Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus' Authority

Today's Gospel shows us Jesus' authority both in teaching and in expelling an unclean spirit.

Use your imagination, and place yourself in the scene. You are sitting in the synagogue at Capernaum with your fellow Jews. You go to the synagogue every week to hear the Scriptures, pray, and listen to the teaching of the scribes. As you wait for the service to begin, you can't help but think of the work you have to do the rest of the week, for you are a fishermen in this little village on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee.

As the service begins, a Man stands up to teach. You've heard of Him. He is Jesus of Nazareth. A few of your neighbors, fellow fishermen Peter and his brother Andrew and James and his brother John, have recently become His followers. You've heard rumors about what happened when He spoke at the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth. He had read from the scroll of Isaiah, the famous passage about the anointed one who is to come, and He had declared that the passage was now fulfilled. Could He really be the Messiah? You lean forward anxiously, curious about what He will way.

As you listen to Jesus, you become more and more astonished. He announces that now is the time of fulfillment. He speaks of the Kingdom of God, which is at hand.. He urges you to repent of your sins and believe in the Gospel.

There is something different about the way Jesus teaches. His words are powerful, forceful. They go straight to your heart. You have a sense that this Man knows exactly what He's talking about and has the right to say everything He's saying. He doesn't raise His voice. He doesn't shout or point or wave His hands. But He radiates confidence and firmness. And something else... You can't quite put your finger on it. You've never heard anything quite like this. Certainly the scribes never teach this way. In Jesus there is no hesitation, no uncertainty, no equivocation, just pure authority. You wonder Who He really is, and you are struck with a deep sense of awe and even a little fear.

Then you witness something even more startling. A man whom you know must be possessed by some unclean spirit cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” These words are followed by a shocked silence. You wonder what's going to happen next.

You look at Jesus. He doesn't seem shocked or bothered by the man's words. He looks at the man and calmly says, “Quiet! Come out of him!” There is a loud cry that makes you jump. The possessed man convulses and then lies still. When he sits up, you can tell immediately that he is a different person. The unclean spirit is gone!

After a few moments of stunned silence, the synagogue erupts in whispers. Your neighbor leans over, and you see your own wide-eyed, opened-mouthed expression reflected on his face. “What is this?” he says, “Who is this that commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him?” You can hear similar words spoken all around you. You can't quite decide how you feel about what you've just seen...amazement, wonder, terror all blended together. But you're sure of one thing: Jesus of Nazareth has more authority in word and action than anyone you've ever seen before.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Recommended Reading: Current Selections

I've read so many good books lately that I thought I'd recommend a few.

1. Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brant Pitre – Dr. Pitre guides readers through a fascinating examination of the Jewish roots of the Eucharist, focusing especially on Jewish expectations of the Messiah and the Eucharist as the new Passover, the manna of the Messiah, and the Bread of the Presence. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in developing a stronger devotion to the Eucharist.

2. A Biblical Walk through the Mass by Edward Sri – This is another must-read for all Catholics. Dr. Sri takes his readers on a fascinating journey through the Mass. He meticulously explains every part of the Mass in great detail and with an abundance of Scriptural background. I also recommend the DVDs and workbook that accompany this volume.

3. Catholicism by Robert Barron – One more must-read! Father Barron offers a comprehensive overview of Catholicism focusing especially on what he calls “the greatest principle” the Catholic faith, namely, the Incarnation. “Catholicism,” Father Barron explains in his Introduction, “is a matter of the body and the senses as much as it is a matter of the mind and the soul, precisely because the Word became flesh.” The rest of the book unfolds that claim as it examines the many dimensions of Catholicism. Be prepared to read this one more than once.

4. The Templars: The Secret History Revealed by Barbara Frale – Historian Barbara Frale discovered a highly interesting document as she was pouring over files in the Vatican Secret Archives. The transcript, which had been mislabel and tucked among other papers, revealed that Pope Clement V had actually absolved the Knights Templar of all charges of heresy. Frale offers an engaging account of Templar history from the foundation of the Order through its tragic end.

5. The Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through by Stephen R. Donaldson – My best friend got me started in the fantasy genre, and I've found myself enjoying it immensely. These two books comprise Donaldson's Mordant's Need set. New Yorker Teresa Morgan steps through a mirror to find herself swept into a world filled with political machinations, magic, danger, and surprisingly, love. These books have a fascinating plot, well-developed characters, and a detailed medieval-style world. If you're a fantasy lover or want to give the genre a try, read these!

6. Harry Potter and History by Nancy Ruth Reagin – This collection of essays presents aspects of Muggle and wizarding history in a fun and entertaining manner. Readers are treated to the real history of Nicholas Flamel (was his grave really empty?); a fascinating discussion of medieval manuscripts; diverse expositions on such topics as early modern witch hunts, werewolves, British boarding schools, medieval magic, writing history; and much more.

7. Cole Younger: Last of the Great Outlaws by Homer Croy – Homer Croy's writing is humorous, entertaining, and just plain fun. He presents portraits of Cole Younger and Belle Starr that, while not completely historically accurate, provide an interesting glimpse into the “outlaw days” following the Civil War.

8. The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston – This is one of the most unique novels I've ever read. It tells the story of young New Hampshire woman, Frankie Pratt, who attends Vassar College in the early 1920s, works as a writer in New York City, and spends two years in late 1920s Paris. But here's the twist, each page in the book reproduces a page from Frankie's scrapbook, complete with all kinds of 1920s ephemera from drawings of dresses to advertisements for Maxwell House coffee. Check it out in the preview at Amazon to see for yourself.

9. The History Buff's Guide to the Civil War by Thomas R. Flagel – This is not your typical Civil War book! The author presents Civil War history in a series of “top ten” lists: Top Ten Causes of the Civil War”; “Top Ten Acts of Government”; “Top Ten Items in a Soldier's Diet”; “Top Ten Newspapers”; “Top Ten Firsts”; “Top Ten Military Blunders”; “Top Ten National Battlefield Sites”; and much more.

10. Lady Susan by Jane Austen – Austen adds a neat twist to this novel by organizing it as a series of letters between the main characters. The title character is a conniving, man-chasing widow. If you like Jane Austen, give this one a try.

Happy reading!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Third Sunday in Ordinary Time


Make a list of the things and people in this world that you are most attached to. Perhaps you'll jot down your family, your job, your hobbies, or your volunteer work. Now take a few minutes to ask yourself a very serious question: “Do I ever place these people and things in my life ahead of God?” Be honest.

St. Paul invites us to reflect on questions like this in today's second reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians.

He begins by reminding us that “time is running out.” Isn't that essentially true for all of us? Life on this earth doesn't last forever. As we listen to the news, speak with other people, and go about our daily business, we're continually reminded that our time here is limited.

Paul continues with some advice that might seem confusing at first:

From now on, let those having wives act as not having them,
those weeping as not weeping,
those rejoicing as not rejoicing,
those buying as not owning,
those using the world as not using it fully.

Notice that Paul does not suggest that husbands leave their wives. He does tell anyone to stop weeping, rejoicing, buying, or using the world. He is not advising Christians to stifle their emotions, quit their daily routine, cease to engage in business, or avoid relationships with other people.

Instead, Paul is urging us to get our priorities straight. We need to put God first in our lives. We need to love Him before all else and above all else. We need to make sure that nothing or no one takes the place of God for us.

How might this play out in “real life” situations? We may love a person dearly, but we must not let that person control our lives, influence us negatively, or draw us away from God. We may weep for a loved one who has passed away, but we must not let grief consume our every waking moment. We may rejoice over our successes at work or school, but we must not become overconfident and arrogant. We may own and enjoy personal possessions, but we must not hoard them or obsess over them. We may interact with this world and enjoy the things of this world, but we must control them rather than letting them control us.

Above all, we must carefully and honestly examine our priorities and continually ask ourselves, “Does God occupy first place in my life?”

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Lydia-Madeleine Longley: Puritan to Nun

The morning of July 27, 1694, was much like any other on the Longley farm in Groton, Massachusetts. Twenty-year-old Lydia Longley lived there with her parents, William and Deliverance Longley, and seven siblings. They were a prominent Puritan family in Groton where William served as the town clerk.

William Longley first noticed something unusual when he glanced out the window and saw his cows milling around in the cornfield when they should have been safely shut up in the barn. He hurried outside to round them up. He never made it to the cornfield.

Several Abenaki Indians were hiding in the bushes nearby. They had already killed or captured several of the Longleys' neighbors. Before long, William, Deliverance, and five of their children were dead. Lydia, her teenage sister Betty, and twelve-year-old John were taken prisoner by the Indians and led away. Perhaps Lydia took one last look at her Massachusetts home. If she did, she would have seen the mutilated bodies of seven members of her family scattered in the yard.

The Indians and their captives traveled north on foot. Lydia was soon separated from her brother and sister. Betty died during the journey. John remained with the Abenaki. Lydia was sold to the Pennacook tribe, probably in exchange for food, and spent much of the summer and autumn at the Pennacook settlement near the modern Concord, New Hampshire. As winter approached, the Pennacook traveled to their winter home near Ville-Marie (Montreal). They took Lydia with them.

A wealthy Frenchman named Jacques Le Bar lived in Ville-Marie. He had dealings with the Pennacook and a fine habit of ransoming captives. He freed Lydia and brought her to his home in Ville-Marie. Jacques and his children, Jeanne and Pierre, were devout Catholics, and they cared for Lydia tenderly. Lydia quickly developed a strong affection for her adoptive family, so much so that when offered the opportunity to return to Groton, she refused.

Lydia soon found herself drawn to Catholicism. Jeanne and Pierre Le Bar were both pursuing religious vocations, and Lydia was touched by their devotion and generosity. Her friend, fellow Englishwoman and former captive Mary Sayward, was already Catholic. On April 24, 1696, Lydia Longley, after a period of instruction in the Catholic faith, received the sacrament of baptism at the chapel of the Congregation of Notre-Dame and took the name Lydia-Madeleine.

Lydia-Madeleine desired to pursue her newly found Catholic faith to the fullest. In December of 1696, she joined the Congregation of Notre-Dame. Three years later, she professed her simple vows, becoming the first woman born in the English colonies to become a nun. Sister Sainte-Madeleine, as she was now called, lived a life of prayer and service in her community for sixty-two years, even serving as Mother Superior. She died on July 20, 1758, at age 84.

I first “met” Lydia Longley when I was researching a branch of my family tree and discovered that I am a direct descendent of her brother John, who was ransomed from captivity after four years. Lydia's story immediately fascinated me, and as I reflected on it more, I realized that God was using it to teach me some important lessons.

First, we must persevere with courage and hope even with the circumstances seem insurmountable. Lydia could have laid down beside the trail and died at any moment on her journey north, but she did not. She kept going. Somehow through the worst conditions, hunger, heat, and danger, she kept going.

Second, God can and does bring great good out of great evil. Lydia witnessed horrible evil. Almost her entire family was murdered right before her. She was forced to walk many miles as a prisoner, far away from her home. She may have been mistreated. She certainly suffered. But at the end of her severe trial, she discovered something wonderful: Catholicism. As a nun, she experienced the life of prayer, liturgy, and intimacy with God that Catholics hold so dear. God brought tremendous gain out of tremendous loss.

Finally, we are called to be a light that radiates truth and love. The Le Bar family showered Lydia with love. They taught her the truth of the Catholic faith by both their words and their actions. They touched her heart as they cared for her needs. They graciously cooperated with God to light up the life of this scared, sorrowful young woman. Lydia Longley, in turn, has become a light for generations of Catholics.

Selected Resources
* Lydia Longley: The First American Nun by Helen A. McCarthy (Burns & Oates, 1958)
* An Historical Sketch of Groton, Massachusetts by Samuel A. Green (Groton, 1894)
* “The Descendents of Rev. John Longley” at
* “Lydia Longley” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online at

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Second Sunday in Ordinary Time


Most of us talk to God a lot. We tell Him what we need and what we want. We describe our lives, complain about our troubles, and exult over our joys. We confess our sins and ask God's forgiveness. We pray for other people and commend them to God's loving care.

All of this is good, for it means that we are living in an intimate relationship with God. But sometimes, in all our talking, we forget that listening is also an important part of prayer.

Today's readings emphasize the importance of listening to God.

In the first reading, the young Samuel hears someone calling him. Three times he goes to Eli only to discover than Eli had not summoned him. Eli finally figures out what is going on. God is the One calling Samuel. Eli tells Samuel to respond to God with the words, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.” The Hebrew word for “listening” means more than just sensing sounds with the ears. It refers to hearing intelligently, with connotations of paying attention, consenting, and obeying. With these words, Samuel is placing himself at God's service. He is opening his mind and heart to accept God's message and to do God's will.

Psalm 40, verse 7, reads, “Sacrifice and offering You do not want; but ears open to obedience You gave me.” In the second part of the sentence, the Hebrew is literally “my ears You have opened,” and the verb used for “open” actually means “to dig” or “to excavate” or “to bore.” God has dug out the psalmist's ears so that he might truly hear what God has to say and so that he might listen and obey Him. This is an odd image, but it shows us that sometimes God has to dig His way into our ears and into our hearts and minds.

In the Gospel, John the Baptist is walking with two of his disciples. He points to Jesus and says “Behold, the Lamb of God.” The disciples hear him. The Greek verb “to hear” also means to pay attention, to consider, and to understand or comprehend. The disciples hear and act. They understand what John says and change their behavior to match their understanding. They follow Jesus.

Learning to listen to God isn't easy because we're used to doing the talking. These three ideas might help:

1. Read the Scriptures. In the Bible “the invisible God out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends and lives among them, so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself,” (Dei Verbum 2) and “the Father Who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them...” (Dei Verbum 21). The Bible is God's love letter to us. It is His message, His mind, His will, and His love. Try to spend fifteen minutes a day reading the Bible. Focus on a few verses, maybe one of the daily Mass readings, and think about what is God telling you through His Word.

2. Be silent. After you talk to God in prayer, quiet your mind and sit silently in His presence for a few minutes. Close your eyes, lean back, be aware of God's presence around you, relax in Him, and listen.

3. Pay attention. God speaks to us through our daily lives, through events, through nature, through other people, and in countless other ways. Open your mind and your heart, and take time to listen to and reflect on what God is trying to tell you.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Catholic Genealogy

In Chapter 12 of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry stands before the Mirror of Erised and sees his family for the first time. He sees a woman with bright green eyes, just like his, and a man with glasses and untidy black hair, just like his. “Mom?” he whispers as he leans toward the mirror. “Dad?” Behind his parents, Harry notices other people. Some of them have bright green eyes. Others have noses like his. One man even seems to have Harry's “knobbly knees.” Harry stares “hungrily” at his family, and he experiences “a powerful kind of ache inside him, half joy, half terrible sadness.”

As a genealogist, I understand how Harry feels when he meets his family. Every time I discover another ancestor, I feel like I'm “seeing” that person for the first time. I “look” very closely at him or her and try to learn as much of his or her story as possible. I notice characteristics we share and experiences we have in common. I study my ancestor's environment and read documents that explain what life was like during his or her time. I “get to know” my ancestor as much as possible.

As a Catholic, I know that my relationship with my ancestors is very real, for we are all part of the Communion of Saints. The Catechism explains that the Communion of Saints refers to 1. the Church, whose members share in the “holy things” and in an intimate unity that makes them “one body in Christ,” and 2. the communion of “holy persons” who are in Christ (#961-962). These “holy persons” are the faithful Christian believers, both living and the dead. Pope Paul VI says, “We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion the merciful love of God and his saints is always [attentive] to our prayer” (as quoted in the Catechism #963). Members of the Communion of Saints share a deep, intimate, loving relationship, pray for each other, and join together in worshiping God.

In other words, my ancestors and I share a bond that extends far beyond this life on earth. I pray for each of my ancestors, and I ask him or her to pray for me. We worship the same God. We share the same love. We will, I pray and hope, one day be together in Heaven forever.

For a Catholic, genealogy is more than just discovering names and dates. It's about finding companions for the journey. It's about prayer and love and faith and hope. It's about “seeing” my family for the first time.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Epiphany

Points to Ponder from the Gospel

Let's take some time this week to imitate Mary, who treasured the great events of the Nativity and pondered them in her heart. Here are a few points for reflection:

1. The magi make an assumption. They assume that Herod knows where to find the newborn King of the Jews. This is quite logical really. The Jews had long-standing traditions about the coming of a Savior King. Some saints and theologians speculate that the magi were heirs of these traditions, which were brought east by the Jews during the Babylonian exile centuries before. In any case, the magi know that something wonderful is happening in the land of the Jews. They assume the Jews would know, too. Sadly, they do not.

2. The magi are on a mission. They are coming to pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews. The Greek word for paying homage is proskuneō. This is the word the New Testament uses to indicate the worship of God. The magi, these foreigners, are hurrying to bow down before a tiny Baby, to fall prostrate in submission to a Newborn, even to worship a God-Man. This is truly a remarkable journey.

3. When Herod hears what the magi have to say, he is greatly troubled and all of Jerusalem with him. News of the magi's mission has spread far and wide. The whole city is talking about these strangers and their odd message. But notice what the Jews do not do; they do not go and seek the new King. They certainly realize that the magi are speaking about the long-awaited Messiah. Herod even makes point to ask the chief priests and scribes where the Messiah was to be born. But the Jews do nothing but fret!

4.The chief priests and scribes tell Herod that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem of Judah. They quote a prophecy found in the Book of Micah, chapter 5. Bethlehem means “the house of bread” in Hebrew. And certainly, for a while anyway, Bethlehem was the house, the home, of the One Who is the Bread of Life, the One Who fulfills all the Old Testament prophecies.

5. Herod lies to the magi. He tells them to return to him with news of the Child so that he might also go and pay Him homage. That is probably the furthest thing from Herod's real intention. Herod is scared and angry. He is very attached to his status and his office, and he doesn't want some little kid vying for his position.

6. The magi follow a miraculous star to the place where the baby King rests with His mother. People have long debated what the star actually was. It could have been a comet. It may have been completely supernatural. We will probably never know, at least until we get to Heaven, and then we might not care. In any case, God uses this star, whatever it is, as a sign that points straight to Jesus. God communicates with His people in many wonderful ways.

7. The joyful magi pay homage to Jesus and present Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts are symbolic: gold for a King, frankincense for God, and myrrh for the One Who is to die. The magi also offer themselves to the little King.

8. The magi do not return to Herod. God warns them in a dream that they must not go back. The magi are open to this kind of communication from God. They listen and obey.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Raccolta: A Treasury of Prayer

I became acquainted with the Raccolta through one of those God- directed “accidents.” I was searching for something else on the Internet (I don't remember what it was, so it must not have been too important) when I came across a full-text copy of the Raccolta online. I was both surprised and delighted. Then I found myself feeling a bit sad, for most Catholics, if asked about the Raccolta, would probably respond with a blank look and a rather uninterested shrug.

They don't realize that they are missing out on a spiritual treasure.

What is the Raccolta?

The Raccolta is a thick book that contains a large collection of prayers and pious acts that have been enriched with indulgences. The Italian word "raccolta" means “collection” or “depository,” but the word can also refer to a “summons.” In other words, the Raccolta is both a call to prayer and good works and a “how-to” manual that places those prayers and good works right at Catholics' finger tips.

The first Raccolta, with Latin prayers, was published in 1807. Over the next 150 years, the Raccolta went through numerous editions and translations. The final English Raccolta was printed in 1957 by the Benziger Brothers, a New York printing company. This edition has recently been reprinted by St. Athanasius Press.

What kinds of prayers and pious acts are collected in the Raccolta?

The Raccolta is divided into the following chapters: 1. The Triune God; 2. God the Father; 3. God the Son; 4. God the Holy Spirit; 5. The Most Blessed Virgin Mary; 6. The Holy Angels; 7. The Saints; 8. For the Faithful Departed; 9. For Special Occasions; and 10. In Favor of Certain Groups. The appendix contains prayers and pious practices for visitors to Rome.

Each chapter offers a variety of prayers, some as short as a few words and others as long as a few pages. For example, the chapter focusing on God the Son begins with the simple, and very short, prayer “My Jesus, mercy.” Several pages later, the Raccolta presents the Litany of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, which extends over four pages. Many prayers are printed in both English and Latin.

Within each chapter, prayers are grouped according to topics. For instance, the chapter containing prayers to the Blessed Virgin is split into sections devoted to General Devotions, the Immaculate Conception, the Blessed Virgin Mary Sorrowing, the Heart of Mary, the Holy Rosary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Titles of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Raccolta also lists pious practices that have been enriched with indulgences. Since most modern Catholics are not familiar with these, let's take a closer look at some. In the chapter dedicated to the saints, we find three pious exercises in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. First, if the faithful spend time in meditation, prayer, or other devotions on any of the ten Sundays surrounding the Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi (September 17), they may receive a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions (see below for an explanation of the “usual conditions”). Second, if the faithful pray in a church or public oratory on the Feast of St. Francis or on one of the seven following days, they may receive a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions. Third, if the faithful devote prayers or pious exercises in honor of St. Francis for a month or for nine successive days, they may gain a partial indulgence each day and a plenary indulgence at the end of the exercise.

What is an indulgence?

The prayers and pious works listed in the Raccolta are “enriched by indulgences.” Many Catholics today either have no idea what indulgences are or have a rather skewed view of these spiritual gems.

Let's explore indulgences by way of an analogy. A little boy all dressed up in his Sunday clothes decides, right before Mass, that he wants to play in the mud. His mother comes out of the house to find him covered head to toe in brown goop. She's shocked and angry, for she had specifically told him to be careful to keep his clothes clean. The little boy is sorry almost immediately. He starts to cry, knowing that he had disobeyed his mother, and he runs to her to apologize. The mother looks down at her muddy little son and loves him. She can't help it. He's just so loveable, even when he is disobedient and covered in mud. She forgives him at once. But she doesn't hug him...not yet. He is, after all, filthy. So she takes her son inside, throws his muddy clothing in the laundry, and plunks him in the bathtub to clean him up.

We're a lot like that muddy little boy. God gives us rules for our own good. We are disobedient and sin. We get our souls filthy dirty, and God is displeased. But God loves us so much that the moment we repent, He forgives us. He can't help it. We're loveable to Him. He wants us with Him forever. But our sins, even after they are forgiven, leave us covered in spiritual mud that gets in the way of our intimacy with God. We need to be cleaned up.

Here's where the Catholic doctrines of indulgences and Purgatory come in. Indulgences are like spiritual soap and water that help scrub off the spiritual mud left over even after God has forgiven us for our sins. When we recite prayers and perform pious acts that have been enriched by indulgences, we're cooperating with God in getting cleaned up. If we happen to die before all the spiritual mud has been removed, we need to continue the clean-up after death. This is Purgatory. At this point, other people can help us by gaining indulgences for us through their prayers and pious acts.

This explanation is quite simplified and doesn't even touch on important concepts like “merit” and “temporal punishment,” but it does offer us at least a bit of insight into the important Catholic doctrines of indulgences and Purgatory. For further reading, please see Catholic Answers' “Primer on Indulgences.”

What are the time values assigned to the indulgences, and what is a plenary indulgence?

Nearly every prayer and pious act listed in the Raccolta is accompanied by an indulgence with a time value assigned to it. Many of them also note the presence of a plenary indulgence under certain conditions.

For instance, the following prayer merits an indulgence of 300 days and a plenary indulgence if it is repeated devoutly every day for a month: “Holy Mary, Virgin Mother of God, intercede for me.”

Until Vatican II, partial indulgences, ones that helped clean off only part of the spiritual muck of sin, were designated by a time value, usually in days or years. These do not, and never did, mean that such a number of days or years was knocked off one's time spent in Purgatory. Instead, these times refer to days or years of penance. Reciting a prayer with an attached 300-day indulgence is equivalent to performing 300 days worth of penitential acts (which also help wash off spiritual mud). Reciting a prayer with a 7 year indulgence is equivalent to performing 7 years of penitential acts. These are some powerful prayers!

In recent years, the Church has simplified the system of indulgences, so today we only designate whether an indulgence is partial or plenary without designating any actual time values. Still, knowing the values that were once attached to indulgenced prayers and actions can help us understand the spiritual force of prayer and pious exercises.

Plenary indulgences, by the way, remove all the spiritual mud from our souls (and, with it, all the time we or our loved ones spend in Purgatory). Plenary indulgences may be gained under certain conditions. Along with the prayer or pious act, the faithful must go to Confession, receive Holy Communion, say prayers for the intentions of the Pope, and be free from any attachment to sin. The last condition is certainly the most difficult. Very few of us are free from any attachment to sin, but this should not stop us from trying to gain plenary indulgences. Even if attachment to sin is still lurking in the corners of our hearts, we will at least gain a partial indulgence when we pray or perform pious acts.

Doesn't this system of indulgences and all these prayers and pious acts in the Raccolta just mean that we are trying to save ourselves?

No! Definitely not! Jesus Christ saves us. He died for us on the Cross. He merited all the graces we need to be with the Blessed Trinity in Heaven forever. We do not save ourselves. But we do need to accept our salvation. We need to reach out and grasp the graces God holds out to us so generously.

Think again about the little boy who got so muddy on a Sunday morning. He didn't scrub all that dirt off by himself. His mother cleaned him up; he accepted the scrubbing and tried to “help” as much as he could.

We're like that little boy. God is the One Who cleans off all our spiritual muck. He gives us the graces we need; He provides the indulgences; He makes them effective. But He lets us help through our prayers and pious acts.

How about a couple more examples from the Raccolta?

“O dearly beloved Word of God, teach me to be generous, to serve Thee as Thou dost deserve, to give without counting the cost, to fight without fretting at my wounds, to labor without seeking repose, to be prodigal of myself without looking for any other reward save that of knowing that I do Thy holy will.” (An indulgence of 500 days. A plenary indulgence on the usual conditions, if this prayer is said devoutly every day for a month.)

“Hail, O Queen of heaven enthroned!
Hail, by Angels Mistress owned!
Root of Jesse, Gate of morn,
Whence the world's true Light was born:
Glorious Virgin, joy to thee,
Loveliest whom in heaven they see:
Fairest thou where all are fair,
Plead with Christ our sins to spare.”
(An indulgence of 5 years. A plenary indulgence on the usual conditions, when this antiphon has been repeated daily for a month.)

“O Holy Spirit, Spirit of truth, come into our hearts; shed the brightness of Thy light upon the nations, that they may please Thee in unity of faith.”
(An indulgence of 300 days.)

“My God, my only Good, Thou art all mine; may I be always Thine.”
(An indulgence of 300 days. A plenary indulgence on the usual conditions, if this invocation is said daily for a month with pious dispositions.)

Are copies of the Raccolta readily available?

Copies of the 1957 edition of the Raccolta, reprinted by St. Athanasius Press, are available at Amazon. The 1910 edition is available full text online at Internet Archive, and Google Books offers full text editions from 1857 and 1878.

Even though the Raccolta is no longer the Church's “official” book of indulgences (it has been superseded by Enchiridion of Indulgences), it is still a valuable collection of prayers and pious acts that help scrub off our spiritual mud.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God

A Blessing

In today's first reading, God tells Moses that the Israelite priests are to bestow on the people the following blessing:

The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let His face shine upon
you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and
give you peace!

Let's take a few minutes to study this powerful blessing in depth, for through it, God imparts some truly remarkable gifts.

The LORD bless you

The word for “bless” here is bârak, which means to give benefits. Think of the benefits God gives us: life, love, salvation, grace, intimacy with Him, heaven. Everything we have and everything we are come from Him as He blesses us in innumerable ways each and every day. Do you take time to thank Him?

and keep you!

The word for “keep,” shâmar, can also mean to observe, guard, protect, save, and even treasure. God watches over us like a protective father guards his precious children. In what ways have you experienced God's loving care?

The LORD let His face shine upon you,

The Hebrew word for “shine,” 'ôr, means to light up, kindle, or set on fire. God wants to set our hearts on fire with love for Him, and He wants us to become light for others as His radiant love shines through us. Are you on fire with love for God? Do you allow God to illuminate the world through you?

and be gracious to you!

To be gracious, in Hebrew chânan, is to bend or stoop in kindness, to show mercy or favor, and to have pity. God lavishes His grace upon us. He knows that we are sinners, yet He showers us in mercy. Do you reach up to God as He bends down to you in love?

The LORD look upon you kindly

God is always looking at us. This is not a negative thing. God is not standing over us as a harsh judge who watches our every move, waiting for us to slip up. God looks upon us with kindness, care, consideration, concern, and love. He loves us so much that He can't take His eyes off of us. His gaze sustains our very being. Are you looking back at God?

and give you peace!

The Hebrew word for “give” here is sûm. It conveys a sense of permanence and can mean to ordain, fix, or establish. The Hebrew word for “peace,” shâlôm, indicates that peace isn't just the absence of strife. It is, rather, the completeness or wholeness that comes from living in a covenant relationship with God. Do you live in God's peace?

You may wish to memorize this magnificent blessing and pray it frequently over your loved ones, for God is always ready to pour out His gifts in abundance.