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I set out some time ago to write a post in response to a rather widespread conception that Catholics are “anti-gay.”  Because I know, and love, more than a few people who identify themselves as gay, this issue strikes close to home for me.  But as I thought about it, I realized that my attitudes toward gay people and the gay lifestyle are really no different from my attitudes to other people and lifestyles.  So I am going to speak more generally.

As a person with a very clear position and principles, I am naturally going to be “anti” other positions and principles that are incompatible with my own.  This is not me being close-minded or prejudiced.  The same thing is true of anybody who has a clear position and principles–and I should think and hope that that would include all of us.  So, I am against the gay lifestyle, as well as the lifestyle that many heterosexuals live in our society–lifestyles that involve extra-marital sex, artificial contraception, infidelity, divorce,  an overall cavalier attitude toward marriage, an unwillingness to have children, and, far too often, abortion.

I am against these things because I am for different things: chastity–which for the unmarried includes total abstinence from sex–purity, modesty, fidelity, life-long marriage, openness to children.  I believe that sex is not just a pleasurable activity, nor is it a right, but rather it is a privilege and responsibility that is integral to marriage and family, and hence, to the preservation of society.  I believe that the natural complementarity of man and woman should be respected.  I believe in the equal dignity of man and woman, although they differ in ways not only external but internal.  I believe it is a grave evil to divorce sex from its natural result–the procreation of children, and an especially grave evil to violate a child’s right to life once they have been conceived.  There are acceptable means for a couple to exercise some control over when they have children, and there are acceptable means for a parent who cannot or desires not to be a parent to have the child taken care of by adoptive parents.

All of these beliefs are based in the teachings of my Catholic Church.  I believe these teachings to be correct.  In many cases, I have come to these beliefs through great personal thought, examination, and yes, struggle.  For a number of years, I lived an unchaste life.  I had the same attitudes toward sex and marriage that so many of my age-mates have.  I didn’t see anything wrong with artificial contraception or even abortion.  I didn’t see anything wrong with the gay lifestyle or any other.  And these attitudes didn’t change over-night.  But they did change the more I studied, examined myself honestly, and seriously, open-mindedly considered the alternatives taught by the Church.  Gradually, I came to see the goodness and soundness of those teachings and decided that I wanted to embrace them and live by them for the rest of my life.  Note that this process came about largely by use of my reason–not by supernatural revelation or some numinous “faith.”  At that point, I couldn’t easily be persuaded by such things.  And I didn’t have to be.

So yes, I am against certain things.  But it’s because I am for certain things.  Catholicism isn’t all about saying “no, no, no.”  That’s a popular caricature.  But for every “no,” there is a “yes” to something else.

And let me also say that just because I am necessarily against certain things, I am not against people.  Even if I think people believe in very erroneous, harmful, sinful things, that doesn’t mean I hate them for believing as they do, or that their freedom to believe as they do should be violated.  After all, I am a sinner too, and chances are that at some time or another, I have held the same erroneous, harmful, sinful beliefs as anybody else.  I feel complete solidarity with my fellow man.  And I learned that too from the Church.  I learned that every one of us is a child of God.  Every one of us is a sinner.  Every one of us was redeemed by Jesus Christ.  Every one of us has the possibility of sainthood.  Every one of us has the possibility of spending eternity in Heaven, with God and with each other. Fundamentally, we are all very much alike.  We all have will and freedom.  We all have bodies, minds, hearts, and souls.  We all have a natural inclination to seek out and do good.  We also have a fallen nature susceptible to evil.

So understand that if, in my weakness, I lash out against a person or group of persons, if I treat anybody unlovingly or unjustly, if I act angry or disgusted or hateful toward anybody… it’s because I’m human, not because I’m Catholic.  I’m a sinner, not a saint (yet).  My God and Church must not be blamed for my faults.  To the contrary, my God and Church urge me to acknowledge, repent of, make reparation for, and ultimately overcome my faults.

So let us return to the “anti-gay” example.  Are Catholics anti-gay?  If by anti-gay you mean I am against the gay lifestyle, then I would answer “Yes, insofar as it is incompatible with my beliefs as a Catholic.”  But if by anti-gay you mean I am against gay people, then the answer is “No.  No matter how much I may disagree with or disapprove of somebody’s beliefs or lifestyle, I do not hate that person.”  If by anti-gay you mean that I am against homosexual people, the answer is a double no–“No, I am not against any person,” and “No, because homosexuality in itself is morally neutral.”  People are not defined by sexual orientation, but by how they live.  I have known homosexuals who are practicing Catholics just like I am, and they strive to live their lives by the same principles I do.  They strive for sainthood and Heaven and struggle against sin.  I know that the gay lifestyle gets a lot of attention, but it is not by any means the only lifestyle lived by homosexual persons.

With all of this said, however, I will say that there is one sense in which the Church may understandably be thought to be especially prejudiced against gay persons and the gay lifestyle.  I have heard the question asked, “If the Church doesn’t care about how heterosexuals have degraded marriage and family, then why do they spend so much time preaching against gays?”  I’ve heard this question asked by homosexuals and heterosexuals, Catholics and non-Catholics.  I ask this question myself.  It does seem to me that many of my fellow Catholics, both clergy and laity, spend a disproportionate amount of time and energy worrying about how the gay movement is threatening marriage and family, while not seemingly worried about cohabitation, fornication, divorce, artificial contraception, and abortion–among other things–that run rampant in society, and within the Catholic Church.  The fact is that the gay lifestyle, and particularly gay marriage, are only the very latest errors to seek normalization from society and the Church.  A whole succession of others have effectively been ignored, and in the eyes of some, divested of their wrongness and sinfulness.

I think the Church must get back to preaching against all the many other errors and sins that have brought about ruin to marriage and family, not to mention the disheartening situation of single Catholics who are seeking suitable spouses.  I do have hope that this will happen, especially with the “JPII generation” growing up and exerting more influence, proclaiming the Theology of the Body, and giving assent, rather than dissent, to Humanae Vitae.

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This question, among other things, is raised in the comments at this post.

It is a good question in that it has forced me to articulate ideas that I normally don’t feel a need to articulate because I tend to take them for granted.

As always, you are welcome and encouraged to join in the conversation.  :)

This is a sequel to an earlier post. Basically, I was in the awful position of having a mortal sin on my soul, and despite my best efforts, couldn’t get to Confession for a couple of days.  But God was merciful to me in wonderful and unexpected ways.  I took comfort and strength in that, but also reaffirmed my intention to get to Confession as soon as possible.

Which raised the question:  Why go to Confession anyway?

All that Sunday, I had these niggling little temptations to just say, “Oh well, God has forgiven me, He has accepted my contrition and my efforts at reconciliation, and after all it’s not my fault that the chaplain didn’t allow enough time for Confession.  And now that I think of it, was it really so horrible what I did?  Do I really have to give up Communion?  There’s still time… the last Mass at my parish is still an hour away…”

I could have quickly and easily rationalized my sin away–the human mind is so very good at that!–and just ditched Confession.  And many people would have applauded that.  Many decent, sincere, and well-meaning people have tried to convince me that I don’t need Confession.  In their minds, they have tried to liberate me.  I love liberty as much as anybody, but as appealing as it may seem, there is something very wrong and discomforting about the notion of giving up Confession.

In my heart of hearts, I knew the fact of the matter: I am in no position to ditch Confession.  I am in no position to absolve my own sins and declare officially that everything is once more hunky dory and peachy keen.  I am in the position of convicting myself of sin, mourning the rift I’ve caused between God and me, and seeking reconciliation with Him.  And you know, there is the greatest of freedoms in that!  To grit your teeth and face reality, to take responsibility for your actions, to seek to make amends with another, to be reunited with One you love.

And the ordinary means–the only certain means–I know of doing that is the Sacrament of Confession.

Yes, God is merciful.  Yes, He is good to me even when I mess up and turn my back to Him.  Yes, He used my pitiful failing to bring about a greater good.  Yes, He let me know He was still there for me.  It may very well be that He, in His own ineffable way, unbound as He is by the Sacraments of the Church, had already made my sins disappear and restored me to a state of grace.  He can absolve whomever and whenever He wills.  I don’t doubt that.

But we are bound. We are bound by love and justice, faith and trust, loyalty and obedience, to the Sacraments of the Church, Sacraments Christ established for our welfare.  We don’t get to presume upon Him and His own superior ways and privileges.  We don’t get to cleverly rationalize things away and fly the coop.  We don’t know what is best for us.  We don’t fully know the state of our own souls as God does.  We are not authorized to make the binding and loosing declarations that God, in His mercy, enables His ordained priests to make.

We are bound for our own good, and assurance.  Consider what the Psalmist says:

Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart;
there is no fear of God before his eyes.
For he flatters himself in his own eyes
that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.
The words of his mouth are mischief and deceit;
he has ceased to act wisely and do good.
(Ps. 36:1-3, RSV-CE2 translation)

Now, I realize that it’s easy to say, “Oh well, that’s talking about wicked people, not me!” But think about it. If you honestly can’t see yourself in that description of “the wicked,” if you have never “ceased to act wisely and do good”–even for a short time–then you should become the first living person to be canonized a Saint.  I was actually struck first by the translation of this Psalm used in the Divine Office here in the U.S. (and other English-speaking lands):

Sin speaks to the sinner
in the depths of his heart.
There is no fear of God
before his eyes.

He so flatters himself in his mind
that he knows not his guilt.
In his mouth are mischief and deceit.
All wisdom is gone.

“Sin speaks to the sinner in the depths of his heart.”  That definitely struck close to home for me.  That was the voice I kept hearing in my head that morning.  Sin trying to convince me that it was not sin at all.  I’ve paid heed to that voice before.  So do many people.  So many people within the Church and in the world at large have completely lost all “sense of sin.”  Guilt is seen as baggage to be shed.  We are taught that certain sins (most often of the sexual nature), far from being sinful, are actually normal, healthy, even good for us–and that to repress them is dangerous and maddening.  I believed that for many years.  And looking back, I see that my life then was far more repressive, dangerous, and maddening than my life is now.  That’s what happens when you pay heed to sin.

I was also recently struck by these words of Père Garrigou-Lagrange:

I certainly know the interior of my soul better than other men do; but it has secrets from me, for I cannot measure all the gravity of my directly or indirectly voluntary faults.  God alone knows me thoroughly; the secrets of my heart are perfectly open only to His gaze.
(The Three Ages of the Interior Life, part 1, chapter 1 ¶9)

On the surface, this may seem to argue against the necessity of Confession: if only God knows what is in my soul, if even I myself can’t clearly see and know it, then why on earth should I tell my sins to another human being, a person who may know nothing about me? Why not just confess to God instead and let that be the end of it?

First, I would say that 1) confessing to God, and, 2) confessing to a priest in the Sacrament of Confession do not constitute an “either/or” dichotomy.  Rather they constitute a “both/and” unity.  We do both.  In fact, I don’t know that it is possible to make a good confession to a priest without having first made a good confession to God.  Confessing to a priest does not replace confessing to God… it adds to it.

I am highly uncomfortable with the notion of confessing to God and letting that be the end of it.  It seems so… easy.  So… convenient and comfortable.  So… undemanding of personal accountability and responsibility, personal freedom and action, personal reaching out and striving.  It’s one thing to pray to God in privacy.  It’s another thing to speak your sins out loud to a human ear.

In the private confession to God, I think there’s the danger of complacency and pride, the danger of it becoming routine and mechanical–“All I have to do is get down mutter some words, and then I’ll be scott free.  OK, yeah, sorry God, I won’t do it again.  We’re good now, right?  See ya!”  On the other hand, I have yet to meet anybody who harbors complacency and pride while standing in line outside a confessional.  Truly, I don’t think it’s possible.  And it never becomes routine or mechanical either; it doesn’t matter how many times I go to Confession–each time seems like the first time.  Easy, convenient, comfortable, undemanding–no way.  It takes heart, it takes devotion, it takes courage, it takes will.  And doesn’t God deserve that?  If you want to be reconciled with God, must you not put everything into it?  Heart, soul, mind, and body?  Do that, and God will do all the rest.

So, confessing to a priest instills humility and conscientiousness and it calls us out of ourselves–it demands a selfless act, a giving of self.  It demands making a connection with another.  Ultimately, it’s about giving ourselves and making a connection with God.  Believe me, I wouldn’t go through with Confession if it weren’t all about God–who would?  And the Sacrament, by its nature, brings that connection to a concrete, human level.  It brings us the experience that the sinners in the Gospels had–facing Christ on a concrete, human level, being before Him in all their weakness and brokenness and wickedness, and hearing Him say in a human voice, “Your sins are forgiven. Go and sin no more.”  That’s a much different experience than praying in silence.  It’s a more certain experience.  Again, not a replacement for prayer, but a powerful addition to it.  A powerful living out of it.

Is it not apparent that sacramental Confession has benefits and sound reason to it?  Is it not clear that we are bound to the Sacrament for our own welfare, as well as for love of God?  I cannot imagine my life without it.  I can’t imagine my soul being sustained without it.  I feel that I would be lost in very dangerous waters without it.  I would forever be second-guessing myself, wondering if I couldn’t perhaps do more to be reconciled with God and pledge to Him my good faith.  That would be agonizing!  There would be no liberty or re-assurance in that.

Walking out of the confessional with the glorious declaration of absolution still sounding in your ears–that’s true liberation.  That is just as irreplaceable as prayer.  And I, for one, am grateful for it!  Being deprived of it for a couple of days was enough to make me appreciate it.

I attended my first High Mass in the Extraordinary Form (EF) this morning.  It was glorious!  I’ve been wanting to attend one for a while now, but there’s a story behind why I went today.

Basically, I did something really stupid last night, such that I really, really needed to go to Confession before Mass!  The only priest I could think of who offers Confession before Sunday Mass was our FSSP chaplain.  So I dragged myself out of bed before 6, and mustered up my courage to go to a new place, for a new kind of Mass, and to confess to a new priest.

I got to the monastery chapel where the Sunday EF Masses are said, and I got there in plenty of time.  But I couldn’t tell where the confessional was, and I had not seen the priest around.  I finally asked a young man sitting behind me, and he told me I needed to go outside to an adjoining building.  Well, by the time I got there, there was quite a line.  And about 20 minutes until Mass was to start.  The priest had to cut us off.

I stood there, crestfallen and uncertain what I should do.  The young lady who’d been in line ahead of me told me that Father also hears confessions after that Mass.  That was well and good, but I felt I would have to refrain from receiving the Eucharist if I confessed after Mass.  I thought about going somewhere else, in hopes of possibly finding a priest to hear my confession.

But I felt oddly compelled to attend the high Mass.  It was something more than interest or curiosity that compelled me.  Something much more powerful… something supernatural, which came from within me and from without at the same time… if that makes sense.  The phrase I have long used for it is a gravity upon my soul.  An ineffable, external force which also ignites a great longing within my soul, a willingness and eagerness to respond to the force.

So I walked back over to the chapel, which by that time was standing-room only.  I stood in the doorway, not sure where I should go or whether I could possibly find a seat.  I was feeling very uncomfortable and hot and self-conscious.  Honestly, I just wanted to disappear, and in fact, I was about to turn and slink away when a young man came and told me there was a seat up front.  I didn’t like the idea of having to refrain from Communion in front of the entire chapel (as if it were all about me, right?).  But I also didn’t want to be ungrateful for the consideration shown to me.  I hesitated, but again, I felt that compulsion.

I followed the boy to the empty spot, sat down and tried to pray, fumbled around for my missal.  All while being devastated that I couldn’t in good conscience receive Communion.  I felt sort of like there was an earthquake going on inside me.  I wondered if the people around me could tell–it seemed impossible that they couldn’t.

And then…

And then the music began, organ and choir.  A simple hymn before Mass, but it was so beautiful that I could imagine the angels in Heaven appearing and becoming audible.  Then a bell rang, and the splendidly-attired servers and priest filed in.  The priest began the chanting of the Asperges Me, and the choir and congregation took it up while the priest sprinkled holy water on everybody.  I recognized the text of the antiphon as a passage from that most excellent prayer of penitence, Psalm 51:

Thou shalt sprinkle me, O Lord, with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed; Thou shalt wash me, and I shall become whiter than snow.
(Angelus Press 1962 missal translation)

As I felt a small shower of water come down around me, I felt God’s mercy wash over me.

And I was transported.  Transported out of my worry and discomfort, transported out of my nervousness and the internal earthquake.  Transported out of everything dark and worrisome and into a marvelous light.  The chanting, the Latin language, the incense, the splendor of the chapel and the vestments and the finely choreographed movements… it all transported me.  It wasn’t about me at all, and yet I found myself in a most wonderful place.  “It is good that I am here,” I thought, echoing the sentiments of St. Peter as he stood before the transfigured Christ, dazed but fully conscious of the blessing he had received.

Yes, of course, I found the liturgy a bit strange and hard to follow along with (I still find even the low Mass challenging at times).  But it didn’t matter.  I was aware of what was going on.  A great mystery, to be sure, but a mystery into which we are meant and indeed created to enter, without fear or hesitation.  I had been compelled to do just that, and I was now part of it in some small way.  What my feeble mind didn’t grasp, my soul certainly did.  It resonated with every sound, smell, sight, and motion.

And then there were the Scripture readings and the homily.  As I listened, I thought and prayed:  “OK, Lord, so this is why You compelled me.  This is all exactly what I needed to hear, and what You wanted to tell me.”  We heard Galatians 5:16-24, where St. Paul speaks of the works of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit and how we must live in the Spirit and crucify our flesh together with Christ.  Yes… I suppose I needed that reminder.  The Gospel was Matthew 6:24-33, where Christ warns that one cannot serve both God and mammon, and that if we have faith and trust in God, we will not be anxious about provisions for the needs of the flesh, for God knows us and provides for us, as He does for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field–and then some.  “Seek ye therefore first the Kingdom of God, and His justice; and all these things shall be added unto you.”  Yes… I definitely needed that reminder!

As part of his homily upon these exhortations, Father encouraged us to pray the Rosary.  It was probably the best and most inspiring preaching on the Rosary I’ve heard!  It really moved me, almost to tears.  My prayer life of late has been… shall we say… a bit weak.  Not because I’ve been unable to pray, but, honestly, because I just haven’t made praying a priority.  (Gosh, maybe that’s why I’ve been falling to pieces lately.  Do you think?)

The Mass proceeded.  I implored the Lord for a spiritual Communion.  After Mass came Adoration and Benediction.  I once again bewailed my sins and begged for mercy.  I was still painfully aware of my separation from Him.  And the fact that it was I, not He, who had caused it.  A hard conviction to pass upon oneself.  But not a death sentence.  God doesn’t hand out death sentences (despite some all-too-popular misconceptions about Him).  Rather, I felt Him say to me, “My child, I know that you came here to be reconciled, and although things have not gone as planned, I have kept you here so that you might receive hope, healing, and encouragement to sustain and re-fortify you.”  I thanked Him profusely and reaffirmed my intention to get to Confession as soon as possible and to do better.  I marveled at how He brought that beautiful morning from the previous day’s pitiful failing.

I tried to go to Confession again after Mass, but again, there were too many penitents and not enough time.  At the time, I was still disconsolate about it.  But I decided that I would wait until Tuesday morning and go to Confession at my parish church, to my parish priest, my usual confessor.  And in the meantime, I would trust in God’s tremendous mercy and providence.

That’s what I am doing now, and with considerable peace of mind, thanks be to God. But perhaps that raises another question:  So, why go to Confession anyway? I’ll address this question in a separate post.  I was planning a similar post anyway, and what happened today provides a good context for it.

Let me just close by saying:

1. Mortal sin IS. NOT. WORTH. IT. So avoid it at all costs and save yourself a whole lot of grief!

2. But if you can’t avoid it, DO. NOT. DESPAIR. Be humble, honest, and contrite before God, and get to Confession ASAP!

Somebody recently mentioned indulgences to me.  I am very dedicated to seeking indulgences, especially for the poor souls in Purgatory.  I’ve actually been meaning to write about this topic for a while, and especially since I’ve been trying to write about the Rosary–there are special indulgences related to rosaries (the objects) and to the Rosary (the prayer).  I will highlight these below.  So here we go: indulgences!

“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”.  (Catechism of the Catholic Church ¶1471)

I’ve heard temporal punishment explained very simply thus *: say that you drop a glass that has a drink in it and make a big mess.  You tell your mother that you are sorry, and she forgives you.  But the mess still needs to be cleaned up.  In justice you should be the one to clean it up.  Having to clean up the mess is your “temporal punishment.”  Every sin we commit makes a mess.  Contrition and forgiveness heal our relationships with God and others, but they don’t clean up the messes.  We each have to clean up our messes, either in this life or in Purgatory.  Indulgences are a divine gift by which we can be freed even from having to clean up our messes.

We can obtain indulgences for ourselves, or for souls in Purgatory.  We cannot apply them to other living persons, however.  Obtaining indulgences for the souls in Purgatory is a great and generous act of mercy.  Personally, I make that my focus.  I consider it a win-win situation; the souls get freed from Purgatory, and I get some new friends up in Heaven to pray for me!

Indulgences are granted via specified actions.  Here are a couple of examples of common indulgenced actions (including the rosary-related ones).  These and many, many more can be found in the Enchiridion of Indulgences along with all the other norms and regulations relating to indulgences.

35. Use of Articles of Devotion (Obiectorum pietatis usus)
The faithful, who devoutly use an article of devotion (crucifix or cross, rosary. scapular or medal) properly blessed by any priest, obtain a partial indulgence.

Get your rosaries (and other items) blessed by a priest!  It’s so quick and simple to do.  I’ve just gone up to my priest after Mass and asked him to bless rosaries.  It takes maybe 20 seconds, and he is always more than happy to oblige.  After it is blessed, you can receive a partial indulgence just by using it.  Partial indulgences, as their name suggests, remove part of the temporal punishment you’ve amassed.  But you can gain them again and again–they are unlimited!

But if you think that’s simple, check this out:

55. Sign of the Cross (Signum crucis)
A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who devoutly sign themselves with the sign of the cross, while saying the customary words: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The first time I read that, I was like, “Seriously?  Nah, an indulgence can’t be that easy!”  The thing to remember about partial indulgences is that the extent of the indulgence (whether “partial” means a little or a lot) depends on the devotion with which we perform the prescribed action.  It’s not the size of the action, but how well we do it.

But back to #35 above, rosaries can be used for a variety of prayers, such as the Divine Mercy Chaplet.  The above indulgence would apply to any devotional use of a rosary!  This next one, however, applies specifically to the “capital-r” Rosary, and it is an example of another kind of indulgence, a plenary indulgence:

48. Recitation of the Marian Rosary (Rosarii marialis recitatio)
A plenary indulgence is granted, if the Rosary is recited in a church or public oratory or in a family group, a religious Community or pious Association; a partial indulgence is granted in  other circumstances.

“Now the Rosary is a certain formula of prayer, which is made up of fifteen decades of “Hail Marys” with an “Our Father” before each decade, and in which the recitation of each decade is accompanied by pious meditation on a particular mystery of our Redemption.” (Roman Breviary) The name “Rosary,” however, is commonly used in reference to only a third part of the fifteen decades.

The gaining of the plenary indulgence is regulated by the following norms:

1) The recitation of a third part only of the Rosary suffices; but the five decades must be recited continuously.

2) The vocal recitation must be accompanied by pious meditation on the mysteries.

3) In public recitation the mysteries must be announced in the manner customary in the place; for private recitation, however, it suffices if the vocal recitation is accompanied by meditation on the mysteries.

4) For those belonging to the Oriental rites, amongst whom this devotion is not practiced, the Patriarchs can determine some other prayers in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary (for those of
the Byzantine rite, for example, the Hymn “Akathistos” or the Office “Paraclisis”); to the prayers thus determined are accorded the same indulgences as for the Rosary.

Note that it specifies that one must meditate upon the Mysteries of the Rosary–just saying the vocal prayers is not enough.  Also, the 5 decades must be said “continuously”–you must pray them all in one sitting, as opposed to praying one Mystery then doing something else and coming back later to pray the others.  Not all plenary indulgences are specified at such length.  Here is another common universal one:

3. Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament (Adoratio Ss.mi Sacramenti)
A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who visit the Most Blessed Sacrament to adore it; a plenary indulgence is granted, if the visit lasts for at least one half an hour.

Pretty straightforward, isn’t it?  There are a number of indulgences which may generally be called partial, but in certain circumstances may be plenary.  For example, devoting a longer period of time to the action, or doing the action on a particular day or during a particular season (e.g. when the Tantum Ergo is recited on Holy Thursday or Corpus Christi)

A plenary indulgence such as this remits your entire temporal punishment, no matter how great it may be.  It’s a very powerful thing, and a very huge gift from God.  We are limited to receiving only one plenary indulgence per day.  The only exception is that plenary indulgences can be obtained at the point of death, even if one has already obtained a plenary indulgence earlier that day.

This brings me to the conditions that must be met in order to obtain any indulgence:

22. § 1. To be capable of gaining an indulgence for oneself, it is required that one be baptized, not excommunicated, in the state of grace at least at the completion of the prescribed works,  and a subject of the one granting the indulgence.

§ 2. In order that one who is capable may actually gain indulgences, one must have at least a general intention to gain them and must in accordance with the tenor of the grant perform the enjoined works at the time and in the manner prescribed.

Essentially, you need to be a Catholic in good standing and in a state of grace (no unconfessed mortal sins on your soul).  If there is an indulgence specified by a particular bishop for a particular diocese, you have to be part of that diocese and subject to that bishop.  The rosary-related indulgences are universal.  Also, you have to want and intend to obtain the indulgences.   This is why it is so important that we all be aware of indulgences–and believe in them!  If, after reading all this, you decide you just don’t believe what the Church teaches about indulgences, well, then you’re never going to obtain one.  And that would be very unfortunate.

To obtain plenary indulgences, additional conditions must be met:

26. To acquire a plenary indulgence it is necessary to perform the work to which the indulgence is attached and to fulfill the following three conditions: sacramental Confession, eucharistic Communion, and prayer for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff. It is further required that all attachment to sin, even venial sin, be absent.

If the latter disposition is in any way less than perfect or if the prescribed three conditions are not fulfilled, the indulgence will be partial only, saving the provisions given below in Norm 34 and in Norm 35 concerning those who are “impeded.”

While to receive a partial indulgence you simply have to be in a state of grace, for the plenary indulgence, you must go to Confession, even if you have only venial sins to confess.  And note that requirement that “all attachment to sin, even venial sin, be absent”!  That’s a tall order.  I think the key word is “attachment.”  We may fall into venial sin, but that’s not the same as being attached to it.  We have to detach and reject sin–we have to be pure of heart and pure of intention.  We have to keep our eyes on our goal, which is to free ourself or some other poor soul from the results of sin.  We can’t very well do that if we ourselves give in to sin all too willingly and perhaps even eagerly.

Note that even if you don’t fully meet the conditions for obtaining a plenary indulgence, you can still obtain a partial indulgence.

27. The three conditions may be fulfilled several days before or after the performance of the prescribed work; it is, however, fitting that Communion be received and the prayer for the
intention of the Sovereign Pontiff be said on the same day the work is performed.

28. A single sacramental confession suffices for gaining several plenary indulgences; but Communion must be received and prayer for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff must be
recited for the gaining of each plenary indulgence.

29. The condition of praying for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff is fully satisfied by reciting one Our Father and one Hail Mary; nevertheless, each one is free to recite any other
prayer according to his piety and devotion.

More details about those conditions.  Regarding the first sentence in 27, “may be fulfilled several days before or after”: traditionally, the set time-frame was 8 days.  In 2000, the Great Jubilee Year, it was specified as “about 20 days.”  This longer time-frame remains in force, per the Apostolic Penitentiary.

I know this may all be a little overwhelming.  All these rules and regulations may seem burdensome.  Really, though, the rules basically come down to simply living out the faith.  If you go to Confession pretty frequently, you’re going to be in good shape to meet all the requirements.  And what Catholic wouldn’t want to offer prayers for the Holy Father’s intentions?  Or be detached from sin?

Furthermore, God is merciful.  There is nothing He would rather do than relieve us from troubles and suffering.  That’s the reason Christ died.  And it is only because Christ died that the Church can offer indulgences.  The graces we receive as indulgences were gained on Good Friday.  So if we approach His great mercy, if we seek out the graces of indulgences for ourselves, or especially for others, following the rules and regulations to the best of our ability, God isn’t going to say, “Oh, you didn’t do x perfectly, so no deal!”  God is not held to the rules and regulations of the Enchiridion.  We are bound to fulfill them the best we can.  They are the Church’s way of showing us what is the best way to follow, the Church’s way of saying, “If you abide by these, your success will be assured.”

So, whatever you do, don’t be discouraged by the rule book.  Of course, don’t toss the rule book aside, either.  Respect it for what it is and try to abide by it.  The rest will be taken care of by God’s mercy.  I think this is especially true when we seek indulgences for the souls in Purgatory.  I pray a little prayer that goes something like this:

Dear Lord, today I wish to obtain every possible grace and indulgence for the poor souls in Purgatory.  Please don’t look on my unworthiness to obtain such tremendous graces, but look in mercy upon those poor souls who are longing and suffering so greatly to be united with You at last! Thank You.  Amen.

If you want more information, take a look at the Enchiridion.  This is a PDF copy that you can search if you’re looking for something particular.  Definitely look at pages 19-40, where the various indulgenced actions are listed.  You might be surprised, as I was!

Really, there is no excuse for not seeking to obtain indulgences.

—————–

* I’m sorry I can’t remember exactly who gave this explanation.  I remember hearing it on the radio, and I’m almost positive it was a priest, so I’m thinking it must have been either Father Mitch Pacwa, SJ on EWTN Open Line, or Father Vincent Serpa, OP on Catholic Answers Live.  Many thanks to whomever it was!

At the heart of all Catholic teaching is the natural law–not to be confused with the laws of nature.  The natural law is a moral, not a physical law.  In the recent kerfuffle about AIDS and condoms, we saw Pope Benedict emphasize a return to natural law as the key to improving the situation when he spoke of “First, a humanization of sexuality, that is, a spiritual human renewal that brings with it a new way of behaving with one another. Second, a true friendship even and especially with those who suffer, and a willingness to make personal sacrifices and to be with the suffering.”

Thomas Merton, in New Seeds of Contemplation provides a very straightforward definition of the natural law:

… the natural law is simply that we should recognize in every other human being the same nature, the same needs, the same rights, the same destiny as in ourselves.  The plainest summary of all the natural law is: to treat other men as if they were men.  Not to act as if I alone were a man, and every other human were an animal or a piece of furniture.

At the heart of the world’s problems is a break from natural law.  Abortion is such a scourge because an entire class of human beings–those in the womb–are treated as something other than human by people who seem to have forgotten their own origins in the womb.  And how often do people in our society treat others as objects from which to derive sexual pleasures.  Every kind of abuse, crime, exploitation, persecution, and enslavement derive from disregard for the natural law.

In the same book, Merton gives an essay on “The Moral Theology of the Devil” which I found fascinating and rather chilling in how recognizable this “theology” is in our world:

The moral theology of the devil starts out with the principle: “Pleasure is sin.”  The he goes on to work it the other way: “All sin is pleasure.”

After that he points out that pleasure is practically unavoidable and that we have a natural tendency to do things that please us, from which he reasons that all our natural tendencies are evil and that our nature is evil in itself.  And he leads us to the conclusion that no one can possibly avoid sin, since pleasure is inescapable.

After that, to make sure that no one will try to escape or avoid sin, he adds that what is unavoidable connot be a sin.  Then the whole concept of sin is thrown out the window as irrelevant, and people decide that there is nothing left except to live for pleasure, and in that way pleasures that are naturally good become evil by de-ordination and lives are thrown away in unhappiness and sin.

Looking back on my life, I can see how I was “converted” to this diabolical moral theology.  I recall going through a rather puritanical phase that left me disgusted with mankind.  That disgust and hatred swung the gates of my mind and soul open to the devil.  I essentially did a 180 turn to where sin became my delight.  And since it was my delight, and a seemingly irresistible and “natural” delight, I concluded that it couldn’t possibly be wrong, or at least that I could not be held culpable.  I absolved myself of all moral responsibility.

I know it all sounds crazy and irrational.  But the devil is a master manipulator.  The Father of Lies, he is rightly called.  He knows how to get to humans.  He knows we naturally seek out the true, good, and beautiful, so he makes himself and all evils appear true, good, and beautiful.  He makes God and the natural law appear ugly and undesirable.  He substitutes license for true freedom.  He separates freedom from responsibility.  He makes insanity look like sanity, darkness look like enlightenment, and de-evolution look like progress.

He has been extremely successful in our world.  I see his handiwork everywhere.  Especially in our sexual mores–or lack thereof.  The prevailing mind-set of our society is that chastity–abstinence for the unmarried, monogamy and fidelity for the married–is impossible to attain.  We are too weak and too disposed toward evil.  It’s a horribly pessimistic view of mankind, disguised as liberation from archaic and oppressive laws.  The Catholic Church, on the other hand, continues to teach that human beings are perfectly capable of chastity.  It may be difficult, and we may mess up along the way–but that is what God’s mercy is for!

The 10 months after my rejoining the Church were some of the most difficult, most harrowing of my entire life.  I had seen the light… and the darkness I had lived in for many years became even darker by contrast.  Leaving that darkness behind was a real trial.

Not everything was darkness, of course.  I was in grief counseling with a good, wise, knowledgeable counselor at my church.  At times, I could feel the pieces of myself coming back together.  I could tell that God was working on me, though often in deep, secretive and mysterious ways.

But there were some pretty big stumbling blocks in my way, and falling back into old habits and affinities was ever so easy.  As easy as falling off a cliff.

As one would only expect, I found some of the Church’s teachings to be very difficult and seemingly arbitrary, especially where sexual matters were concerned.  Not coincidentally, some of my favorite and most addictive sins fell into that area.  Until I could see why they were sinful, I really didn’t see any point in stopping them.  So I went about life much as I had before, while telling myself that I was trying to understand.  Furthermore, I was soon distracted by meeting some occultists–not a very surprising thing to happen, given the kinds of circles I’d lived in.

I had been pretty deeply steeped in the occult for several years, and was still quite familiar and quite comfortable with it.  My life was so full of pain and turmoil that I yearned for something familiar and comfortable–and was willing to accept it without much critical thought.  I was vulnerable, I didn’t really have my head screwed on straight, and these people knew how to take advantage of that.  They knew how to take advantage of my nascent religious faith–my lack of knowledge, my doubts, my struggles.  They planted seeds in my mind that what we were doing wasn’t evil, that it did not necessarily conflict with my religious beliefs, that they too were religious people so I had nothing to worry about.  But above all, they took advantage of my loss, my sorrow, my incredible yearning to remain close to Patrick, to not let go of him and our life together.  They fed me some rather fascinating threads, some techniques and theories, all seemingly very rational, even scientific.  And I swallowed them hook, line, and sinker.

For months I practiced deranging my mind and senses, in search of a breakthrough into “other planes” and other worlds.  I spent many sleepless hours attempting to induce trances, to trigger astral projections, to contact spirit guides, to open chakras, and all other kinds of nonsense.  And I kept telling myself that it was all OK, that it wasn’t harming or endangering me in any way.  That was a huge delusion!  I conveniently ignored the fact that I went to Mass less and less frequently, that I had not gone back to Confession since 12 May, that I considered occult techniques more beneficial than the guidance of Scripture and Tradition, of priests and counselor, and that I was getting back into the habit of looking in the mirror to find God.  I thought I had everything under control.  In reality, I was becoming the same obsessive occultist that I had been before.

Meanwhile, I was perfectly at home with my pet sins from before, and was even adding new ones.  I was retreating more and more into myself, and yet I was always angry at other people for allegedly shutting me out or turning against me.  I was consumed with anger, with envy, with downright hatred.  I blamed it on grief, but in reality, I was refusing to actually work on the grief.  I would go to my grief counseling group and talk about things.  I never let on to my counselor that I was living a kind of double life.  I wanted to protect my double life.   And it nearly destroyed me.  The devil had a great big meat cleaver splitting me down the middle.  His claws sank deeper and deeper into me, dragging me away from the Church.

Three Rays of Light

Things were really bad–I don’t think I can really express the horrors of that time in my life.  You may be asking, as I sometimes do, “Where was God when all that was happening?  Why didn’t he stop me from falling back into all that vileness?”

We must take into account the mystery of free will and free choice–the fact that I chose to turn my back on God and the faith in favor of my favorite sins and occult practices.  My grief and confusion may have mitigated some of my responsibility, but there was a big measure of willful disobedience there nonetheless.

But this is also a lesson about God’s mercy.  To the extent that I was suffering grief and confusion, He was very merciful to me.  I describe those months as “falling off a cliff”–and yet I never hit bottom and died.  I could have.  But between God’s mercy and the part of me that still sought Him, I was spared.

He was still at work on me and in my life.  And in the end, He did step to the forefront, in a most marvelous way!  During a time when I was seeking out bizarre occult experiences, a few genuine mystical experiences sought me out quite unexpectedly.

The first one involved Patrick.  He and I were sitting together in a high place, on top of a cliff.  It was sort of gray and misty.  He was warm, luminous, but solid, and I felt his presence more strongly than I had ever felt it when we were together in our earthly life.  It’s hard to explain.  But he was no shadowy dream figure or product of my imagination.  He was talking rather sternly, as was his way on occasion, telling me that I couldn’t be with him in the way I wished and planned, that nothing could possibly achieve that, that trying to achieve it was foolish, deluded, and dangerous for me.  He told me I was falling away, and that at that rate, he and I would only become more separated–maybe for eternity.  He told me that our paths were going to be separate for a while, and I had to keep on my own path, not chase after his.  He told me that there were a lot of people in the world who needed my love and my attention, and I was neglecting them.  There was a very clear message, and a very strong feeling, of separation.  Something final.  I knew I would never see Patrick again in this life.  At the same time, I knew that something would always remain… something undefinable.  It would be a loving separation.  It would be in my best interests, and that was all Patrick had ever thought of and desired.

The next one involved a lady in white.  We were in a moonlit garden.  She told me that I must come back around to seeking true wisdom, which would not be found inside me, but only in God and His Church.  I would have to reach outside of myself for it.  I would have to seek out an encounter with God.  She told me that I must not shun or be afraid of suffering, because my suffering would help to take me outside of myself and reach out for God.  It could serve a very good use for me.  I don’t think I really recognized the lady in white at that time… but it wasn’t long before I did.  Almost immediately thereafter, I felt an enormous urge to begin praying the Rosary.  And I began to cope with my suffering and sorrow in a more genuine, head-on way, just like Mary and her Son had.

The third one was an encounter with Christ Himself.  I was kneeling at the altar rail in my parish church.  Before me was a tremendous light and an overwhelming presence that made me tremble from head to foot.  I tried to look up, but I couldn’t look at His face.  I did see His hand, still bearing the nail wound, a dark red opening near His wrist.  He raised His hand to His chest, over His heart, and drew out from it a gleaming white Host.  He brought it down to me.  I closed my eyes and opened my mouth as if to receive the Host on my tongue.  But before I could, I was seized with a horrible illness.  I was struck by an intense heat, my body convulsed, my mouth filled with an extremely bitter, rotten fluid.  Almost as quickly, then, the sickness vanished, and His hand brushed my face, and the vision was over.  But I understood: what I had felt was the effect of the sins in my soul, and that to receive Communion while my soul was in that state was a horrible imposition on God, and a great harm to myself.

These experiences happened in quick succession… all within about a week.  They happened while I slept, but… they were not like any dreams I’d ever had.  Even if they had been “just dreams,” the messages were real and true.  In any event, they pretty much blew any occult experience I’d ever had out of the water, and jolted me to attention!  And that’s when I discovered two of  the greatest, most important things of all, the things that really turned the tide:

First, I learned that God really was worthy of my trust, my faith, my obedience, and my submission.  He wasn’t going to lead me wrong.  Even if I didn’t always understand Him or His teachings or His demands, I could trust them.  Even if I treated Him horribly, He wouldn’t send me to Hell.  If I went to Hell, it was going to be because I chose to.  And He and I both knew that I didn’t want to choose Hell.  Part of me was still crying out for Him and longing after Him, and that was enough!  As long as I was just willing to strive for Him and do my best to cooperate with Him, He was going to to be there for me, and He was going to save me.  I could rely on that!

Second, and related to that, I discovered the real meaning of freedom.  I looked at myself and at what was going on in my life–my sins, my stubbornness, my mistakes.  And I said to myself, “I’ve had enough of this!  This stuff is just bringing me down.  It’s burying me.  And I don’t have to let it.  I have another option, and by God, I’m going to choose it!  I’m going to choose Him, I’m going to be faithful to Him, and I’m going to do whatever it takes!  It doesn’t matter if it’s hard or if I don’t have all the answers and all the power.  He is worth it, and so am I.  I am above always giving into the basest drives and desires.  I am above taking the path of least resistance.”  I learned that freedom meant taking responsibility for myself.  And it also meant choosing something, and Someone, greater and better.  It meant being able to overcome, as opposed to saying, “Oh the devil made me do it… oh, I just can’t help it… oh, it’s because I’m grieving…” etc., etc.

That was the turning point.  It happened to coincide with Ash Wednesday, 1st March 2006.  Almost a year since Patrick’s death.  A year spent on a monstrous precipice between Heaven and Hell.

A Grueling but Wonderful Lent

I call Ash Wednesday 2006 “the point of no return” because that is when I decided once and for all that I was going to be a practicing Catholic.  I wasn’t going to give less than 100% of myself to God and the Church.  I was going to learn and live by every single Church teaching, without compromise.   If I failed, I would simply try harder.  I would struggle as much as I had to.  I would go to Confession as often as needed, and I would never receive Communion unworthily again.  That’s what I decided to do, and I stuck by it!

Dang if that wasn’t one grueling Lent!  I was often terrified of the decision I’d made!  I knew I was committing myself to something huge and really radical.  I knew I was setting myself apart from the world, and I knew it was going to bring conflicts and difficulties.  I knew I was going to have to learn some serious humility.  Terrifying!  But God was so very good to me, and as I got to know Him and rebuild my relationship with Him, person to Person, I came to love Him so much and to desire so greatly to be with Him.  Whenever I committed a sin, I immediately had to be reconciled to Him, because I  couldn’t bear being apart from Him and His grace.  To be separated from Him felt like death to me.  I went to Confession most every week.

I came to understand all the difficult teachings of the Church that had previously frustrated me.  It’s amazing what you learn when you just sit yourself down at God’s feet and say, “Lord, I am all Yours!  Give it to me straight, and give me the understanding I need to incorporate it into my life and give my obedience to it!”  You can read as many books and listen to as many homilies or Catholic radio programs as you want, but unless you completely submit yourself to God, you aren’t going to get anywhere.

By the time Easter came around on 16 April 2006, I was truly a different person.  All of my pet sins were completely gone.  I was completely freed from them!  I have never even thought about delving back into the occult.  Every occult experience I’ve ever had is pale in comparison to what I have learned, seen, discovered, and experienced in Catholicism and in my relationship with God.  God and Catholicism have opened my eyes to the wonders of creation and humanity.  There’s always something new to learn and something new to appreciate more deeply.  I don’t need anything else.

Looking back

There is so much more I could tell about those 10 months of darkness and the subsequent Lent.  Even now, I am probably doing a very poor job of describing them and just how intense and challenging they were.   But looking back now, I am just so grateful for them!  I am grateful that they were challenging.  I’m grateful that I was forced to face the darkness in my life and then fight to overcome it.  I think that I really had to be brought to the brink of destruction in order to know definitively what I wanted and which path I was going to take.

As I said before, that’s the mystery of free will and how God interacts with us.  It was scary.  It didn’t always make sense–I couldn’t always figure out just what God was up to!  But as time goes by, I can see the wisdom and the goodness of it.

Some people I’ve talked to about it are utterly confounded by that.  They say, “That’s crazy!  If God did me that way, I’d just tell Him where to go!  I wouldn’t put myself through that!  That’s not my idea of a loving God!”  I smile and say, “Oh, if only you knew Him!  If only you could go through what I have–to be able to look back and see what a beautiful, fascinating, intricate tapestry He has woven in my little life!  That makes everything worthwhile!”  I don’t think I’ve convinced anybody yet… but I do pray for them.  Especially the ones who profess to be Christians.  I mean… they don’t even seem to know Him whom they profess to worship!  I hope and pray that they will someday.

On the other hand, there have also been people in my life who have assumed that my conversion was just an easy, mindless thing, like somebody flipped a switch and BOOM, I was a bona fide brainwashed Catholic!  Yeah, I had some really powerful mystical experiences that would make many of my former friends roll their eyes and sneer with disgust.  But you know, for all their glory and power, those visions really only served as a bridge, a transition.  They were merciful consolations amid vast desolation.  They were a respite from the journey so far, and fuel for the journey ahead.  There has been absolutely nothing easy, magical, mindless or instantaneous about my conversion, and to characterize an entire long, arduous, and still-ongoing journey as just a flash of light or a puff of smoke or brainwashing is just incredibly irrational and insulting.  I pray for those people too.

By the way, I don’t think I’ve ever written about all three of those “visions” (I really don’t know what else to call them).  Their exact natures can’t really be captured in words, of course.  I think I’ve probably hesitated to discuss them for fear of being considered a lunatic.  But I’ve reached the point where I don’t care if somebody thinks I’m a lunatic.  I have so many other things to think about!  I am OK with putting myself and my experiences out on the line.  Because no matter how strange or absurd they make appear, those experiences are true.  And I am all about speaking truth.  There’s no point in saying anything if you’re not going to speak truth.

So that’s why I tried to describe them at some length.  They were each wondrous and strange.  I recall that I was very calm during them.  Not frightened.  I just took them in, absorbed them.  I don’t recall saying anything myself, but just listening.  That’s what I needed to do.

Listening is so important.  That is literally where “obedience” comes from–a Latin expression that means to “listen to.”  That’s why you have to sit yourself down at God’s feet and just open your mind, open your ears.  You have to do that if you’re going to be able to practice Catholicism.  Otherwise, you’re going to beat your head against the Church’s teachings, and you’re eventually going to give up on them or redefine them to suit your own tastes.  And that’s not practicing Catholicism.

Epilogue: The End is Always a Beginning

Well, that’s the bulk of my conversion story.  The rest of it is just what you read here!  It continues on.  I still struggle at times.  But I’m not giving up, no matter what happens, no matter how hard I have to work, no matter what I may have to sacrifice.  To put it very simply: God and the Church saved my life.  Or rather, restored my life.  I wouldn’t be here today without them.  Or at least, I wouldn’t be who I am.  You don’t just turn your back on that, or treat it lightly!  You don’t pour yourself 100% into something just to let it go to pot or abandon it for the latest fad.

I have a long way to go.  I’m definitely not perfect.  My faith is still very much a matter of “practicing” in every sense of the word (hence my blog title).  I fall flat on my face now and then, although I’ve now gotten to where my life is mostly a “controlled fall” where I can avoid being seriously injured and seriously offending God–all thanks to frequent Confession, my friends.

If I could sum up Catholicism in one phrase, it would be this:  “There is always a new beginning.”  After all, we worship a God who died and was resurrected, right?  So, even if we seem to reach an end of some kind, we can be assured that there can be a new beginning.  It might not be easy, but it will come.

I was looking at an old journal of mine, and came across this little passage I wrote last October–a stressful and anxious time in my life for a number of reasons.  Among other things, I was getting ready to leave for 3 weeks to go and care for my parents, both of whom were gravely ill.

I was just thinking this morning… life is just love and war and love and war. And as I’m starting to notice about all truth, it’s not “either or,” but rather “both and.” You can’t live an authentic life by the slogan “Make love not war.” There’s no such thing as “free love.” Love is always an engagement with another… and a setting against other others. My love for God and Church sets me against fierce legions of opponents, both mortal and immortal. My love for my parents sets me against legions of my own comforts, conveniences, interests, and preferences–and one’s own ego can be the fiercest opponent of all. Love always requires choice and dedication–and rejection. Those that are rejected may or may not let you go in peace.

I’ve been under siege from all kinds of things … But I’ve made my choice, I’ve dedicated myself, and I’m sticking to my guns–by the grace of God, who is both love and the only invincible warrior.

Coming across that this morning seemed pretty timely for me.  I’ve been feeling rather besieged for the last month or so.  And people have been chiding me–sometimes kindly, sometimes not kindly–for what they perceive as belligerence and anger.  These include people who know me personally as well as complete strangers.  It’s generally been over politics and especially over my pro-life stance.  Which is pretty understandable; people on all sides of these topics are passionate and often very emotional.

What bothers me is when somebody will say, “Boy, you Catholics are angry,” or “It’s not Christian of you to say such mean things” or “Jesus said to love, not hate,” etc.  Now, it doesn’t bother me if someone is offering me some fraternal correction.  I can be inordinately angry and even mean sometimes, just like anybody else can–though it’s hardly characteristic of me, by the grace of God.

What bothers me is when people accuse me of being angry or mean just to try to shut me up! Without taking any time to explain to me where I’m going wrong, and definitely without bothering to address the issues that I am talking about–such as what is wrong with me for being a angry that nearly 50 million innocent and helpless children have been barbarically killed in this country since 1973, and that our new president-elect doesn’t seem that bothered by it.

I don’t need anybody to tell me that anger and meanness are bad.  My moral compass may not be perfect, but it is a little more fine-tuned than that, thanks.  And the fact is, anger is not always the same thing as meanness.  Anger is not always opposed to love and peace.  And anger about ideas and actions is not the same as anger toward persons… just because I tear ideas and actions to shreds, doesn’t mean I want to hurt the person who thinks/does them.  Quite to the contrary, actually… it’s usually a matter of wanting to save the person.

I don’t need anybody insinuating that I’m a bad Christian, or that Christians in general are bad, if I express anger–that’s nothing but a cowardly ad hominem attack, and I have no patience for such nonsense when I’m talking about important, often literally life-and-death issues such as abortion.

I don’t need anybody to try to convince me that the world is full of love and peace when, in fact, it’s full of violence and injustice–neither of which I can be indifferent to, much less OK with.  I can’t “accept” or “tolerate” or “be non-judgmental about” such things.  I can’t, and I won’t, for the sake of my immortal soul.

I don’t need anybody to try to distract me from the fact that I, and all of us, are locked in a life-long spiritual war with extremely real temporal and eternal consequences.  The war is currently getting more heated now than ever.  The fact that we know the war is ultimately won does not excuse any of us from not engaging in battle.

This is what it comes down to:  When I die, I really don’t want God to look at me and ask why I fiddled while the world burned. I don’t want to be the servant with 1 talent from this Sunday’s Gospel reading. I know what kind of Master I serve… He may be Love Itself, but He isn’t always “nice.”  Not when being nice would endanger the ones He loves.  He may be a Lamb, but He’s also a Lion.  And He put a little bit of the Lion within each of us, too… He is our Father, after all, and we’re meant to be like Him.

Say I was a mother with children… would I be expected to be nice all the time?  Would I be considered mean if I got angry because somebody or something was threatening my children, or because they were doing something to endanger themselves?

Right now, I may be unmarried and not have biological children, but I’m still a mother in my own way.  Actually, in a much wider, universal sense.  I’m a daughter of the Blessed Mother, and her love is not only for her Son, but for all people, and the entire world.  Such is my love, at least at this point in my life.  When I see things hurting my society, my country, my Church, or the world at large, or when I see them doing things to endanger themselves, I’m not just going to do nothing, or keep my mouth shut.  Sometimes, I pray.  Sometimes I write.  Sometimes I do something more confrontational.  Sometimes I get angry.

If I were to do nothing, I would convict myself of a sin of omission!  And I do sometimes.  Sometimes I’m weak.  Sometimes I’m timid.  Sometimes I’m lazy.  Sometimes I’m cowardly.  Sometimes I’m selfish and just don’t want to be bothered.  Sometimes I abandon people to their folly because I think they deserve it.  These are the things that come from a lack of love!  And nobody chides me for those failings… nobody but the Holy Spirit speaking through my conscience.

In any case, things haven’t changed much since last October… I’m still sticking to my guns!  I pray that all my fellow Catholics do the same!  Keep on fighting the good fight, and for mercy’s sake, don’t let anybody shut you up by calling you a big meanie!

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