What the Phillies can teach us about Indulgences

The Philadelphia Phillies have just won the 2008 World Series. I had nothing to do with it — heck, I haven’t really followed the team during the regular season since the days of Del Unser — and yet I’m very happy right now.

That’s a good analogy for indulgences. Somebody else does a great deal of work, and I, through some simple act (prayer in one case, watching TV in the other) get some of the benefit.


Good Friday

It’s common to remember in our remembrances of Jesus’ death that He died for our sins, but I think that’s incomplete. He didn’t just die for our sins, making atonement for them; he also died because of our sins. Through the Fall, we separated ourselves from God, by choosing our desires above His Will for us. We put our own desire for safety and security above his command to us.

So, we messed up God’s plan. We should have been walking with Him in the Garden of Eden and instead we ended up banished from the Garden in desperate need of a savior if we were to not only regain our Heavenly homeland and unity with God, but to keep from sinking ourselves further and further into violence and despair.

It should be indisputable that, whether one accepts Christianity or not, Christianity has been a positive force in the world. Just compare the ritual human sacrifices that were commonplace in cultures all over the world prior to Christianity’s spread. Even though war is too common nowadays, rights of combatants and civilians are acknowledged now, as compared to the common practices of widespread slaughter, enslavement or rape as used to be inflicted on the losers of conflict. While those still happen, they are far less common than they used to be. And, these changes came through Christianity; it came only because of Christ.

Without Christ, we would still deny rights to those outside our immediate family; women would be second-class citizens subject to the will and desires of men; might would make right; the world would be a place devoid of hope.

It’s an irony that those most likely to deny the reality of sin are also the most likely to get angry, sometimes violently so, at the actions and opinions of those who disagree. Look at the secular Left today; often denying that sin exists, most of the anger and hatred in today’s political debates come from them. If sin doesn’t exist, what are they so angry at? It’s no surprise this anger and hatred comes from the segment of our society that most vehemently denied not only Christ, but even the need for a Savior.

He suffered and died not only that our sins might be forgiven, but that we might avoid new sins. The wonder of the Crucifixion isn’t just that it wiped away our sins, but that it is the source of the Grace we receive from God to avoid committing sins to begin with. The Crucifixion is the “power source” that makes possible the sacraments, through which we receive the strength and grace to avoid sins, if only we make use of them.

So, there’s still work for us to do; sin is far too common in our world and in our lives. Indeed, every time we sin, we add to Jesus’ sufferings on the Cross and in his Passion. Indeed, Christ’s Agony in the Garden wasn’t merely fear as to the Passion and Death He was about the undergo; he was actually experiencing every sin we ever committed or would commit. This is why Catholics show the corpus on our Crucifixes; it’s to remind us of the pain we cause Him when we sin. After all, as we see in the Book of Revelation, His sacrifice is still continuing in Heaven to this day. It’s also a reminder that, like Paul, we “preach Christ crucified.” It’s not the wood of the cross that saved us; it’s the person hanging on it. Every time we view the crucifix, we should remember what we do to Christ when we sin.

So, while we rightly remember all that He did for us this day, we should also remember what we did, and do, to Him.

Happy Birthday, Jesus!

Hopefully, you’ve gotten your Christmas shopping done and aren’t one of those people scrambling around at the last minute to get gifts for people either due to procrastination or forgetting someone.

If you’re like most people, you have forgotten someone, though. And it’s easy to do with all the hassle of hub-bub surrounding this season with parties, gift-shopping, and other extra events that fill up or take away from our regular activities. Unfortunately, this person many of us forget is the person whose birthday we celebrate: Jesus.

nativity_icon1.jpgUnfortunately, this forgetfulness doesn’t just apply to the more secular minded among us. In 2005, some mega-churches cancelled services because Christmas fell on a Sunday. Sadly this was done deliberately. What surprised me is that, according to the article, apparently it is common in some Protestant churches not to celebrate Christmas in their local church. It’s one thing, as they note, when persons of a Puritan leaning don’t honor Christmas due to their faith rejecting celebrations of that sort, but to not celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior as a Christian community is just baffling to me. Since Jesus truly is the reason for the season, shouldn’t we show that as a community? (Thinking about the number of Protestant churches that are closed on Christmas makes me wonder if part of the reason Catholic parish attendance swells on Christmas is that Protestants have nowhere else to go. I wonder if the more liturgically oriented Protestants do have services on Christmas day while the more evangelical oriented do not.)

I can’t remember what we did when I was younger, but a tradition I would like to develop when I have children of my own would be to attend Mass as a family Christmas morning and only after returning (and possibly breakfast, depending on what my kids let me get away with) would we open presents. That’s to remind the kids that Christmas is about Jesus and further remind them that Jesus comes first. It’s His birthday and we should celebrate with Him. We should give Him first priority at all times, but most especially on His birthday.

And since it His birthday, we should get Him something. But what can we get for the “Man who [truly] has everything”? The only thing He wants: us. Christmas is a very appropriate time to recommit ourselves to Him, to examine our lives and see where we fall short of what we should be and give Him what should be His: us. As Isaac Watts wrote 300 years ago (this year!):

When I survey the wonderous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God,
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down,
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

When you think about all that He did for us, giving ourselves to Him really is a small price to pay. This Christmas, give Him that small a gift. He’ll appreciate it.


During these extraordinary times, we find particular assurance from our Thanksgiving tradition, which reminds us that we, as a people and individually, always have reason to hope and trust in God, despite great adversity. In 1621 in New England, the Pilgrims gave thanks to God, in whom they placed their hope, even though a bitter winter had taken many of their brethren. In the winter of 1777, General George Washington and his army, having just suffered great misfortune, stopped near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, to give thanks to God. And there, in the throes of great difficulty, they found the hope they needed to persevere. That hope in freedom eventually inspired them to victory.

In 1789, President Washington, recollecting the countless blessings for which our new Nation should give thanks, declared the first National Day of Thanksgiving. And decades later, with the Nation embroiled in a bloody civil war, President Abraham Lincoln revived what is now an annual tradition of issuing a presidential proclamation of Thanksgiving. President Lincoln asked God to “heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and Union.”

From President Bush’s 2007 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation

For today to be a day of truly giving thanks, we need to remember to whom we owe those thanks. Take some time today to remember our Creator who has given us all good things.

Baseball as a metaphor for the Christian Life

The first comment on this post makes an interesting analogy between baseball and our Christian struggle to be a saint:

Baseball might be like the spiritual life in more ways than one. The best hitters only get about 2-3 more hits per week than the average ones. And so as our mind perceives it, superstars look virtally indistiguishable from scrubs on any given day. I wonder if that is true in the spiritual life also where even saints fall into bad slumps and may only do marginally better than mediocre on most days. But in a baseball career these small differences perhaps translate into membership in the hall of fame versus near oblivion for the average. Do small incremental differences add up this way in the spiritual life too?

I think this is an interesting point, especially since we’re told in both our spiritual life to take things one day/game at a time, forget about yesterday and just focus on what we can do today. I’m reminded of Orel Hershiser’s comments in George Will’s Men at Work when he said (paraphrasing): “I strive for perfection to the degree it’s achievable. If I give up a hit, it’s the last hit I’m going to give up. If I give up a run, it’s the last run I’m going to give up. What’s past is past, I need to focus on what’s in front of me now.” In either baseball or our life, if we focus too much on our mistakes and failings in the past, we’re likely to fall pray to more in the future. Move on from the past and do the best we can in the future.

The second response makes a good reference to Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, whose feast day is today, by coincidence. Saint Therese (also known as the Little Flower) often spoke of her “Little Way,” where she strived to do little things out of love for God. Saint Francis de Sales encouraged people to do “the ordinary extraordinary well.” The same is true in baseball: it’s often true that baseball players trying to hit a home run swing through a pitch because they were trying to do something big, but home runs often come when they take their normal swing. Swinging for the fences leads to strikeouts, but “staying within yourself” leads to success. And so the great saints tell us about the spiritual life.

Baseball: is there anything it can’t teach us?

Being Humble

While reading a writing by Saint Robert Bellarmine a few minutes ago (it’s his feast day today), it occurred to me that one way or another, we will be humbled. Either we will humble ourselves and recognize the need we have for relying on God, or we will try to do it all ourselves and eventually realize how much we need Him.

One way or another, we will be humbled. It will be far less painful if we do it ourselves.

Book Review: Coming Soon: Unlocking the Book of Revelation and Applying Its Lessons Today by Michael Barber

This is the second to last book I finished while on vacation. Revelation is, without a doubt, the most confusing book in the Bible. All of the books in the Bible were written to a specific time and culture, and being aware of that time and culture is crucial in interpreting the book correctly. This is especially true of Revelation, with its extensive use of apocalyptic references and images.

I had always been told the Book of Revelations was primarily about Rome and attempting to strengthen the Christians undergoing another in a series of Roman persecutions by foretelling the future downfall of Rome. Barber argues that while Revelation is written with the intent of strengthening Christians during a Roman persecution, its focus is predominately on the (future) destruction of Jerusalem. Drawing on other Biblical writings, Barber shows that Christ’s promised return and the return of Christ to which Paul frequently referred was, in reality, a reference to the return of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem.

He repeatedly draws from the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus, who lived through the destruction of Jerusalem and shows how they parallel quite closely with the prophecies relating to the return of Christ and those detailed in the Book of Revelation. He shows that the promised 1000 year reign of the Messiah was a reference to the coming 1000th anniversary of King David establishing his dynasty. (David’s reign began roughly 1000 BC, with the destruction of the Temple coming in 70 AD.) While these prophecies may contain some teaching for us on the end of the earth at the Second Coming of Christ, it’s mostly about Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple.

He also deals with other topics John writes about, such as the clear reference to Mary at the beginning of Revelation 12. It’s commonly interpreted in Protestant circles as a reference to the nation of Israel giving birth to the Messiah, but the image is of a woman giving birth to a child who would be the Messiah. It’s hard to miss the Marian reference, unless you want to miss it. In other chapters, he argues for an early authorship for Revelation (pre-70 AD), as well as discusses the many references to the Mass found in the work.

Barber concludes each chapter of his book with a section on how to apply the lessons of the section just discussed in our daily lives, which is of course, an important part of any reading of Scripture. It should be just about doctrine, but about changing our own lives when we read God’s word to us. It’s also set up with a series of questions at the end of each chapter to help us think about and retain what we’ve learned in studying the work.

I can definitely recommend this book. You’ll learn a lot about Revelation you didn’t know its meaning and how to apply it in your life.