Sunday, June 30, 2013

EVERY Christian Believes in Purgatory

We all do, at least implicitly.  And I would wager that if more people understood what the Catholic Church  means when it speaks of purgatory, they would find themselves compelled to also acknowledge its existence.

Too many people speak of purgatory as a "place," as they do heaven and hell.  Here is how the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines it:
All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.
The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned ... The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire (1 Cor.3:15, 1 Peter 1:7) ...
This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: "Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin" (2 Maccabees 12:46). From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God ... (CCC 1030-32)
Purgatory is a process, a process of cleansing.  I go into this in more depth in The God Who is Love, but let me give a few points:
Jesus taught, “from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man” (Mk.7:21-23).  Now hopefully we Christians are not committing murder but the unkind thoughts or harsh judgments we harbor toward others (the roots of murder) may still be very much with us. These are not acts so great as to completely severe our union with Christ, but they do inhibit the flow of His life within us. When we shed our bodies at death do the impurities, the imperfections in our capacity to love, just disappear? If they are in the heart, and we take that with us, then no. 

Every Christian I know believes that we will be "perfect" in heaven.  No more sinful actions and no more sinful movements of the heart.  And we're right to believe so, Scripture teaches that “nothing unclean shall enter” the Heavenly Jerusalem (Rev.21:27).  So if the vast majority of us have imperfect hearts/souls at the moment of death, and yet we will be perfect when fully united to God in heaven, a cleansing must take place!  It's implicit in the understanding of all Christians; the Catholic Church is simply drawing our attention to it.  

There's a lot more to be said.  If you're curious you might want to check out Chapter 6 of The God Who is Love, "Confession and the Ongoing Nature of Salvation."  Let me give the final word in this post to my Anglican brother, C.S. Lewis:
Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break [our] heart if God said to us, “It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy”? Should we not reply, “With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.” “It may hurt, you know” - “Even so, sir.”[1]

[1] Lewis, C.S. The Joyful Christian (New York: McMillan Publishing Company, 1984), p.222.

Like Children

"That's not fair!  You hate me!"

How many times have we heard children say those words after their parents have told them "No"?  Children only hear their parents frustrating their desires for happiness.  It never dawns upon them that their parents could be acting in their (the child's) best interest.  As adults we come to understand that that is exactly what good parents are supposed to do!

"That's not fair!  You hate me!"  Those are the same charges leveled against the Church and individual Christians when they say "no" to behaviors (especially those of a sexual nature).  There is no attempt to step back and consider the possibility that this "no" might have an entirely different motivation - one grounded in reason and authentic love for all concerned.

You would think we would have learned not to jump to conclusions so quickly.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Die is Cast ...

Watching the news these past few days, and thinking back over the past year of headlines, I feel a tremendous sadness.  We head farther and farther away from God, with many openly thumbing their noses at Him in internet comboxes.  I think my sadness is that of Jesus as He approached His beloved city:
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'" (Luke 13:34-35)
He saw the choices she had made, could read the ones she was about to, and knew how it would end.  And yet, He continued to speak out - and He charged the Apostles to continue speaking out after His Resurrection.  In the end, you and I will not be judged on how successful our efforts were; but upon our faithfulness to the call.  And the only way I can see of remaining joyful is to keep our eyes fixed firmly on the Prize that has been promised, knowing that in the midst of the Trinity all the trials and persecutions we suffered in life will melt immediately away.  More than that, God will look upon our endurance of them as beautiful expressions of our love.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

My Big 'Ole, Happy Announcement!

I have been waiting for a long time to share this good news:  Just after Thanksgiving, Angelico Press will publish my new book, tentatively titled  

Through, With, and In Him
The Prayer Life of Jesus and How to Make It 
Our Own   

Here is the description from my proposal:

Taking its lead from the Catechism (CCC 2740), this book opens readers eyes to the startling reality of Christian prayer: Jesus pours Himself out to the Father, in the Spirit, through their words and actions. A unique element of the book is its in-depth treatment of prayer in the Jewish home, synagogue, and Temple. By considering the words and actions common to every first century Jew, as well as those unique to Jesus, readers will be shown how His prayer is continued in the Catholic Church’s sacraments and traditional devotions and practices. Chapters follow the chronological order of Jesus’ life. Each begins by focusing upon His prayer at a given stage of life and then shifts to exploring how His prayer is continued in the Church. The final chapters of the book are devoted to what the author has come to view as the two greatest means, outside of the Eucharist, for bringing our prayer and lives into profound union with Jesus’ own ...

I will share more in the days ahead!  Oh hey, here are some early reviews.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Christology of "Man of Steel"

I am not offering a review.  (Although for the record, the film was awesome.)  The similarities between Superman and Jesus are well-known and have been pointed out by many over the years.  But I honestly don't know when the writers and director of a Superman production have gone to such lengths to try and point beyond the character in blue and red to his Antitype.  And I mean that literally:  When this Superman has to contemplate handing himself over to his enemies, he does so in a church, before a stained-glass window of Jesus during His agony in the garden!  Superman then allows himself to be arrested and handed over for what he well knows could be a death sentence.  

But there's more than that.  For me the most spiritual lines in the movie were these two, both spoken by Superman to military officials:
  1. "Just because you can't control me doesn't mean I'm your enemy." 
  2. "I'm here to help, but it has to be on my own terms."
Wow - that speaks to me of the sovereignty of Christ.  He cannot be bent to our will ... precisely because He loves us too much to let Himself be.  He will act for our good - but with Divine wisdom

There is more to be said, but I don't want to muddy the waters - plenty to meditate on in just those two quotes.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The BIG Unveiling - Check Out

As many of you know, I experienced the bulk of my conversion as a middle school and high school student, so when I caught wind that author and blogger TJ Burdick was building a new website to act as a faith clearinghouse for youth, I offered to help in whatever way I could.  TJ generously allowed me to join his team of catechists and bloggers, and I am incredibly pumped up about sharing this site with you. Check out the description: is a community of like-minded, traditional Catholics that have been called to teach and learn the Gospel together using New Media. It consists of an open forum, a leveled series’ of nine-week courses that certified catechists have designed to feed you the meat of your Catholic faith and various other resources that can enhance your spiritual life. It is a formation program that allows you to get to know your faith independently using the YOUCAT, YouTube/Vimeo and blogging/vlogging to help guide you toward the profound truths that are found in the Catholic Church.
Is there a young person in your life who wants to understand their Faith better? Have you been looking for a resource that you and your kids can explore together? Or maybe you are a religion teacher looking for a way to spice up your lessons?  Visit

I bet you are saying to yourself "YOUCAT, YOUCAT ... where have I heard that before?"    That's the title of the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church. Written in a lively, more-youth-engaging style, YOUCAT uses creative, youth-oriented photos, graphics, and text to presents the Faith. Plus,YOUCAT is keyed to the Catechism, so it is easy for youth to go even deeper in their study of the faith.  Released last year, it could not have received a more stellar endorsement than the one given by Pope Benedict in its Foreword:
"I beg you: Study this Catechism with passion and perseverance.  Make a sacrifice of your time for it!  Study it in the quiet of your room; read it with a friend; form study groups and networks; share with each other on the Internet." 
(Maybe you have heard concern voiced regarding the YOUCAT; let me refer you to this post to try and put your mind at ease.)  The Church clearly has a lot of faith in this resource - she passed them out at World Youth Day in Madrid and plans to pass out over one million more at this year's event in Rio!

At you can find exactly the kind of online community for growing in the Faith envisioned by Pope Benedict. Here's the list of topics in Course 101:  
  1. Why did God create you? 
  2. Does God Exist?
  3. Was Jesus really God? 
  4. Why are Mary and the Saints so important?
  5. Are non-Catholics saved?
  6. Why do Christians get baptized?
  7. Why Confirmation?
  8. Why is the Eucharist so important?
  9. Final reflections
Click on any of those and you will find a story from real life, reflection questions, video, references to paragraphs in the YOUCAT with comprehension checks, and a final question for journaling.  (And I am honored to say that your's truly wrote Course 202.)  But don't be content with my measly explanation of the site - check it out for yourself!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Concerned About the YOUCAT?

"Hold on Shane, I've heard strong concerns expressed regarding the YOUCAT - that it waters down the Church's teaching on sexuality."  Yes, I heard those too; but I do not believe that to be the fact.  Look at this excerpt:
403 How is sexuality related to love?
Sexuality is inseparable from love; they go together. The sexual encounter requires the framework of a true, dependable love. (CCC 2337)
When sexuality is separated from love and is sought only for the sake of satisfaction, one destroys the meaning of the sexual union of man and woman. Sexual union is the most beautiful bodily, sensual expression of love. People who look for sex without love are lying, because the closeness of their bodies does not correspond to the closeness of their hearts. Someone who does not take his own body language at its word does lasting damage to body and soul. Sex then becomes inhuman; it is degraded to a means of obtaining pleasure and degenerates into a commodity. Only committed, enduring love creates a space for sexuality that is experienced in a human way and brings lasting happiness.
{SIDEBARS} “One cannot live a trial life or die a trial death. One cannot love on a trial basis or accept a person on trial and for a limited time.” —Pope John Paul II (1920–2005), November 15, 1980
“Everything that makes a sexual encounter easy hastens at the same time its plunge into irrelevance.” —Paul Ricoeur (1913–2005, French philosopher)
The YOUCAT then goes on to talk about chastity, the Sacrament of Marriage, homosexual acts, contraception, etc.  When looking at the YOUCAT it is important to keep a couple of points in mind:
  • It is a 300 page presentation of the Faith, in contrast to the 800 page Catechism of the Catholic Church
  • Written for youth, it does not claim to present the Faith with the same fullness of the CCC
YOUCAT is meant to be a reliable introduction to the Faith that will familiarize youth and equip them to make use of the CCC.
The only passage I have come across thus far that I personally had a concern with had to do with Scripture. Mind you, the passage does not actually say anything that is incorrect.  I am simply concerned that, given the current climate in which it is common to limit our belief in Scripture's freedom from error, the passage could be misconstrued:
15  How can Sacred Scripture be "truth" if not everything in it is right?
The Bible is not meant to convey precise historical information on scientific findings to us.  Moreover, the authors were children of their time.  They shared the cultural ideas of the world around them and often were also dominated by its errors.  Nevertheless, everything that man must know about God and the way of his salvation is found with infallible certainty in Sacred Scripture. [106-107, 137]
The passage does not say anything technically false, but it would definitely benefit from further explanation.  But again, this is an introductory work ... granted approval by Pope Benedict and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - and they're no theological slouches! (For the curious, I have written a lengthy post on the question of whether or not there are mistakes in the Bible.)

Ignatius Press, the publisher of the English translation of the YOUCAT has written a thorough response to concerns here.  What I have focused on thus far is Section Four of the YOUCAT - Prayer.  And let me tell you; it is beautiful!  Good, youth-oriented, practical catechesis - and you can even learn the Our Father and Hail Mary in Latin (something you don't find in the CCC).

Thursday, June 6, 2013

GUEST POST - Pope St. Gregory the Great

Yesterday I shared how I felt called to consider the sinful attitudes that lurks beneath the surface.  Today we have a message of hope and encouragement in that regard from a giant of the Faith, Pope St. Gregory the Great.  Coming to us from the Liturgy of the Hours, Pope St. Gregory speaks of the transformation we undergo not just as individuals but corporately as the Church.  At present we are that field composed of wheat and weeds, but the Kingdom will come in all its fullness:
Since the daybreak or the dawn is changed gradually from darkness into light, the Church, which comprises the elect, is fittingly styled daybreak or dawn. While she is being led from the night of infidelity to the light of faith, she is opened gradually to the splendor of heavenly brightness, just as dawn yields to the day after darkness. The Song of Songs says aptly: Who is this who moves forward like the advancing dawn? Holy Church, inasmuch as she keeps searching for the rewards of eternal life, has been called the dawn. While she turns her back on the darkness of sins, she begins to shine with the light of righteousness.
This reference to the dawn conjures up a still more subtle consideration. The dawn intimates that the night is over; it does not yet proclaim the full light of day. While it dispels the darkness and welcomes the light, it holds both of them, the one mixed with the other, as it were. Are not all of us who follow the truth in this life daybreak and dawn? While we do some things which already belong to the light, we are not free from the remnants of darkness. In Scripture the Prophet says to God: No living being will be justified in our sight. Scripture also says: In many ways all of us give offense.
When he writes, the night is passed, Paul does not add, the day is come, but rather, the day is at hand. Since he argues that after the night has passed, the day as yet is not come but is rather at hand, he shows that the period before full daylight and after darkness is without doubt the dawn, and that he himself is living in that period.
It will be fully day for the Church of the elect when she is no longer darkened by the shadow of sin. It will be fully day for her when she shines with the perfect brilliance of interior light. This dawn is aptly shown to be an ongoing process when Scripture says: And you showed the dawn its place. A thing which is shown its place is certainly called from one place to another. What is the place of the dawn but the perfect clearness of eternal vision? When the dawn has been brought there, it will retain nothing belonging to the darkness of night. When the Psalmist writes: My soul thirsts for the living God; when shall I go and see the face of God?, does he not refer to the effort made by the dawn to reach its place? Paul was hastening to the place which he knew the dawn would reach when he said he wished to die and to be with Christ. He expressed the same idea when he said: For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Beneath My Mask

Yesterday seemed to have a theme to it - "Who are you under the surface?"  I came across it both in the Liturgy of the Hours and the first reading at Mass.  St. Dorotheus (4th cent) wrote:
The man who thinks that he is quiet and peaceful has within him a passion that he does not see. A brother comes up, utters some unkind word and immediately all the venom and mire that lie hidden within him are spewed out. If he wishes mercy, he must do penance, purify himself and strive to become perfect. He will see that he should have returned thanks to his brother instead of returning the injury, because his brother has proven to be an occasion of profit to him. It will not be long before he will no longer be bothered by these temptations. The more perfect he grows, the less these temptations will affect him.
And then at morning Mass the Book of Tobit ended in this same vein.  The blind Tobit refused to believe that his wife had earned a bonus through her needlework and she tells him off:
So she retorted: “Where are your charitable deeds now?
Where are your virtuous acts?
See! Your true character is finally showing itself!”  (2:14)
Ouch.  I know Tobit wasn't the last husband to be put in his place by an insightful wife.

I totally identified with both readings.  I will seem to be going along well enough, loving my neighbor; and then someone wrongs me or someone I love, and all of that venom comes to the surface.  Those occasions are when Jesus puts me in front of the x-ray machine and shows me how much work remains to be done.  And I think Dorotheus was right on the money when he said that it will take concentrated effort to overcome such deep-rooted sin.  I don't think I can brush it off forever with a comforting, "You'll do better next time."  No, at some point each of us "must do penance, purify himself and strive to become perfect." We either do it now or in purgatory.  In the end we must be perfect as our Father is perfect (Mt. 5:48).