practice their faith, but also to participate fully in civic life, bringing their deepest moral convictions to the public square and cooperating with their neighbors in shaping a vibrant, democratic society. Today’s celebration is more than an occasion of gratitude for graces received. It is also a summons to move forward with firm resolve to use wisely the blessings of freedom, in order to build a future of hope for coming generations.

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people he claims for his own, to proclaim his glorious works” (1 Pet 2:9). These words of the Apostle Peter do not simply remind us of the dignity which is ours by God’s grace; they also challenge us to an ever greater fidelity to the glorious inheritance which we have received in Christ (cf. Eph 1:18). They challenge us to examine our consciences, to purify our hearts, to renew our baptismal commitment to reject Satan and all his empty promises. They challenge us to be a people of joy, heralds of the unfailing hope (cf. Rom 5:5) born of faith in God’s word, and trust in his promises.

Each day, throughout this land, you and so many of your neighbors pray to the Father in the Lord’s own words: “Thy Kingdom come”. This prayer needs to shape the mind and heart of every Christian in this nation. It needs to bear fruit in the way you lead your lives and in the way you build up your families and your communities. It needs to create new “settings of hope” (cf. Spe Salvi, 32ff.) where God’s Kingdom becomes present in all its saving power.

Praying fervently for the coming of the Kingdom also means being constantly alert for the signs of its presence, and working for its growth in every sector of society. It means facing the challenges of present and future with confidence in Christ’s victory and a commitment to extending his reign. It means not losing heart in the face of resistance, adversity and scandal. It means overcoming every separation between faith and life, and countering false gospels of freedom and happiness. It also means rejecting a false dichotomy between faith and political life, since, as the Second Vatican Council put it, “there is no human activity – even in secular affairs – which can be withdrawn from God’s dominion” (Lumen Gentium, 36). It means working to enrich American society and culture with the beauty and truth of the Gospel, and never losing sight of that great hope which gives meaning and value to all the other hopes which inspire our lives.

And this, dear friends, is the particular challenge which the Successor of Saint Peter sets before you today. As “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation”, follow faithfully in the footsteps of those who have gone before you! Hasten the coming of God’s Kingdom in this land! Past generations have left you an impressive legacy. In our day too, the Catholic community in this nation has been outstanding in its prophetic witness in the defense of life, in the education of the young, in care for the poor, the sick and the stranger in your midst. On these solid foundations, the future of the Church in America must even now begin to rise!

Yesterday, not far from here, I was moved by the joy, the hope and the generous love of Christ which I saw on the faces of the many young people assembled in Dunwoodie. They are the Church’s future, and they deserve all the prayer and support that you can give them. And so I wish to close by adding a special word of encouragement to them. My dear young friends, like the seven men, “filled with the Spirit and wisdom” whom the Apostles charged with care for the young Church, may you step forward and take up the responsibility which your faith in Christ sets before you! May you find the courage to proclaim Christ, “the same, yesterday, and today and for ever” and the unchanging truths which have their foundation in him (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 10; Heb 13:8). These are the truths that set us free! They are the truths which alone can guarantee respect for the inalienable dignity and rights of each man, woman and child in our world – including the most defenseless of all human beings, the unborn child in the mother’s womb. In a world where, as Pope John Paul II, speaking in this very place, reminded us, Lazarus continues to stand at our door (Homily at Yankee Stadium, October 2, 1979, No. 7), let your faith and love bear rich fruit in outreach to the poor, the needy and those without a voice. Young men and women of America, I urge you: open your hearts to the Lord’s call to follow him in the priesthood and the religious life. Can there be any greater mark of love than this: to follow in the footsteps of Christ, who was willing to lay down his life for his friends (cf. Jn 15:13)?

In today’s Gospel, the Lord promises his disciples that they will perform works even greater than his (cf. Jn 14:12). Dear friends, only God in his providence knows what works his grace has yet to bring forth in your lives and in the life of the Church in the United States. Yet Christ’s promise fills us with sure hope. Let us now join our prayers to his, as living stones in that spiritual temple which is his one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Let us lift our eyes to him, for even now he is preparing for us a place in his Father’s house. And empowered by his Holy Spirit, let us work with renewed zeal for the spread of his Kingdom.

“Happy are you who believe!” (cf. 1 Pet 2:7). Let us turn to Jesus! He alone is the way that leads to eternal happiness, the truth who satisfies the deepest longings of every heart, and the life who brings ever new joy and hope, to us and to our world. Amen.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Papal Mass homily

Adoration tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. All who wish to adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament are invited!!
An enormous 'thank you' to the Archdiocese of Washington for all of its work this week with the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, especially with the incredible gift of yesterday's Papal Mass. As one commentator said after the Mass, "the Archdiocese of Washington has given our nation a great gift". The following is the text of the Holy Father's rich and hopeful homily yesterday.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

“Peace be with you!” (Jn 20:19). With these, the first words of the Risen Lord to his disciples, I greet all of you in the joy of this Easter season. Before all else, I thank God for the blessing of being in your midst. I am particularly grateful to Archbishop Wuerl for his kind words of welcome.

Our Mass today brings the Church in the United States back to its roots in nearby Maryland, and commemorates the bicentennial of the first chapter of its remarkable growth – the division by my predecessor, Pope Pius VII, of the original Diocese of Baltimore and the establishment of the Dioceses of Boston, Bardstown (now Louisville), New York and Philadelphia. Two hundred years later, the Church in America can rightfully praise the accomplishment of past generations in bringing together widely differing immigrant groups within the unity of the Catholic faith and in a common commitment to the spread of the Gospel. At the same time, conscious of its rich diversity, the Catholic community in this country has come to appreciate ever more fully the importance of each individual and group offering its own particular gifts to the whole. The Church in the United States is now called to look to the future, firmly grounded in the faith passed on by previous generations, and ready to meet new challenges – challenges no less demanding than those faced by your forebears – with the hope born of God’s love, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 5:5).

In the exercise of my ministry as the Successor of Peter, I have come to America to confirm you, my brothers and sisters, in the faith of the Apostles (cf. Lk 22:32). I have come to proclaim anew, as Peter proclaimed on the day of Pentecost, that Jesus Christ is Lord and Messiah, risen from the dead, seated in glory at the right hand of the Father, and established as judge of the living and the dead (cf. Acts 2:14ff.). I have come to repeat the Apostle’s urgent call to conversion and the forgiveness of sins, and to implore from the Lord a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church in this country. As we have heard throughout this Easter season, the Church was born of the Spirit’s gift of repentance and faith in the risen Lord. In every age she is impelled by the same Spirit to bring to men and women of every race, language and people (cf. Rev 5:9) the good news of our reconciliation with God in Christ.

The readings of today’s Mass invite us to consider the growth of the Church in America as one chapter in the greater story of the Church’s expansion following the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In those readings we see the inseparable link between the risen Lord, the gift of the Spirit for the forgiveness of sins, and the mystery of the Church. Christ established his Church on the foundation of the Apostles (cf. Rev 21:14) as a visible, structured community which is at the same time a spiritual communion, a mystical body enlivened by the Spirit’s manifold gifts, and the sacrament of salvation for all humanity (cf. Lumen Gentium, 8). In every time and place, the Church is called to grow in unity through constant conversion to Christ, whose saving work is proclaimed by the Successors of the Apostles and celebrated in the sacraments. This unity, in turn, gives rise to an unceasing missionary outreach, as the Spirit spurs believers to proclaim “the great works of God” and to invite all people to enter the community of those saved by the blood of Christ and granted new life in his Spirit.

I pray, then, that this significant anniversary in the life of the Church in the United States, and the presence of the Successor of Peter in your midst, will be an occasion for all Catholics to reaffirm their unity in the apostolic faith, to offer their contemporaries a convincing account of the hope which inspires them (cf. 1 Pet 3:15), and to be renewed in missionary zeal for the extension of God’s Kingdom.

The world needs this witness! Who can deny that the present moment is a crossroads, not only for the Church in America but also for society as a whole? It is a time of great promise, as we see the human family in many ways drawing closer together and becoming ever more interdependent. Yet at the same time we see clear signs of a disturbing breakdown in the very foundations of society: signs of alienation, anger and polarization on the part of many of our contemporaries; increased violence; a weakening of the moral sense; a coarsening of social relations; and a growing forgetfulness of Christ and God. The Church, too, sees signs of immense promise in her many strong parishes and vital movements, in the enthusiasm for the faith shown by so many young people, in the number of those who each year embrace the Catholic faith, and in a greater interest in prayer and catechesis. At the same time she senses, often painfully, the presence of division and polarization in her midst, as well as the troubling realization that many of the baptized, rather than acting as a spiritual leaven in the world, are inclined to embrace attitudes contrary to the truth of the Gospel.

“Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth!” (cf. Ps 104:30). The words of today’s Responsorial Psalm are a prayer which rises up from the heart of the Church in every time and place. They remind us that the Holy Spirit has been poured out as the first fruits of a new creation, “new heavens and a new earth” (cf. 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1), in which God’s peace will reign and the human family will be reconciled in justice and love. We have heard Saint Paul tell us that all creation is even now “groaning” in expectation of that true freedom which is God’s gift to his children (Rom 8:21-22), a freedom which enables us to live in conformity to his will. Today let us pray fervently that the Church in America will be renewed in that same Spirit, and sustained in her mission of proclaiming the Gospel to a world that longs for genuine freedom (cf. Jn 8:32), authentic happiness, and the fulfillment of its deepest aspirations!

Here I wish to offer a special word of gratitude and encouragement to all those who have taken up the challenge of the Second Vatican Council, so often reiterated by Pope John Paul II, and committed their lives to the new evangelization. I thank my brother Bishops, priests and deacons, men and women religious, parents, teachers and catechists. The fidelity and courage with which the Church in this country will respond to the challenges raised by an increasingly secular and materialistic culture will depend in large part upon your own fidelity in handing on the treasure of our Catholic faith. Young people need to be helped to discern the path that leads to true freedom: the path of a sincere and generous imitation of Christ, the path of commitment to justice and peace. Much progress has been made in developing solid programs of catechesis, yet so much more remains to be done in forming the hearts and minds of the young in knowledge and love of the Lord. The challenges confronting us require a comprehensive and sound instruction in the truths of the faith. But they also call for cultivating a mindset, an intellectual “culture”, which is genuinely Catholic, confident in the profound harmony of faith and reason, and prepared to bring the richness of faith’s vision to bear on the urgent issues which affect the future of American society.

Dear friends, my visit to the United States is meant to be a witness to “Christ our Hope”. Americans have always been a people of hope: your ancestors came to this country with the expectation of finding new freedom and opportunity, while the vastness of the unexplored wilderness inspired in them the hope of being able to start completely anew, building a new nation on new foundations. To be sure, this promise was not experienced by all the inhabitants of this land; one thinks of the injustices endured by the native American peoples and by those brought here forcibly from Africa as slaves. Yet hope, hope for the future, is very much a part of the American character. And the Christian virtue of hope – the hope poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, the hope which supernaturally purifies and corrects our aspirations by focusing them on the Lord and his saving plan – that hope has also marked, and continues to mark, the life of the Catholic community in this country.

It is in the context of this hope born of God’s love and fidelity that I acknowledge the pain which the Church in America has experienced as a result of the sexual abuse of minors. No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse. It is important that those who have suffered be given loving pastoral attention. Nor can I adequately describe the damage that has occurred within the community of the Church. Great efforts have already been made to deal honestly and fairly with this tragic situation, and to ensure that children – whom our Lord loves so deeply (cf. Mk 10:14), and who are our greatest treasure – can grow up in a safe environment. These efforts to protect children must continue. Yesterday I spoke with your Bishops about this. Today I encourage each of you to do what you can to foster healing and reconciliation, and to assist those who have been hurt. Also, I ask you to love your priests, and to affirm them in the excellent work that they do. And above all, pray that the Holy Spirit will pour out his gifts upon the Church, the gifts that lead to conversion, forgiveness and growth in holiness.

Saint Paul speaks, as we heard in the second reading, of a kind of prayer which arises from the depths of our hearts in sighs too deep for words, in “groanings” (Rom 8:26) inspired by the Spirit. This is a prayer which yearns, in the midst of chastisement, for the fulfillment of God’s promises. It is a prayer of unfailing hope, but also one of patient endurance and, often, accompanied by suffering for the truth. Through this prayer, we share in the mystery of Christ’s own weakness and suffering, while trusting firmly in the victory of his Cross. With this prayer, may the Church in America embrace ever more fully the way of conversion and fidelity to the demands of the Gospel. And may all Catholics experience the consolation of hope, and the Spirit’s gifts of joy and strength.

In today’s Gospel, the risen Lord bestows the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and grants them the authority to forgive sins. Through the surpassing power of Christ’s grace, entrusted to frail human ministers, the Church is constantly reborn and each of us is given the hope of a new beginning. Let us trust in the Spirit’s power to inspire conversion, to heal every wound, to overcome every division, and to inspire new life and freedom. How much we need these gifts! And how close at hand they are, particularly in the sacrament of Penance! The liberating power of this sacrament, in which our honest confession of sin is met by God’s merciful word of pardon and peace, needs to be rediscovered and reappropriated by every Catholic. To a great extent, the renewal of the Church in America and throughout the world depends on the renewal of the practice of Penance and the growth in holiness which that sacrament both inspires and accomplishes.

“In hope we were saved!” (Rom 8:24).” As the Church in the United States gives thanks for the blessings of the past two hundred years, I invite you, your families, and every parish and religious community, to trust in the power of grace to create a future of promise for God’s people in this country. I ask you, in the Lord Jesus, to set aside all division and to work with joy to prepare a way for him, in fidelity to his word and in constant conversion to his will. Above all, I urge you to continue to be a leaven of evangelical hope in American society, striving to bring the light and truth of the Gospel to the task of building an ever more just and free world for generations yet to come.

Those who have hope must live different lives! (cf. Spe Salvi, 2). By your prayers, by the witness of your faith, by the fruitfulness of your charity, may you point the way towards that vast horizon of hope which God is even now opening up to his Church, and indeed to all humanity: the vision of a world reconciled and renewed in Christ Jesus, our Savior. To him be all honor and glory, now and forever. Amen!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Hunger to Hope + "The Pope as Bishop"

With the arrival of the Holy Father in Washington today, the following is an article I found on pope2008.com about this past weekend’s food drive, “Hunger to Hope”. We had an enormous response at St Andrew’s (my guess is that it was about one ton of food)! Also, please click on today’s title to see the third part of our catechesis on the papacy, “The Pope as Bishop”.

While the theme of the Pope's trip is "Christ Our Hope," it looks like his visit is also motivating others to charity. The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. has reported that thousands of bags of food are being collected in honor of Pope Benedict XVI's visit.

Parishes and schools across the Archdiocese are bringing thousands of bags of food that they've collected to drop off sites in Washington, DC and Maryland on Sunday, April 13 as part of a Hunger to Hope Food Drive. Parishioners and students are filling 100,000 large paper bags with canned goods, juice, pastas and sauces, cereal, ready meals and dried fruits and nuts to fill area food banks and parish pantries. The bags will be brought to three drop off sites (between 11:30 a.m. and 6 p.m.) where they will be loaded onto trucks for distribution. The drop off sites include: Mount Calvary Church, 6700 Marlboro Pike, Forestville, MD (Prince George's County); McCarrick Center, 12247 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, MD (Montgomery County); Capital Area Food Bank, 645 Taylor Street, NE, Washington, DC.

The food will fill the pantries of the Capital Area Food Bank, the Southern Maryland Food Bank and the 60 food pantries at parishes in the archdiocese. An April 8 news story in the Washington Post reported on how local food banks are trying to keep pace with the increasing need for groceries due to the economic downturn. Requests for food assistance in the past year are up 30 percent nationwide, the Post reported.

The food drive, coordinated by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, honors Pope Benedict XVI's visit by sharing in his concern for the poor, said Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl. "In his name, we can give to food banks," he said, to attest to "his concern for the poor and needy around the world."

During his visit, the pope will be presented with a list of the parishes and schools participating and the amount of food collected in his honor. All 140 parishes and 106 schools in the Archdiocese of Washington are participating in the food drive. The archdiocese hopes to collect at least 200,000 food items.

The Capital Area Food Bank will distribute the food at no cost to its 700 partner agencies and organizations that feed the hungry in the Washington area. The Southern Maryland Food Bank, a program of Catholic Charities, will ensure similar distribution of the food collected across Charles, Calvert and St. Mary's counties in Maryland.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

4th Sunday of Easter - homily

Our shepherd is coming to see us! It will be an exciting week here in Washington as Pope Benedict XVI visits our Archdiocese from Tuesday until Friday. Pope Benedict is the successor to St. Peter who was the first pope. The pope is the shepherd of the universal Church. Here’s some perspective of the enormity of the Holy Father’s flock: Fr. Mike, our local shepherd, is in charge of about 4000 Catholics in our parish. Pope Benedict is in charge of 1,000,000,000 Catholics! He really is the shepherd of all of God’s people, but specifically, one billion Catholics worldwide. He is our German shepherd (!) and he is coming to see us!

But, we might get confused when we hear the psalm from today, “The Lord is my shepherd”. And, in the passage immediately following today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd”. Let us make no mistake: Christ is our shepherd. But, what He does is hand on the task of shepherding to the Apostles and their successors. In this Gospel, he lays the groundwork for this. He is speaking about religious leaders, that some are good and some are bad. The good ones are those who enter through the gate which is Christ; these are the Apostles and their successors. The bad ones are those who don’t enter through the gate; he is referring mainly to the Pharisees. Christ hands over the reigns of shepherding his flock to the Apostles and their successors. “Whoever enters through the gate will be the shepherd of the sheep”. Later in John’s Gospel, he will make Peter the main shepherd by telling him three times to “feed my sheep”.

Jesus also proclaims that “the shepherd calls his own sheep by name”. I believe that one of the things that Pope Benedict will do this week will be to call all of us American Catholics to holiness. He will call us “by name” to live the Gospel. He will call us to prayer and service. We live out holiness in our particular vocations whether it’s married life, religious life, or single life. Each one of us is called by God through the Church to one of these vocations. On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, we pray that the young men and women of this parish will hear God’s Call and answer it, whatever it may be. Most are called to be married, but some are called to priests, some are called to be religious sisters, and some are called to be single. As we said the other night to the young kids at the DC ‘Hood game, their answer right now to the question of whether God is calling them to religious life is not ‘yes’, it’s not ‘no’, it’s ‘maybe’!

Finally, when we come to Mass, we remember what Christ has done for us. He is the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. His love for us is so great that he lays down his life as shepherd and becomes a lamb, a sacrificial lamb. May the grace of the Blood of the Lamb help each of us to answer the call to holiness. May it help us to lay down our lives for him and for others.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The greatest treasure on Earth

1) Eucharistic Adoration, tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. All who wish to adore Jesus in the Eucharist are invited!!
2) DC ‘Hood vs. St Elizabeth’s / St Raphael’s, tonight, 7 pm, @ St. Elizabeth’s gym. Go ‘Hood!
This week’s Gospels at Mass are from my favorite part of Sacred Scripture : John 6. It is a chapter with which many Catholics are unfamiliar even though we hear from it every so often during the cycle of Mass readings. Today’s Gospel passage (52-59) is one to which I refer many times in homilies, presentations, meetings, and conversations. One of the main points I stress is that our Lord is teaching over and over again that the Eucharist (a term for Christ’s Body and Blood that the Church used as early as 100 A.D.) is really his flesh and blood.

“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood,
you do not have life within you.
Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood
has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.
For my Flesh is true food, and my Blood is true drink.
Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood
remains in me and I in him.
Just as the living Father sent me
and I have life because of the Father,
so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven.
Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died,
whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

Most non-Catholics are unfamiliar with it, as well, but for a different reason. I told the story at Mass this morning of when I met a young woman years ago who was attending a Lutheran Bible college. She knew the Bible so well, but was unable to recall what John 6 was about when I asked her. After we discussed it at length, she went to her pastor with a bit of dismay to ask him why she had never been taught about the Bread of Life discourse (John 6). He replied, “who have you been talking to? A Catholic?” Protestant denominations interpret John 6 as being figurative or symbolic only; Catholic and Orthodox churches interpret it as being literal.

One of the key points in how to interpret this chapter properly is the reactions of those at the scene. The Jews react to this teaching with confusion, grumbling, and anger. They have taken Jesus to be speaking literally and are so outraged at this teaching that they walk away from him. And, his reaction to this: he lets them leave. He doesn’t stop them and say, ‘wait, you misunderstood me. I wasn’t speaking literally’. He doesn’t do that because he was speaking literally!

Someone asked on here a while ago how the Church knows when to interpret Sacred Scripture literally and when to interpret it figuratively. First, the Holy Spirit guides the Church in interpreting Scripture without error. Second, Jesus makes it pretty clear in John 6 that the teaching of the Eucharist is to be taken literally. In addition to the reasons I’ve already given, he uses the word “bread” 11 times referring to himself, “flesh” 5 times, and “blood” 4 times. He teaches more on the Eucharist than any other teaching.

My hope is that every reader of this site is a herald of John 6! This happens mainly in the way we live our lives centered on the Eucharist. But, let us not be afraid to invite others - in person or online – to share in the incredible richness of the teaching of the Eucharist, the greatest treasure on Earth.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

"Catholics Come Home"

A parishioner sent me an article (from catholicnewsagency.com) regarding a new program that the Diocese of Phoenix has used which is called, “Catholics Come Home”. The initial outreach of the program has bore much fruit, thanks be to God. Excerpts of the article are below. Also, please click on today’s title for the website for this program; it contains the videos (at the bottom of the front page of the site) mentioned in the article.

Phoenix, Apr 7, 2008 / 10:28 am (CNA).- In less than three weeks, 3,000 Catholics returned to the Church in the Diocese of Phoenix due to the effort of a new lay apostolate, CatholicsComeHome.org. The program consists of a website and commercials aired on local television that effectively portray the truth and goodness of the Catholic Church.

In an interview with CNA, Catholics Come Home, Inc. founder and president, Tom Peterson explained that the ads are designed to take people to the website, CatholicsComeHome.org, where they can find answers to questions about Church teachings, and also to put them into contact with their local parish to be led home, back to the Catholic Church.

Prior to founding Catholics Come Home, Peterson worked in advertising until he attended a retreat that completely changed his life. It was then that he knew God was calling him to use his advertising talents for evangelization.

Years later, he was contacted by the Diocese of Phoenix to help start a three-week campaign which was launched last month. In Phoenix, the commercials were aired on all major television networks and also ESPN, Lifetime, FOX News and others.

After the first commercial campaign, not only did the diocese report a marked increase in Mass attendance, but over “31,000 unique visitors came to the website from Phoenix and other US cities plus 60 foreign countries, with questions, to look up Mass times, to read information on marriage issues, to watch testimonies or to order Matthew Kelly’s book, ‘Rediscovering Catholicism.’”

The commercials aired on television are produced by CatholicsComeHome.org. Before airing the ads, two of the clips, “Epic”, and “Movie,” were shown to a focus group that consisted of former and practicing Catholics, non Catholic Christians, as well as those without any faith.

The feedback received from the group was outstanding. Seventy-eight of the 100 participants had positive responses to the ads. In another assessment, the organization found that before watching the videos, 90% of the participants had negative impressions of the Catholic Church. After viewing ads one time, 54% had a much more favorable impression. Hearts and minds were changed after viewing these creative and inspired ads.

The first commercial, “Epic” portrays the history, beauty, and spirituality of the Church that Jesus started 2,000 years ago. Peterson mentioned that “many people don’t realize the history of the Church. They don’t realize that Peter – the Apostle from the Bible – was the first Pope. They don’t realize the vast accomplishments that the Church has made over the centuries.”

“Epic” also effectively represents the universality of the Church. The clip shows a Mexican fiesta, an African Mass, a Tongan baptism, aid workers serving in a Vietnamese jungle, among other scenes.

The reaction to the video has been overwhelmingly positive. Viewers commented, “After seeing ‘Epic’, it made me proud to be Catholic.” Priests have noted that the video made them feel “re-invigorated about their vocation.” The video also has touched former Catholics who have said that the video showed the truth about the Church – “truth that they haven’t seen in decades.”

…While CatholicsComeHome.org is still searching for further funding and quality advisors, the organization is hoping to take the information learned in the focus groups and initial airings, and bring the commercials to other dioceses next year.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

3rd Sunday of Easter - homily

When was the last time that you made a retreat? Maybe it was a one day or weekend or even a week-long retreat. Retreats are great opportunities for us to get away from our daily responsibilities, busyness, and all of the noise of our lives to spend time with God. They give us the chance to listen to God so that He can shed light on our lives. I have been on retreats where the entire focus was on the Gospel story we just heard – the disciples on the road to Emmaus. These disciples represent us because they are common disciples of Jesus who are trying to make sense of his life. Here are a few thoughts for us to ponder, almost as if we were on retreat.

The first point is that the disciples are on a journey. Each one of us is on a journey, a journey of faith. Like the disciples, we reflect on the life of Christ and see how it applies to our lives. Now, the disciples were at a loss in looking at the brutal Passion and Death of Jesus as well as considering his Resurrection; they were ignorant of Scripture. St. Jerome once said that ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ. The disciples didn’t know Christ. They didn’t know the Old Testament prophecies about Christ, so they couldn’t recognize that Jesus was the Christ when they saw the events unfold in his life.

The second point is that Jesus walks with them on the journey. He is walking with each one of us, too. He walks and talks with them; they don’t recognize him. He opens the Scriptures to them to point out all of the Old Testament prophecies that refer to him. They would say later – after recognizing him – that their hearts were burning when he spoke to them on the path and taught them the Scriptures.

Whenever we have had experiences of the presence of God in our lives, we have had this experience, too – our hearts have burned. Our hearts burn and yearn for Christ; He made them that way! Whenever He makes his presence known in our lives – whether it’s through Scripture, through prayer, through other people, or through our experiences - our hearts burn. Our hearts rejoice. They are on fire!

Another point is that the disciples finally recognize Jesus in the breaking of bread, the Eucharist. This is one of the first Masses celebrated; there is the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. How many of us have had the experience of coming to recognize Jesus in the Eucharist?! After going through years of Catholic school and being raised in a Catholic home, many of us still don’t recognize him until we encounter him in the Eucharist like the disciples did. As St. Peter says in the second reading, this is what has been handed down from our ancestors – not silver or gold, but the “precious blood of Christ”.

Finally, let us be like the disciples and go out “at once” and proclaim the risen Christ! Let us go forth from here and proclaim – mainly with the way we live but, occasionally with the way we speak – what we have experienced here. Let us proclaim that we have seen Him, that He is alive, and that our hearts burn for Him and His love.

Friday, April 04, 2008

"Are we going to have enough priests?"

Eucharistic Adoration tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. All who wish to adore Jesus in the Eucharist are invited!!
Recently, Maryann posted the following comment regarding the priesthood in the modern world. She also references a book on the same topic which has had excellent reviews by Catholic theologians. Another blogger sent me a link to the book reviews; to view them, please click on the title of this post.

While we wait patiently and somberly for the rising of our Lord Jesus Christ, I can’t help but think of those that dedicate their lives to spread His good news, and absolve us of our sins, our priests. Isn’t it a shame they and others, called to give their lives to God, are decreasing in numbers, both worldwide and in the US while the population in both continues to increase. With an increase in our population, it follows that we should expect an increase in the number of sins committed. With this current trend, are we going to have enough priests to provide absolution so that our sins are forgiven? Perhaps increasing our knowledge of the priesthood will help us share its beauty as a calling, a calling that is for “real men,” as Fr. David Toups points out in an interview; Priestly Identity: Crisis and Renewal, part 1 (by Annamarie Adkins, Zenit.org, 3/20/08.)

In her opening sentence, Ms. Adkins quotes Fr. Toups; “A general crisis of authentic masculinity in society has also affected the priesthood as only "real men" can adequately fulfill the role of priest and pastor.”

Q: Is there a crisis of authentic masculinity in the priesthood? Could this be a source of the vocation shortage, especially among Latinos?

Father Toups: Allow me to rephrase the first question to be more all embracing: Is there a crisis of authentic masculinity in the world? I would say yes.

There is a crisis of commitment, fidelity and fatherhood all rooted in men not living up to their call to be “real men” -- men who model their lives on Christ, who lay down their lives out of love, and who learn what it is to be a father from our Father in heaven.

So in the context of the priesthood, which flows out of society, there is a particular challenge to help men grow in manly virtue. The priesthood is not for the faint of heart, but for men who are up to the challenge of living as Christ in laying down their life on a daily basis.

As the priest says the words of consecration, “This is my Body,” Christ is not only speaking through him, but the priest is offering his own life as well for the people to whom he is called to serve.

Part 2, posted March 21st, discusses the challenges of the priesthood and six principles of priestly renewal.

Father Toups, the associate director of the Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations of the U.S. episcopal conference, is the author of "Reclaiming Our Priestly Character."

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Understanding indulgences

To dovetail Sunday’s homily and to address some questions that parishioners had over the weekend, I am re-presenting my post on indulgences (9/02/06). One person asked about the basis for believing in indulgences; much of that is addressed below. Several people asked about other ways to gain indulgences; please click on the title of this post for a list of indulgenced works.

When people ask me about the doctrine of indulgences, I remind them of the scenes in Matthew's Gospel where Christ gives Peter (16:19) and the rest of the Apostles (18:18) the "keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven". Christ himself gives the Church the authority to handle God's treasury on Earth: to teach Truth (in faith and morals), forgive sins, impose punishments, etc.

It is also the authority for the Church to be the treasurer of God's generosity for man, which Christ has merited for us; granting indulgences is part of this authority. Indulgences tap into the infinite riches of God's generosity and mercy that our finite minds cannot grasp. The parable of the workers in the vineyard (Mt 20) shows us that God's generosity is beyond human understanding.

We have to understand sin in order to understand indulgences. The Catechism (#1471-1479) explains: "sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the 'eternal punishment' of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory.

"This purification frees one from what is called the ‘temporal punishment’ of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.

"An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints....An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin... The faithful can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead."

In our society, true justice calls for punishments to fit the crimes. It is the same with moral crimes (sins). While God forgives us of our sins in his Mercy, He calls us to make satisfaction for our offenses for the sake of Justice. One way is to serve a temporal ("in time") punishment in Purgatory. Another way to make satisfaction is by performing certain works of devotion, penance, and charity on Earth done in union with the Bride of Christ, the Church, in which we can gain indulgences. These are not ways to "buy" or "merit" salvation; they are experiences of the Grace of Christ. We experience for ourselves (and possibly for others) not only a true conversion of heart, but also the vast richness of God's mercy.