Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

22 January 2016

I Beg Your Indulgence

Starting off a post or speech with a dictionary definition is considered a cliché, so I will operate somewhat differently with this treatment of indulgences. They are considered a controversial concern among Catholics and our separated brethren, so much so that one hardly hears of them anymore. But that hasn't stopped the Catholic Church from offering and promoting indulgences, so we would do well to reflect upon their nature and purpose. This is especially the case in view of Pope Francis' declaration of a special "Jubilee Year of Mercy" and the particular indulgences that one can gain "for a limited time only."

I shall offer piecemeal the definition that Pope Paul VI offered in his 1967 (post-Vatican II!) apostolic constitution Indulgentiarum Doctrina, cited in the second edition (2000) of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Washington: USCCB. §1471).

As you might expect, it starts, "An indulgence is..." My commentary follows each segment, as you also might expect.
Here is the entire definition, posted to minimize scrolling: "An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints." "An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin." The faithful can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead.
a remission before God
Before the definition proper, the CCC entry reminds us: "The doctrine and practice of indulgences in the Church are closely linked to the effects of the sacrament of penance." The sacrament of penance is, and forever shall be, the ordinary forum in which the Triune God imparts His mercy to Catholics. Here a duly-authorized priest declares,
God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace; and I absolve you of your sins (+) in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There'd be no reason for Jesus to declare to the apostles on the night of His resurrection, "Whose sins you forgive shall be forgiven them" (Jn 20:23), if He was not thereby entrusting them with the gift, mystery, and responsibility of mercy. As a hospital chaplain whose daily docket includes many marginal Catholics, I often find myself--I hate to use the word, "defending," but certainly presenting the rationale for sacramental reconciliation. It's a planting of seeds.

of the temporal punishment due to sins
Modern educational movements have moved away from the notion of punishment in favor of "consequences," suggesting that the teacher isn't being a meanie by taking away recess privileges for talking out of line or giving a zero grade for cheating. Rather, teacher and students mutually understand Y is what happens when you do X: it "follows" as a consequence of the disharmony and is not so much doled out as a punishment. Carrying the idea into the theological realm: God isn't displaying cruelty by sending an unrepentant sinner to hell; the descent into hell is the logical next and final step that such a person would take.


Cf. CCC 1472: "To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the "eternal punishment" of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the "temporal punishment" of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain." (emphasis mine)

"Temporal": this has not to do not merely with clock time (L tempus; or in Gk, kronos) but with any earthly effects of sin upon the sinner himself or those whom he has wronged. These consequences also can extend beyond the end of this life in "purgatory." When a harm is wrought, the virtue of justice (divine as well as human) demands satisfaction for that harm.

whose guilt has already been forgiven
The classic example is of the boy who breaks a window by throwing a baseball through it. His parents forgive him, but his parents rightly insist he pay for the window. The Sacrament of Penance (Reconciliation) forgives our sins, but we are granted the grace of cooperating with our restoration so we can "own" it. As with much else in life, we can't often take full or even partial credit for what we have, except that we were receptive to it. Forgiveness is, by God, "what we have."

There is another dimension of our past sins that may haunt us: in this life we cannot fully know the "ripple effects" of every sinful action or failure to act. Spiritual, emotional, and even physical consequences, extending around us and through generations, can serve to remind us of what we, or others, have done. When the past action is ours, we pray for mercy upon ourselves and for those we may have harmed; when the past action is another's, we pray for the person(s) and for all who have been affected or may yet be affected by them. Here, "it's the thought that counts," really does count for something, when it is united to the Divine Mind and Will.

The Devil is known to capitalize upon our realization of those temporal effects as they unravel, so that they become a source of torment and discouragement. Under the mantle of Our Lady and her Son, we need not be utterly confounded by the effects of our sins upon us and others, though we may shake our head and shed a tear at times. We must know this for certain and be assured of it: what we have confessed with sincere sorrow, God has forgiven and forgotten. When ripple effects unfold, we must persevere in the life of grace, doing the next right thing as promptly and quietly as possible, making interior declarations ("acts") of faith in the Lord's power and mercy toward us.

which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed
The "faithful Christian" does his or her best to observe the "precepts of the Catholic Church": attending Mass and receiving the Eucharist, observing the Church's disciplines regarding fasting and abstinence from meat, contributing to the temporal needs of the Church as generously as circumstances allow. To be "faithful" is not to be "perfect," but to be moving toward perfection by way of persistence, trust, and compassion. Due disposition to the reception of indulgences is nothing less than being "in the state of grace," to the best of one's awareness.

This last matter too can become an occasion of anxiety. Doubtless you've heard the story of Saint Joan of Arc: when her captors tried to torment her by asking whether she was in the state of grace, she famously and pithily replied, "If I am, may God keep me there; if I am not, may He put me there." If we are not aware of an unconfessed grave sin, we are likely in the state of grace.

Modern catechesis has eschewed that last phrase, perhaps objecting to a static understanding of spirituality as a "condition" or to sacraments as "things." Although the sacraments have a necessary, constitutive material dimension, they are expressions of our living relationship with the Triune God.

gains under certain prescribed conditions
These conditions traditionally include: being in the state of grace, going to Confession within a reasonable time period before or after the indulgenced prayer or action, and praying for the intentions of the Holy Father (see the website of the Apostleship of Prayer for details). Intentionally desiring the indulgence seems necessary, too; if I wanted to stretch the possibilities, I would say that a habitual interest in gaining indulgences, together with a regular reception of Confession, suffices. Here as elsewhere, the more mindful we are, the better.

through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority
Just as sacramental absolution occurs "through the ministry of the Church" (see above), so does the Church carry out the activity of indulgences by Our Lord's directive. If you were to ask, "By His explicit directive?" meaning, "Is that in the Bible? Huh?" I would have to answer, "There are many words not explicitly found in the Bible, but there are many concepts that the Church's Tradition and Magisterium have given flesh to through 2,000 years of experience and reflection." Purgation of our temporal attachment to and punishment for sin is one of these realities. Sure, we can mention "Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny" (Mt 5:26) as a reference to the thorough fulfillment of just sentences. And we can get into the atonement sacrifice offered in 2 Maccabees, but it wouldn't much matter if you don't admit that book as canonized Scripture. We might as well pack up our marbles and go home, because I've lost my chops for argumentation. I'm liable to just stick out my tongue at you and walk away, thereby meriting more purgation.

Who would dare to affirm that he or she is fully prepared to participate in the Life of the Trinity? If I were to die today, I wouldn't be so prepared; but (Thou knowest, O Lord!) I believe, hope, pray that I would be disposed to that Life. God knows how I need to be cleansed of my many and profound attachments to sin.

Much of the contention about indulgences centers on this phrase the Church...minister of redemption. "Do you affirm that Jesus formed, instituted, and authorized the Apostles, their successors, coworkers, and followers as the very Church that continues the saving work of His Kingdom in the world?" That is the crucial question; if it sounds legalese, that's how I write. An affirmative answer will render indulgences not merely palatable, but rather worthwhile and helpful in our personal participation in the redemptive endeavor.

the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.
This clause follows the "crucial question" posed just above. If "Jesus formed...the Church that continues the saving work of His Kingdom in the world," then how exactly does the Church do that? Each person's daily perseverance in holiness and mission is like a coin in the pot of "satisfactions of Christ and the saints." Head and members are all in on it. Naturally (Grace-fully) Jesus' contribution--His life, Passion and atoning Death--is primary. A close second is the life and com-passion of Our Lady. But the bond of Baptism unites all the baptized to the Head in such a way that our moral and sacramental lives, including our repentances, form the significant contribution of redeemed humanity.

We gain indulgences by offering works of prayer and/or charity that we intentionally unite to the work of Christ and the Saints in cooperation with the salvation of the world. Prayers and other good actions share in the eternal merit of God's action for us. All goodness comes from God. And yet, nobody forces us to do what we do. We experience our free will in the very exercise of it; we are not in fact being moved about like a marionette as we go about doing good (or evil!). Therefore our participation in the world's goodness is actual...and "satisfactual," precisely because God, the Source and Motive of all Goodness, is at work in us as we work.

While not every act of virtue is an indulgence per se, it is a participation in Christ's action that is of some use to the execution of His redemptive plan for humanity. Indulgences are what one might call the "blue-light specials" of the already-great savings offered by our commerce in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. They are specially offered opportunities to intentionally unite our prayers and sacrifices to Christ for the good of ourselves and others.

An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin.
Unresolved temporal punishment due to sin is the stuff that God purifies from the soul through our acceptance of the trials of this life and through the residual, mysterious work of Purgatory. The power of Confession is such that all sin is forgiven, except in the case where a person intentionally withholds a sin out of shame or pride, which invalidates the whole confession. We traditionally say that such an unworthy Confession is sacrilegious, because it defies the purpose of Confession and flouts the proper exercise of it (i.e. honest thoroughness).

It is a good practice to have in mind as a habitual intention the forgiveness of all forgotten sins. In this matter we simply ask God's help and do the best we can at the moment. It is unnecessary and unhelpful to re-confess particular sins, except in the context of discussion with a priest-spiritual director when you are unpacking the previously unrecognized crevices of the past. And even there, a good confessor will urge caution, because the line between conscientiousness and scrupulosity is wafer-thin.
Would that people become more conscientious without descending into scrupulosity! The latter is not a sin, but rather a mental wound, a species of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, which more than errs on the side of conscientiousness in favor of a debilitating level of attention. Our addiction-prone world might more quickly favor casualness or laxity in some matters--though this suggestion may itself reflect the "all-or-nothing" thinking so familiar to addicts. Most well-meaning people, I suppose, fall somewhere along the spectrum of laxity-to-scrupulosity. And even there you will find inconsistencies in how individuals demonstrate along the spectrum, depending on what interests them. Such is life.
The textbook (Enchiridion, Greek for "item in the hand") on Indulgences was revised a few decades ago, establishing two categories of indulgences. "Plenary," the full remission of temporal punishment, was already around. "Partial" was the umbrella term that took in previous values such as days, years, and "quarantines" (forty-day stints) that had been assigned to prayers and actions. Certain prayers (e.g., "My Jesus, Mercy!"), known as ejaculations (because you kinda just "threw them out there"--Latin e, out of + jacere, to throw), might have received "300 days, once a day," or "300 days, each time [said]", or "7 years and 7 quarantines," depending on how the Church had classified them.

Numeric values could lead to a legalistic notion of gaining indulgences akin to that national debt clock that just keeps on increasing. Of course we want to pray regularly and mindfully; St. Paul urged us to pray "without ceasing" (1Th 5:16). That exhortation provides the background for the Desert Dwellers' famous "Jesus Prayer," which people to this day are known to recite, sometimes with the aid of knotted prayer ropes not unlike rosaries.

But if you thought the numbers were supposed to be "time off Purgatory," as if praying 30 "My Jesus, Mercy"s would rack up 3,000 fewer days you or the intended recipient would spend in Purgatory, you're wrong.

In the early centuries of the Church, "they" say that sacramental reconciliation tended to be reserved for graver sins (e.g. adultery), and graver sinners celebrated it on relatively few occasions in comparison to the ideal current practice. Penances were assigned and conducted publicly. They were exercises in humility: you might have stood outside where the community gathered for worship and asked their prayers.

Numerical values previously assigned to indulgenced prayers had some connection to the sentence-penances levied in the early Church. As the sacrament developed into the "auricular" (by ear) form we use today, some person or committee or whoever--probably over the course of time--attached numerical values to prayers. I guess there was a relative increase in value according to the content of the prayer or the action. I don't believe Confessors or ecclesiastical tribunals wrote up any kind of "invoice" for sins with corresponding penances, but it would not surprise me if such were the case, somewhere.

Charitable contributions are numerical in nature, especially when they deal with "legal tender." Can you see, then, what might give rise to the practice of promoting charitable contribution on the basis that it would relieve one's post-mortem purgation? Can you see how Dominican friar Johannes Tetzel's infamous alleged line, "When a penny in the coffer rings, another soul from Purgatory springs" could be subject to diverse, usually unfavorable interpretations throughout the vagaries of history (not unlike modern-day soundbites)? [It was originally in German, so it must have sounded even more curious.] Now we can surmise that there was some grace-graft going on, perhaps a lot of it; but we affirm that it definitely was a corruption of a good thing.

The faithful can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead.
And so, we must keep in mind the big picture: every prayer, every self-denial, and every offering participates in the goodness and mercy of God. Baptized Christians are granted the special privilege (and isn't every privilege a responsibility and a summons?) of "participating in the goodness and mercy of God" by intentional, profound repentance and regular Confession, by faithful reception of the Eucharist, and by prayer/service for the Church/world to whom they belong--in other words, by being a Catholic.

We can intend that the merits of Christ and the saints be applied to ourselves. It sounds like "banking" against the day of the Lord. Be extremely careful of the legalism of which this smacks. God is not mocked. Conscious and free participation in vice doesn't just get wiped away by mouthing prayers and doing good things for show. Can people benefit from those prayers and works? Sure, but "the Lord sees into the heart" (1 Sam 16:7, cf. Mt 6:6), and He is well known for bringing good out of evil even as the perpetrator of evil deserves--and the evil itself demands--redress.

It would seem to me that every prayer, self-denial, and offering of ours benefits us in some fashion. "The measure with which you measure will in turn be measured out to you" (Mt 7:2, one of the closest articulations to karma we have). Or again, "Wisdom is vindicated by her works" (Mt 11:19). Wouldn't it be best to think of others in need first, even if it suffices to give to "Father's Discretionary Fund," for God to distribute to whom He wills? If we need it, we can trust that we'll get it. After all, it is God's own life and love--Grace--which is not a thing anyhow, but a love-relationship.

The dead in-process-of-purification are the primary intended recipients of indulgences. We who still have legitimate control over our actions and affections want to express unto the dead the solidarity that for thousands of years has galvanized the Communion of Saints to do that thing they do. If we had any say in it, we'd hope that the intensity and duration of their mysterious post-mortem purification be no more than necessary. Of course, we should figure that our just God would want it that way, too; but the unification of our desire with God's is, after all, the aim of all prayer and charity.

Post-mortem purification is, at depth, a mystery. Nevertheless it contains within itself the seed and promise of life with the Trinity. The Being-Purified are being purified for something--the something which turns out to be everything. The dogma of purgatory is a corollary to the reality and relevance of sin. It further speaks to the justice that God and sin demand of sin's practitioners. But it pertains most of all to the mercy of God, who "desires that no one perish, but that all be saved and come to the knowledge of truth" (1 Tim 2:4).

Here is a splendid reflection on this subject matter, to which is attached another helpful primer on indulgences.

12 December 2015

The Springs of Salvation

In our responsorial psalm we heard, “With joy you will draw water from the fountain of salvation” (Is 12:3). The Christian story locates that fountain in the Sacrament of Baptism, where for the first time we concretely experience, where we see, hear, and feel (and perhaps taste) the water that signifies and accomplishes salvation.

To be more precise as to what Baptism does: it makes us children of God, heirs of heaven, temples of the Holy Spirit, and members of the Church. It frees us from the original sin and (in the case of adults) from personal sins committed beforehand. It plants in us the seeds of faith, hope, and love—the “theological virtues” that dispose us to divine realities that both lie beyond this world and permeate this world. 

Baptism moves us to continue in the path of grace (1) by activating the gifts of the Holy Spirit (viz., wisdom, understanding, right judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence, and fear of the Lord) and (2) by acting in accord with the human virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. And that “path of grace” continues in us when we receive the sacraments that complete our Christian initiation (Confirmation and, in an ongoing way, Holy Eucharist), as well as the sacrament that continually repairs and renews our relationship with God and neighbor (Penance). And without Baptism, we cannot invest our lives in the Sacraments of Marriage or Holy Orders, or in consecrated religious life. So it’s pretty much the key to everything.

Now what John the Baptist was doing wasn’t Christian Baptism, insofar as Jesus hadn’t yet appeared on the scene. You might say that, because of its focus on sorrow for the past and commitment to the future, it was the next best thing; but, as their old commercials used to say, “When you’re out of Schlitz, you’re out of beer.”

The curious thing is, when Jesus did appear on the scene and met His saintly prophetic cousin, He didn’t seem to co-opt John’s baptism into His own. As it turned out, John continued to have disciples of his own for some time. Recall the incident when some of Jesus’ purported enemies were objecting to how His disciples were conducting themselves in contrast to John’s. Jesus assured them that the two camps were not opposed to one another, but that the Best Man and fellow groomsmen certainly would be fulfilled (and, one might infer, more joyful) by attending to the Bridegroom. As the former himself said, “One mightier than I is coming…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

And, if we are open to it, by the fire of His love He will separate the chaff from the wheat in us, the sin from the grace. For our life’s duration they will co-exist to various degrees in various respects. But our intentional movement along the Baptismal Voyage contains within itself the promise of Our Lord’s Presence—the same Presence He promised to the Apostles when He said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the world” (Mt 28:20).

26 November 2015

A Matter for Eating, Drinking, and Running

Though it has become a recent custom to take my annual retreat during the week of Thanksgiving, I give myself a "day pass" to attend the family dinner. While driving to my uncle and aunt's house, I listened to divineoffice.org through my iPhone. The mini-reading of today's Morning Prayer (Thursday, Week II of the Psalter) confirmed how Providence often lines up the particulars of liturgy and life. How appropriate this sounded for the American celebration of abundance:

"The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking, but of justice, peace, and the joy that is given by the Holy Spirit. Whoever serves Christ in this way pleases God and wins the esteem of men. Let us, then, make it our aim to work for peace and to strengthen one another" (Rom 14:17-19).

Earlier today I engaged in another sort of liturgy: I ran for six miles along the lovely D&L (Delaware and Lehigh Rivers) Rail Trail. Part of that route is used by the Lehigh Valley Health Network Via Marathon, which I ran in 2013 as my very first marathon. The asphalt portions of the trail still display the painted mile markers.

One daily devotional resource for runners is runqotd.com, otherwise known by the application name of "MilePost." I am not sure whether every subscriber receives the same quote each day, but the one I got pointed once again to God's inscrutable and risible ways, as it well fit a day when we might not be so inclined to "listen to [our] body," especially when it declares satiety:

Background: Your Rev'd Blogger, with the medal he won earlier this week (Phila Half Marathon)
As I'm sure most of my readers did, I ate heartily today. I enjoyed the company of family and friends, with laughter and reminiscences of dearly departed loved ones (in particular, my maternal grandmother who would get visibly excited whenever we sat down to Thanksgiving dinners). As for many of my readers, there are fewer of us gathering around the table nowadays. The consumption is quicker and the conversation topics have changed, but the rationale remains: gratitude for the blessings we have given and received.

When I returned to my retreat location, I offered Mass, particularly mindful of Barbara K., the aunt of a longtime friend, who died earlier today. For years she was a sacristan at her parish, for which I used to play the organ during high school and on seminary breaks. Every day's Eucharist makes the day a time of Thanksgiving--especially for the gift of life, which Barb has just returned to her Creator after a long ordeal with that bastard, cancer.

I did not use the proper prayers for "Thanksgiving" in the Roman Missal (don't tell a liturgist on me!). Instead, I used the setting "In Time of Famine or for Those Suffering Hunger." I admit to giving "those who go without this day" a passing nod in pre-prandial prayers, such that even this Mass felt like a pitying gesture.

The Collect for this Mass reads: "O God, who, being good and almighty, provide for all creatures, give us, we pray, and effective love for our brothers and sisters who suffer hunger, so that famine may be banished and that they may have strength to serve you with free and untroubled hearts."

During the Mass my mind wandered to the purchases I have made for myself over the year, which far eclipsed my charitable giving. Yet I cannot downplay the time I have devoted to personal visits, telephone calls, and typed messages with people who, as my retreat master reminded me, are starving for recognition and care.

There are a diversity of gifts, St. Paul said, and a diversity of needs as well. The Holy Sacrifice covers all those needs with tailor-made divine mercy, with "justice, peace, and the joy that is given by the Holy Spirit." Every offering of service, insofar as it derives from the Liturgy and leads us back to it, is a "work for peace" and mutual reinforcement.

Dr. Sheehan advised me today not to be "a blind and deaf tenant" of my body. The same admonition applies to the soul. Retreats enable us to take stock of how we occupy our earthly abode, how we use our time, talent, and treasure for God and people (self included). Though I may take my retreat at a different time of the year in 2016, it will remain a privileged moment of gratitude for past, present, and future blessings.

Please pray that I continue to "work for peace and to strengthen" the people God entrusts to my care, for the banishment of their many and diverse hungers and for the liberation of their troubled hearts.

19 November 2015

Suffering Well

Patient Reader: Below you will find the article that appeared in a recent issue of the AD Times, the newspaper of the Diocese of Allentown (Allentown Diocese--Anno Domini--see what we did there?). Text in bold did not appear in the original article.

When I visit the hospitalized and elderly, I sometimes offer a prayer that I adapted from the Church’s Pastoral Care of the Sick and Roman Missal: “Father, Your Son and Our Savior Jesus Christ accepted our sufferings as a model of patience and strength in human illness. Hear the prayers we offer for [N.] and for all who suffer distress of body or soul. Help them to realize that You have called them to holiness by joining their sufferings to the sufferings of Christ for the salvation of the world.”

If you think such formalized prayers take a lot to say and a lot to live, I agree on both counts. For that reason, I like to say them slowly and live them slowly. I’m lying: I don’t like to live them slowly! A watched coffeepot never brews; an impatient patient never heals.

The word “patient” comes from the Latin pati, which means “to suffer, endure, put up with,” or the most basic sense, “to wait.” Pati also yields “passion,” the intensity that accompanies lovers toward love’s fulfillment. Suffering persons are also in love: they long for health and vitality, and cannot wait until they get there.

We draw only so many breaths in this life, and perhaps we pay little attention to the balance until more breaths are behind us than ahead. Meanwhile we have no guarantees that we shall retain the full use of our physical or mental faculties. 

Therefore it seems helpful to savor each breath as we draw it, each feeling as we feel it, each option as we ponder it, and each decision as we make it.

In whatever condition we currently find ourselves, while we have our faculties, we can decide to suffer well. What a curious choice! For the sake of clarity, let’s unpack it:

First, to suffer well is to recognize Jesus as the Son and Savior of Man, who alone accomplishes “universal and definitive redemption from sins” (CCC 432). He does this by taking on our human nature, entering completely into the joys and sorrows of human experience.

Did you ever consider that, by virtue of the Incarnation, Jesus accepted not just every single sin, but also every single human suffering: every pain, disappointment, and inconvenience? Upon the holy and life-giving Cross, Our Lord endured that twinge of diabetic neuropathy, the sting of that insult, that hour-long traffic jam, and that fear of perpetual infertility. From His vantage point—the best seat in the house—it’s all under control.

The problem is, we can still slog through life without necessarily considering the real-time presence of Christ in our sufferings. As a result, we begin to complain. We begin to compare our perception of how our lives are going with how we think it should be going, or how someone else’s life seems to be going—or how they want us to think it’s going. 

Practically speaking, God becomes less real and relevant in those dreary moments, and our suffering loses its value.

We can regain the value of our suffering by keeping Jesus’ Passion foremost in our minds, in weather foul or fair. Practicing in the fair may make it easier in the foul.

With the onset of each unwelcome experience, we can pray in groans to this effect: “I unite myself right now to You, Lord Jesus. As You suffered for me and with me, so I suffer for You and with You. Please accept this offering, Lord, as small it may seem, and please share it throughout the world and throughout the ages [accounting for the Holy Souls in need of post-mortem purgation] so that it may benefit whomever You will.”

I say, “pray in groans,” because you probably might not be inclined to formulate such a pious formula in the midst of pain and distress.

A couple of months ago, I was in an accident that landed me in an emergency room for most of that day with a wide laceration on my left heel and lots of deep bruises in the foot. In those first hours the thought “Thank God, it could have been far worse,” mingled with fears that I would hardly be able to walk straight, let alone run, by next year’s Boston Marathon. 

On that ER bed I did my awful best to unite my pains and anxieties with those of Our Lord upon the Cross, with the hopes that my offering could help facilitate someone’s repentance and conversion.

I am happy to report that I am recovering appropriately, although it’s not as fast as I’d prefer. At every turn in this process I have noticed how impatient a patient I am. 

But Our Lord is so patient with us! He lets us go, gives us the freedom to gripe until we return once again to our senses. In the meantime, the experience has been an opportunity to grow in compassion for the people I visit in the hospitals and nursing facilities I serve.


Even as the human race exists in a sort of “communion of sin,” joined by our profoundly wounded human nature and its self-seeking tendencies, the Church incorporates men and women into the Communion of Saints, forgiven and redeemed by the Precious Blood of Christ. 

If anything could be said about any of the saints, they suffered well, uniting themselves with their Lord for the salvation of souls. How I long to be in that number!