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"Why are you afraid?" [Updated with 2 more images]

"And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves. But he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, "Save, Lord! We are perishing!" And he said to them, "Why are you afraid, you of little faith?" Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, "What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?" (Mt 8:23-27)Here is another medieval representation, from the Hitda Gospels, ca. 1020.And this image of another sea-wonder may be the one that Claire was thinking of. It's from the medieval (late 12th-century) mosaics in the cathedral of Monreale, Sicily.

About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.



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Michael, FYI - there's a whole blog post about indulgences, along with 140 comments, at

Thanks Fr K. I'm glad you like that criterion, although I'm afraid that in most situations few of us are anywhere close to meeting it.And now I will try to follow Jean's advice.

Be not afraid,I go before you always,Come follow Me,and I shall give you rest.If you pass through raging watersin the sea, you shall not drown.If you walk amidst the burning flames,you shall not be harmed.

Peace, It Is IFierce was the wild billow,Dark was the night;Oars laboured heavily,Foam glimmered white;Trembled the mariners,Peril was nigh;Then said the God of God,"Peace! It is I."Ridge of the mountain wave,Lower thy crest!Wall of Euroclydon,Be thou at rest!Sorrow can never be,Darkness must fly,Where saith the Light of Light,"Peace! It is I."Jesus, Deliverer,Come thou to me;Soothe thou my voyagingOver life's sea:Thou, when the storm of deathRoars, sweeping by,Whisper, O Truth of Truth,"Peace! It is I." (By Anatolius -- not the saint. The melody for "Peace It Is I" in the Pius X Hymnal is the best one, imho.)

JAK -- What a beautiful miniature. Is it medieval? It looks a bit modern to me.And, Gerelyn, what a beautiful hymn!

Ann: I found the image in a manila folder of mine, along with many others that struck me at one time or another over the decades. I've written on the back that it comes from an illuminated manuscript held in the Bavarian State Library in Munich, but a search there yesterday didn't find it, and so I have no other information. It's clearly medieval in date, part of a larger representation, it seems.I've always liked the story and its lesson, already apparent in Matthew's use of the tradition, that anyone who follows Jesus onto the boat is likely to encounter storms, that the Church may sometimes be in danger of being swamped, that it may at times seem that Christ is asleep. Augustine's take on it was that when it seems that Christ is sleeping, it's really we who are asleep, and that he awakens when we do, or, rather, that his awakening is ours.

Hi Joseph, Thank you for expanding the message of fear beyond our selves into that of the Church and Christ. I am a hospital chaplain-in-training and of course fear abounds in many guises. To patients it might seem that Christ is asleep. I like that you said the Church sometimes is in danger of being swamped. Right now, it is in danger but I think from within and not from without. By that I mean that the hierarchy is stuck again in pre-Vatican II culture. Surely this is middle ground to help us move forward, and new ground to be turned over for new growth. Can we please look at the new seeds of lay ministry, especially for people like me who are called to bring the Kingdom outside of the parish.Maybe it is the decision-makers who are afraid.Thank you.

JAK --Thanks for looking up the information. I wondered because the picture has some notes that aren't typical of the time. Maybe it's late medieval. Or maybe the German kind was different from the French and Belgian kinds that are so often reproduced. For example, the colors here are very subdued, and the details are highly regular, which is not typical of the antic stuff one finds in the work of the French and Belgians.

Ann: I wouldn't make too much of the muted colors in the reproduction I've sent out. The copy I have, on ordinary paper, is at least thirty years old, and the colors of the photo may well have faded.

Listening to friends who are facing death, divorce, suicide, illness, lie, betrayal, or threats, is enough to make me wonder if Christ is asleep indeed. Advent is a tough time for fragile people, couples, or families. Just hearing them is exhausting. I sure wish storms did not look so overwhelming.

Based on my clear (!) memories of a course in medieval art taken over 60 years ago, my guess is that this comes from the Ottonian renaissance (10th-11th centuries, occurring between the Carolingian and Twelfth Century renaissances. It was particularly strong in southern Europe, and Bavaria would make sense. Historians, of course, quarrel among themselves about those medieval renaissances. Take a look at the Golden Gospels of Echternach German, unfortunately, but you can see the pictures.Whatever it is, it's lovely, and perfect for this Advent and all our various fears.

JAK wrote,"Ive always liked the story and its lesson, already apparent in Matthews use of the tradition, that anyone who follows Jesus onto the boat is likely to encounter storms, that the Church may sometimes be in danger of being swamped, that it may at times seem that Christ is asleep.Augustines take on it was that when it seems that Christ is sleeping, its really we who are asleep, and that he awakens when we do, or, rather, that his awakening is ours."What struck me about the above is the use and mixture of metaphor by the use of the words "church" and "Christ". In many ways, this follows what Jane Wagner said that the Church is asleep within. If I may have editorial discretion...Those (the People of God) who follow Jesus onto the boat (church) may encounter storms, that the Church (People of God) may sometimes be in danger of being swamped, that at times may seem that Christ (his Church) is asleep. And Augustine's take on it...that we (the People of God) are asleep, and that his (Christ's) awakening is really our (the people of God's awakening for His spirit awakens us). What is important here is that the Church is the People of God and that means the laity, clergy and theologians. What we have been experiencing is a hierarchy that is asleep. This does not mean that all the laity and theologians are fully awake, but that their is a profound disagreement within the Church over certain teachings (sexual ethics) the divide us. Vatican II recommended that the all the members of the Church (People of God) should have a voice, and that collegiality must be embraced. In the post-conciliar era this has not happened. The laity continues to have no voice, and the bishop's authority, as a body, has been cut in favor of a more centralized Roman Curia. We pray that the power of His Spirit awakens us all.

The script looks almost Irish. But those Irish monks did get around.

The design of the boat, with the double dragon heads, looks Germanic to me. What's interesting is the shape of the oars, which are usually oval or square. These seem to have notches, which might be a clue about the origin of the MS. Somebody might be able to look at the lettering and nail the date and origin that way. Sister Wendy Beckett would know.The detail in the sail, which is almost diaphanous, and rigging is very beautiful, as well as the way the water is superimposed over the bottom of the boat.

A different take on this reading:

Mr. Barberi: I could agree with your exegesis of my paragraph except at the point where you identify the sleeping Christ with "his Church." As for Augustine's take: Convinced that "he who watches over Israel neither sleeps not slumbers" (Ps 121:4), it must be his Body, the Church, that may confuse its slumber with Christ's. For him, of course, no category of Christian was exempt from the temptation to go to sleep, and so perhaps he could agree with you that at any given time there are some in each category who have fallen asleep, or even that at some times there may be more in one category asleep than in others.Whatever Augustine may have made of it, it remains that the main point of the story in Matthew's Gospel is that Christ will not allow the Church to be swamped and to sink, that he has the power to calm the wind and waves. The cry for help is very pertinent: "Lord, save! We are perishing!" And if Augustine is correct, then what we are praying for is that Christ awaken the sleeping, most particularly those who do not know that they are asleep.

JAK,Thanks for the correction. I agree that Christ never sleeps, but some members of His Church do. As for "Lord, save! We are perishing", IMO this speaks to two things albeit not directly: (1) Christ came to save us from damnation, for all those that seek Him shall find Him and those that knock the door will be open; and(2) Jesus never promised that a particular person or member of His Church, e.g., a pope, would be free from error or will never inadvertently mislead, for many teachings that were proclaimed by popes and bishops for centuries as truth were eventually reformed; rather, Jesus was speaking about His "Church" where the gates of hell will never prevail against it.We tend to use God, Jesus and Holy Spirit as though they don't mean the one and the same God. If Christ awakens us who are asleep and don't know it, or His Holy Spirit does, does it really matter?

Jean Follman --Those Irish monks did indeed get around, and among the places they got around to were the regions that today are Switzerland, Austria, southern Germany. The town of St. Gallen in Switzerland was, it's said, founded in the 7th century by the Irishman Gallus, and the famous abbey was founded about a century later. And speaking of waking, Christa Pongratz-Lippit, The Tablet's reporter on Austro-German affairs, ereports in the 24 November issue that Abbot Martin Werlen, OSB, of the Abbey of Ensiedeln in Switzerland, has issue a "potentially incendiary appeal for church reform with a string of proposals to empower the laity," and calling for church leaders to show more courage in examining the problems facing them. His "Discovering the Embers under the Ashes" apparently echoes much of what Cardinal Mario Martini said in the remarks that were published after his death. Abbot Werlen, however, is a mere 50 years old, and perhaps more to the point, he has the backing of Bishop Markus Bchel of St. Gallen, the incoming head of the Swiss Bishops' Conference.Here's the full story: on the Pray Tell blog: if your German is good enough (mine isn't) you can read an abridged version of his statement at:

Mr. Barberi: I agree with all you say here. Christ's awakening us is by means of the Spirit poured forth into our hearts as love for God.

Ah, forward-thinking Abbey of St. Gall! A scholar and poet of that abbey, one Notker Labeo of St. Gall, is said to have been the person to dream up the idea of a logic machine (computer). That was back in the 10th century. I guess we just have to wait another thousand years or so for Rome to become self-critical. Sigh.

Oops == should be: the first person to dream up the idea...

That illustration, and particularly the translucent water and fish in the water, reminds me of a similar illustration of Peter coming to Jesus walking on the water, but I looked for it in vain in dotC's archives. Can anyone help?

I like the illustrations, too. Seeing Jesus and the apostles portrayed in Viking boats does my Orcadian heart good. (A furore normannorum, libera nos, Domine!)But the boats Jesus' fishing friends actually used were more like this one:

Yes, the Irish monks did get around, but so did their books (and those books from English monasteries that Irish missionaries founded in Northumbria). The famous "Pangur Ban," a poem that a monk wrote about his little pet cat in the margin of an epistle, is in a German monastery. Would be interesting to know if the monk had gone to Germany or if the book was produced in Ireland and made it's way to the continent.

Jeanne, the script is really interesting. It's very clear without a lot of fancy serifs, and the "e" looks very modern, without the exaggerated top "hump" you sometimes see in other uncial scripts. The Beowulf MSS has the same kind of unadorned and clear lettering. But I hesitate to even hazard any comments, b/c I'm more enthusiastic than knowledgeable about paleography. The Hitda Gospel (which is German) shows another boat with a dragon head again and square sail. The oars are more realistic, and it looks like there's even a front rudder. I like the way the Hitda conveys movement. it looks as if the dragon is diving with the rolling sea, and this time the square sail is flapping in the wind. Everyone is looking worriedly upwards except the guy who's trying wake up Jesus. Interesting how his sleeve is training over the side of the boat.

Thank you Fr. K. I must say that I like the episode of Jesus walking on water much better than him sleeping during a storm. The fundamentalist in me is reluctant to go straight from "he [Christ] was asleep" to "Christ never sleeps".

Claire --Both expressions are ambiguous metaphors. You can find all sorts of truths in them.

Claire: I didn't cite Augustine as giving the literal meaning of the scene in the boat, but because there is something to his comment: that it's more likely that we are asleep than that God/Christ is. It's a bit like when we might complain that God is far from us, when it's we who are far from him.I like the boldness of Ps 35:23: "Wake up, rouse yourself for my cause, for my claim, O my God and my Lord!" And then, even more boldly, Ps 78:65: "The Lord awoke as if from sleep, like a warrior shaking off wine" (RSV: "like a strong man shouting because of wine"; DR: "like a mighty man that hath been surfeited with wine"; Latin: "tamquam potens crapulatus a vino"). St. Augustine comments: "No one but His Spirit would dare to say this of God. He said it because to wicked, insulting people, God seems to be sleeping long like a drunk when He doesn't come to their aid as quickly as they think he should."

Did you ever look at an expanse of water, and observe the ripples on the surface? Do you think that disturbance penetrates below it? Nay; you have seen or heard of fearful tempests on the sea; scenes of horror and distress, which are in no respect a fit type of an Apostle's tears or sighings about his flock. Yet even these violent commotions do not reach into the depths. The foundations of the ocean, the vast realms of water which girdle the earth, are as tranquil and as silent in the storm as in a calm. So is it with the souls of holy men. They have a well of peace springing up within them unfathomable; and though the accidents of the hour may make them seem agitated, yet in their hearts they are not so. Even Angels joy over sinners repentant, and, as we may therefore suppose, grieve over sinners impenitent,yet who shall say that they have not perfect peace? Even Almighty God Himself deigns to speak of His being grieved, and angry, and rejoicing,yet is He not the unchangeable? And in like manner, to compare human things with divine, St. Paul had perfect peace, as being stayed in soul on God, though the trials of life might vex him.For, as I have said, the Christian has a deep, silent, hidden peace, which the world sees not,like some well in a retired and shady place, difficult of access. Newman, from Plain and Parochial Sermons, vol V sermon 5

I must say that I like the episode of Jesus walking on water much better than him sleeping during a storm.Sleeping is human. Cooking breakfast on the beach for the apostles is another of my favorite gospel stories. Human.(They caught 153 fish. I wonder who counted and how. And by the time the gospel was written, who remembered the exact figure?)

Loved Fr. K's interpretations of the scene from Chapter 8 in Mt., and Augustine's. N.B. Can we hope for some more Augustine, say... by next Lent?

Perhaps Jesus could sleep because he trusted that his disciples would know enough to call him if they got into trouble. (Parents adjust the closeness of their supervision to their children's growing abilities. They stay close at hand, ready to intervene if real trouble arises, but are not suffocating them.) So, when God seems far couldn't it sometimes be growing pains?

The title of the article JAK wrote is "Why are you afraid?". The example used was the boat scene and its meaning that we should not fear anything if we have enough faith in Jesus. The issue for me is: Should we not be afraid in a house divided over moral truth? Do we put all of our fears aside because of a faith that says God will guide us to the truth in agreement and disagreement? Of do we affirm a faith that says God will not judge us by what is objectively right or wrong but on the sincerity in our hearts in doing what we believe is right, true and just, even if we make a mistake? Or is the faith Jesus spoke about in the boat scene the fundamental truths of our faith, and not necessarily the moral truth interpreted by the hierarchy based on natural law and symbolic speculation? If not all of the above, then what is this faith that should take away our fears?

If not all of the above, then what is this faith that should take away our fears?Instead of worrying about what he will judge us by, maybe just basic optimism, rooted in the unshakeable faith that God loves us? (Easier to internalize if we've had parents modeling that love, of course.)

Claire, but judge us he will, and it won't be easy to pass the test. Indications are that few of us will pass muster. Camel and needle, few are chosen, the narrow gate, etc. Most of us will be tossed around on the seas of our own sins unless we can wake up God's mercy.Or maybe I just didn't have that type of parenting ... :-)

Mr. Barberi: I have numbered your questions for ease of reference:

The issue for me is: (1) Should we not be afraid in a house divided over moral truth? (2) Do we put all of our fears aside because of a faith that says God will guide us to the truth in agreement and disagreement? (3) Of do we affirm a faith that says God will not judge us by what is objectively right or wrong but on the sincerity in our hearts in doing what we believe is right, true and just, even if we make a mistake? (4) Or is the faith Jesus spoke about in the boat scene the fundamental truths of our faith, and not necessarily the moral truth interpreted by the hierarchy based on natural law and symbolic speculation? (5) If not all of the above, then what is this faith that should take away our fears?

Ad 1m: If this means afraid because our house is divided over moral truth, I suppose we should be afraid, though Id probably say concerned rather than afraid.Ad 2m: Not necessarily all our fears, but certainly any fear that arises from forgetting Christs presence and his power. I do not know how to understand your clause: will guide us to the truth in agreement and disagreement. Where do the last four words fit in the sentence?Ad 3m: I think your initial Of should be Or? If so, youre presenting it as an alternative to (2). I dont think God disregards sincerity of heart, but that doesnt take us very far in deciding what is right, true and just, and mistakes on such matters can be very harmful, and not just to ourselves, something that appeals to sincerity often overlook.Ad 4m: I dont think that Jesus in the story meant by faith either doctrines or moral truths, but a trust in his presence and power. I myself think that the fundamental truths of our faith include both how things are in this world created and redeemed by God and how those created and redeemed by God ought to live. (I dont know what you mean by symbolic speculation.) Ad 5m: The faith that should take away our fear that we are perishing is, as Pope John liked to remind us, the faith that Christ has not abandoned the world for which he died. This certainly does not settle disputed questions in the Church, but it is a good antidote to despair, which is not much of a motivating force for the kind of hard thinking necessary.

Camel and needle, few are chosen, the narrow gate, etc. I don't know. Perhaps the camel and needle image just means that the rich will have to undergo extensive purification. Same for the narrow gate. What's the point of coming up with "purgatory" if not to give a name to that needed purification? As to "few are chosen", maybe there's a way to rearrange those words to make them mean the opposite of what they seem to mean. For example: maybe "few are chosen" doesn't take into account the full power of Christ's redemption. After all, when every Sunday we say "from age to age you gather a people to yourself" and "in mercy and love unite all your children wherever they may be", doesn't it suggest that Christ strives to unite all to him? Or are you saying that he failed?On the other hand, looking at the sculptures on the front doors of churches and cathedrals, a simple count seems to imply that, between heaven and hell, it's about 50-50.

correction: "we say" should be "we hear".

Christ might strive to gather us all in, but he can't force us. And I'd say he sets the bar as outlined in the CCC pretty high and makes the consequences pretty harsh for those who don't measure up. Advent is a time, I think, to take stock of those grim realities of the Eternal.

Thanks JAK for your kind comments and questions. Some very brief comments.1. Ad 1m: I agree that a better word is "concerned".2. Ad 2m: The sentence might be more clear as follows: "A faith that God guides us in agreement (to all church teachings) and in disagreement (on disputed questions that divide us). Based on history, the truth never changes but our understanding of truth does. By example, the teachings that were taught as truth but were changed such as slavery, usury, freedom of religion/torture of heretics, the right to silence, and most recently the teaching on capital punishment. Some traditionalist often use as a litmus test for our Catholicity, whether we accept all church teachings or not. Thus, I tried to separate those teachings that constitute the deposit of faith from some moral teachings, even in light of a questionable expanded definition of this deposit.3. Ad 3m: My short sentence does not do justice to the teaching on conscience and its proper formulation, as articulated by Richard Gula in "The Moral Conscience" in the book edited by Charles Curran entitled Conscience. Thus, this sentence should be viewed in its proper context as part of a much more thorough discussion on conscience. I also should have quoted it as I paraphrased it. However, JP II in Vertitatis Spendor asserted that the Magisterium teaches truth that the Catholic conscience ought to be able to grasp as truth. In other words, whatever the magisterium says is the truth, is the truth and a judgment that is in disagreement with it, is not a fully informed conscience. I find this contradictory, or at least profoundly perplexing to other teachings on conscience.4. Ad 4m: By symbolic speculation I was referring to JP II's Theology of the Body in defense of Humanae Vitae. These series of talks were based on his philosophical anthropology, personalism and use of symbolism. Below is something I wrote recently regarding his use of symbolism:For example, the one-flesh union in Genesis (mystery of creation) refers to the union of Christ and the Church (mystery of redemption). through their bodies, and to their call to one flesh, man and woman in some way participate in the divine exchange of Trinitarian life and love. The love between the Father and Christ, and between Christ and the Church is also a love of total self-giving and self-donation. By analogy, spousal love is a total self-giving love but concupiscence exchanges a self-seeking gratification for the sincere gift of self; it uses the other as an object made for my sake rather than loving the other as subject for his or her own sake. Contraception falsifies creative love. It speaks to the diabolic anti-Word. The issue here is whether it is a metaphoric leap that unless there is a total self-giving and openness to procreation under all circumstances, and in every act of coitus, spouses are expressing a false, evil and destructive love. Wojtyla had a creative moral imagination, but imagination enables theology to resist the constant temptation towards absolutizing. And if we are to accept the priority of symbol over intellect, then theology has an important role to play in ensuring that the image does not become the only word, or the last word. This means we must resist the temptation of proclaiming we know Gods procreative plan with moral certainty based on symbolic speculation. We also must balance assertions with existential reality when we find no evidence whatsoever that PC couples treat each other as loving subjects, while couples that use artificial birth control have a utilitarian attitude and a diabolical love grounded in concupiscence. 5. Ad 5m: I agree with what you wrote.

Jean: so you're saying that by and large, in spite of Christ's coming, God fails and evil wins?Why would you want to be in a sparsely populated heaven? For example, I'm not sure I'd want to be there if my children are not there. Can you imagine a family reunion where all are invited but only a few would come? No fun, if you ask me. It's primarily in other people that I see glimpses of Christ, and if they're not going to be there, it takes away much of the attraction of heaven. The challenge is to build a way of being that makes it possible. You know Sartre's quip, "Hell is other people": that's without God. With him, "Heaven is other people". We're all in this together like bricks bound by Christ's mortar, and if we don't quite "measure up", others will pray for us and help us fit into the construction. It's a joint collaborative project ("when two or three"), not an individual trip to an exclusive heaven. But that's a somewhat random fantasy. I don't suppose that anyone cares about such ramblings.Note that the church has a list of those who are thought to be in heaven - the saints - but not of those who are thought to be in hell. To remedy that gap in our knowledge, I asked my catechism kids last month to tell me who they thought was in hell. Their list of nominees: Hitler, Judas, bin Laden, and Kaddhafi.

Claire: To address your analogy of heaven as a family reunion: Can you force people to come? Would you want them there if they don't want to be there? It would be wonderful if all were there and all there happily, but you can't be there happily except willingly, so whether they'll all be there depends on everyone's willingness.It's true that there is no list of people in hell, and Balthasar said that we may hope that no one has been finally and irrevocably unwilling. Students used to smile when I said that this hope should not lead to laxity: one wouldn't want to be the first one in hell.Your last comment reminded me of an anecdote about two New York sports reporters who after more than a couple of drinks decided to write down the names of the three worst human beings ever to have existed. One put Hitler first, Stalin second; the other Stalin first, and Hitler second. For third place they both wrote, "Walter O'Malley." (He was the man who moved the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team to Los Angeles.) Maybe you have to be a New Yorker, and a Dodger fan, to appreciate the humor.

Thanks to Father K. for identifying what I find faulty in Claire's analogy, though I think it says something about Claire's caritas that she can imagine the whole human family in heaven. That said, it's hard for me to fathom anyone inviting children to imagine who is in hell when the Church in its wisdom does not presume to do so. It strikes me as a good way to give children a kind of smug schadenfreude, i.e., I'm not as bad as Hitler (or WalterO'Malley), so I can't possibly go to hell.If the Church is right, tickets on the Brimstone Express can be had for far smaller infractions than genocide.

Here is the controversial talk in which Pope John Paul II described hell less as a place than as a condition:

Okay. I'm afraid I had not heard of Walter O'Malley before.No, I wasn't drunk when I asked the kids to imagine who might be in hell. Then I asked them to vote. On Judas the votes were split, because, his young defenders argued, his suicide demonstrated his guilt and bitter regret, therefore he must have been saved by his repentance.

Back in the Jurassic period, I took a New Testament course to fulfill my "theology" underclassman requirements. I still have the book, "Gospel Parallels" sitting on my bookshelf - sadly, I must admit, gathering dust.However, I distinctly remember the professor pointing out that in reading from the English translation of the gospel passage of Jesus sleeping while the boat rocked in a violent storm it was easy for the modern reader to miss the significance of this passage beyond the assertion that Jesus had control over the forces of nature. The professor told us to focus our attention specifically on the pleading words of the apostles to the resting, seemingly disinterested Jesus. Whereupon the professor picked up his NT, in the original Greek - of course, and read from Matthew's gospel saying, "Listen to the words of the pleading apostles in Greek and I'm sure you will get the significant interpretation of this passage":"Kyrie eleison ..." The plaintive, soulful prayer that begins each celebration of the Liturgy of the Word.The professor opined that like much of the Matthean gospel, it was written and arranged to assist an urban Jewish-Greek community, far from Palestine, in their community worship of the Eucharist. Embedding the words ["Lord, have mercy"] - taken from perhaps one of the most ancient of communal Christian prayers - in the actual text of Matthew's gospel was a very elegant way for the early Christians to link their liturgical practice with the life and teachings of Jesus.Every time I hear these words today - "Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy" - I feel a connection, a bond with some of the first disciples of Jesus struggling to make sense of the gospel in the mundane lives.

Thanks for the link to JP2's talk. Very good.

The possibility of going to hell or purgatory is real. However, for Catholics who strive to live an upright and moral life, as best they can, according to Jesus and his Gospel, can be reassured of a place in his Kingdom. We are all sinners and this is our nature Fallen condition. However, Christ gives us his Cross, reconciliation, and most importantly, the possibility of a reparation for our sins in this life. This is provided to us through Divine Mercy Sunday (e.g., by JP II through the life and works of Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska) and Indulgences as amended and translated into English from the fourth edition (1999) on Enchiridion Indulgentiarum: Norme et Concessiones.We tend to focus on the sacrament of reconciliation and Eucharistic reception, but often forget about the importance of the reparation of sins because this is rarely discussed from the weekly Pulpit. As JP II said "indulgences are the expression of the Church's full confidence of being heard by the Father when in view of Christ's merits, by his gift, those of Our Lady and the saints, she asks him to mitigate or cancel the painful aspect of punishment by fostering it medicinal aspect through other channels of grace" (Pope JP II, General Audience, September 19, 1999).Through His Divine Mercy, the sacrament of reconciliation and the reparation for our sins made available to us in this life, we should not despair over hell or purgatory. In this life and at the hour of our death, we should be both thankful and joyful.

Joe Komonchak recounts the famous anecdote about writers Pete Hamill and Jimmy Breslin, who,

. . . after more than a couple of drinks, decided to write down the names of the three worst human beings ever to have existed. One put Hitler first, Stalin second; the other Stalin first, and Hitler second. For third place they both wrote, Walter OMalley. (He was the man who moved the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team to Los Angeles.) Maybe you have to be a New Yorker, and a Dodger fan, to appreciate the humor.

Some of us me, for example, born as I was a mile from Ebbets Field, where Gods favorite team played for all those wonderful, if also heartbreaking, seasons disagreed with Hamill and Breslin. We felt they had been much too generous with OMalley, and should have listed him first, not third. But in recent years, in the name of intellectual honesty and all those other highfalutin ideals, weve had to admit that maybe things werent as simple as wed thought they were. There are revisionists out there, Michael Shapiro among them; and they make an interesting, and possibly compelling, case that the true villain was not OMalley but Robert Moses, at the time an all-powerful figure in New York City government. Says Shapiro:

"As a child in Brooklyn I learned to hate Walter O'Malley. My hatred was dark and personal, for O'Malley had ruined my life...He had taken the Dodgers away to Los Angeles before I had ever gotten a chance to see them, and follow them, and love them. I was 4 when O'Malley abandoned Brooklyn, and I grew up believing that had he not done this terrible thing, Brooklyn would have been a better placeO'Malley was not just my villain. He was Brooklyn's. . . . But, as I began to learn more about O'Malley and about the circumstances of the Dodger's departure, I began to discover that perhaps . . . Brooklyn's hatred was misapplied. Could we have been hating the wrong man all these years?"

In the name of fairness, it should be noted that long-time N.Y. Times sports columnist Dave Anderson rejected the revisionist argument; for him, OMalley remains the bad guy.

"However, for Catholics who strive to live an upright and moral life, as best they can, according to Jesus and his Gospel, can be reassured of a place in his Kingdom."This is not my understanding of Catholic doctrine at all; none of us can say we are heaven-bound, we can only hope. Moreover, your statement that we are "reassured" a place in heave if we "strive to live an upright and moral life as best we can" underscores my understanding. How many of us can ever know if we're doing the best we can? Or if we're rationalizing what we want to do? What if we've committed a grave sin listed in the CCC and just can't comprehend how it's a sin in the first place?I have to say that becoming a Catholic has made me more thoughtful of my actions and how they affect others, more inclined to pray for others and offer practical help, more afraid of hell, less sure of my salvation, and less trusting in Christ's mercy, which is why I don't dare receive at His table any longer.

It's Catholic doctrine (Trent) that we cannot know for certain even that we're in the state of grace, much less that we will be finally saved. This was taught against Protestants who thought that justification consisted in the certain belief that one had been saved. It was a confirmation of Paul's statement that we must "work out our salvation in fear and trembling." But, Jean, this universal condition should not be a reason for staying away from the Lord's table!

Father, isn't there a difference between those who agree with and feel contrition for breaking from Church teaching and those who don't? Those who don't, as I have been advised, have no business calling themselves Catholics or receiving. One must hope for "spiritual communion." And I do.

Jean: There is a long tradition distinguishing degrees to which the Church has committed itself to various doctrines, and whether disagreement with one of those teachings disqualifies one from receiving the eucharist will depend on that degree of commitment. Some people today are inclined to multiply the doctrines a denial of which excludes one. I incline in the other direction. I am what is called a "minimalist," relying on the wise counsel given at the beginning of the revised Code of Canon Law: "Laws that establish a penalty or narrow the free exercise of rights or contain an exception to the law are to be interpreted strictly" [that is, not broadly] (c. 18). "No doctrine is understood to have been infallibly defined unless this is manifestly established" [that is, infallibility is not to be presumed] (c. 749, 3). I was commenting above on your last remarks: "I have to say that becoming a Catholic has made me more thoughtful of my actions and how they affect others, more inclined to pray for others and offer practical help, more afraid of hell, less sure of my salvation, and less trusting in Christs mercy, which is why I dont dare receive at His table any longer." I think that the last two of these considerations suggest more frequent reception of the sacraments, which are meant for sinners, unsure of their salvation and tempted to doubt of Christ's mercy.

Hey Jean, I have an idea. Here's a proposal for you: if you tell me you'll receive communion this Sunday, then this Sunday I will refrain from communion on your behalf. (But just for this one time!) It'll be a Christmas present from me to you, and a Christmas present from you to me. Deal?

A number of Prayers after Communion in the Roman Missal speak of the Eucharist as a healing remedy for body and soul. My adolescence and youth (fifteen years in all) were plagued by a far bleaker view. And yet, where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. "There is one thing I ask of the Lord, for this I long," and the rest. (Psalm 27, Evening Prayer, Week I)

Jean and JAKI am perplexed by your remarks. I don't believe anyone, including myself, professes with moral certitude that they have not sinned in commission or omission, or whether they did not unknowingly commit a sin that they believed was not a sin. However, I have always been taught in the power of daily prayer, the frequent reception of the sacraments and in the guidance of my spiritual advisor to lead me to God. I choose to believe that God has created from the beginning a place for each and everyone of us in his Kingdom. We need to choose to follow him in faith and works and never to reject him. To fear and tremble that we may be sent to hell or purgatory (and not being with God) is a necessary good motivation to try to become the man or woman God wants us to become. However, fearing the consequences of our actions is not the whole of our calling. We also need to follow Christ and his commandments for the good in it, because He commands it, because of the love it represents.I hold to what I have said, to trust in Christ and in his Divine Mercy. I refuse to allow fear to overwhelm me to the point where I have no sense of his promises, in his divine grace, and in his mercy. This does not mean I minimize sin and its effects, but I refuse to let sin or my fallen-nature to blind me to the joy of heaven and the promises of Christ. If purgatory is the place most of us will have to go to be purified, because only a few of us will be worthy to enter heaven at the hour of our death, then I fail to understand both the sacrament of reconciliation and more importantly the reparation of sins that is offered to us by the Church. I choose to embrace this gift in joy and thanksgiving while I also fear that I am not perfect but broken and in need of healing.Lastly, we do not know for certain if we are doing all we can to live a life God calls us to live. But striving also means striving to be educated and informed about of faith, to seek both a theological and spiritual advisor and to constantly pray. If I have read too much negativism into each of your comments, I hope you will provide more clarification, as I have tried to make my comments clearer to you.

Mr. Barberi: I think we both were (I know that I was) reacting to your comment: "The possibility of going to hell or purgatory is real. However, for Catholics who strive to live an upright and moral life, as best they can, according to Jesus and his Gospel, can be reassured of a place in his Kingdom." Your sentence is not entirely clear, but I took it to mean too great an assurance of salvation. So if you read "too much negativism" in my comments, it was because I read "too much positivism" into yours.My comments, alluding to the Council of Trent's teaching, did not have to do with whether or not someone has sinned, but with whether one can be sure that one is in the state of grace or assured of salvation. Authentic Christian living is always a withdrawal from inauthentic living, and it is never something achieved once and for all. The farther one climbs the mountain of holiness, the farther one can fall. I don't regard this as negativism or pessimism, but simple realism. Who, upon his deathbed, would say, "I have no need of further purification. I'm going straight to heaven"?

Claire, I know your offer is kindly meant, but the sacraments are not for swapping, wagering, or otherwise double-dog-daring. Have a blessed Advent.

JAK,The issue I raised from the beginning is the teaching about the reparation of sins in this life. So, while you may have read too much optimism into my initial comments, and I read too much pessimism in your response, I fail to understand how your recent comments brings more clarity to the issue I raised. Perhaps a short story might help.This year, the pastor of our local Catholic Church brought in a theologian to give a short presentation about Divine Mercy Sunday. His message was clear about the plenary indulgence granted to those that follow the requirements of the Church as it concerns Divine Mercy Sunday. If one satisfies these requirements and died suddenly he/she would enter heaven immediately. In this regard, our past sins are not held against us in terms of the temporal punishment due to them, but only in regard to future sins. I am not an expert on this subject, but based on your comments you believe that when we die we have no idea whether we will be saved or what purification is needed before we enter heaven. IMO, that is a most negative thought that prevents, at least me, the joy and confidence in Christ's divine mercy and the teaching of the Church regarding the reparation of sins. If I take your comments to their logical conclusion, after our death everyone will be waiting in line to be judged while we all stand in fear and trembling. I would rather think more positively unless you believe I am still too optimistic. As for my death bed, I would say "I am joyful and look forward to meeting Christ my Savior in whom I trust. I look forward to worshiping him in heaven perfectly as I have tried to do on earth but imperfectly. Let it be done to me in accordance with his will."

Well, swapping is something that happens all the time in the Church: people pray for one another, do things for one another, represent or are represented by one another, feel for one another, become one another, so sacrament swapping, although a slightly whimsical thought, did not seem to me to be so out of line, at least as a thought experiment. Have a blessed Advent, too.

Mr. Barberi: Our Christian life is one of faith and hope and love. Faith is not sight, and hope is not possession. One can believe and trust in God's mercy in Christ and hope that one will be brought into a full and eternal life, where love will endure, but not faith and hope. I did not say that on one's deathbed we will "have no idea whether we will be saved," but that we could not be certain of it. I do say that we will not know "what purification is needed before we enter heaven." "From my hidden sins cleanse me, Lord," prayed the Psalmist.What do you make of St. Paul's statement: "With fear and trembling work out your salvation" (Ph 2:12)? Commenting on this verse, St. Thomas referred to 1 Cor 10:12, "Let anyone who thinks he is standing take care that he not fall."No private devotion--First Fridays, First Saturdays, Divine Mercy, etc.--can guarantee anything. Any of the promises alleged are contingent on our fidelity, and isn't it presumption to think in advance that one will be finally faithful? The virtue of hope steers a middle ground between despair and presumption.

Fr. K, you're the best. Everything you say to every one, me included, is clear and precise and to the point and, in this thread, measured. And presumably true as well (hopefully). I am envious. Thank you for taking so much time to do this for strangers such as us.

I join in Claire's thanks.

Fr. Komonchak,I do appreciate your comments and do not disrespect your thoughts and advice by my questioning. I agree that we cannot be certain about what purification is needed before we enter heaven. I will bring up what your wrote with my local parish priest and spiritual advisor and study the issues further. I also agree that "No private devotionFirst Fridays, First Saturdays, Divine Mercy, etc.can guarantee anything. As you rightly say, "Any of the promises alleged are contingent on our fidelity." However, I don't think it is presumptuous to believe that one will be finally faithful. Having said that, it is possible that we might not, but I would rather be joyful and trustful in Christ's guiding light, and hopeful of eternal life, not irresponsibly presumptuous of it or his judgment, nor fearful of any purification that may be needed, but to lovingly accept it. I could be wrong but I don't believe that Christ expects us to be fearful and trembling at the hour of our death especially when we have made that good fight as best we could, as imperfect as it may have been. I think we can agree that to be joyful and hopeful of entering heaven is not being presumptuous. Nor is relying on the teachings of the church regarding the reparation of sins being naive in terms of strengthening our hope provided we have not seriously neglected our faith, at least knowingly. As to what I make of St. Paul's statement, It is because of fear and trembling that we work out our faith...through private devotions, First Fridays, Divine Mercy, doing good works, etc. It is because of this fear and trembling, and because we want to love him as he loves us, that motivates us to constantly strive to live a morally good life and become the person he wishes us to become. Perhaps what I wrote came across as too presumptuous about the certainty of eternal life through faith and works, and the teaching of the Church regarding the reparation of sins. Thank you for your valuable words and advice and taking the time to address my questions.

I have always found Fr. Komonchak's comments clear and appreciate his candor and patience. And his sister Bernie's poetry insights. Each time I read something he has shared from her, I am thankful for my own brother, with whom I share a deep connection (although it is not quite as literary).I just now saw the post 12/11/2012 - 4:38 pm, and I appreciate everyone's insights on the Church's teaching on salvation, a topic never far from my thoughts since my dad died a few years ago and as my mother declines into poor mental and physical health. I do apologize for bringing in my personal problems, something I seem to do over here to a large degree, and something I am working on this this new year of Our Lord.Many years ago, I read a meditation by a clergyperson--it may have been in Commonweal--the gist of which was that many of us need to say the prayer, "Dear Lord, help me to just shut up." So I'm gonna practice that now!

Dear Jean --If you shut up it will be a big loss to the blog. Don't.

One last remark for Jean, whose obstinate refusal to go to communion bothers me since I would not pass her worthiness threshold. This Sunday's gospel has John the Baptist telling people how to prepare in practice to receive the Messiah: the rich ought to share some of what they have, the dishonest stop cheating, the violent stop their brutalities. Not radical but moderate changes, not uniform but tailored to each person. (For example, if one's problem is obstinacy, a willingness to yield a little bit might be all that would be asked...) It suggests that communion ought to be available to many. So this is a particularly good Sunday for the unsure to receive communion.

Tried to find that essay about praying to keep your mouth shut. Didn't find it, but did see this:Dear God,So far today,I've done all right.I haven't gossiped.I haven't lost my temper.I haven't been greedy, grumpy,nasty, selfish or overindulgent.I'm very thankful for that.But in a few minutes, God,I'm going to get out of bed;and from then on, I'm probablygoing to need a lot more help.Amen

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," the Scriptures say--the beginning not the end. "Love will come to perfection within us when we can face the day of Judgement without fear... In love there can be no fear, for perfect love casts out fear" (1 Jn 4:17-18). Until the day we die, it will be true to say, "If we say that we are without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us" (1 Jn 1:8), but it is also true that if our hearts condemn us, "God is greater than our hearts" (1 Jn 3:20).St. Augustine meditated long and hard on such texts. He often spoke of the relation between fear and love in the Christian life and urged that the journey should be from one to the other. As long as we are doing or not doing things simply out of fear, we are not yet free (a thought that St. Thomas would develop wonderfully). But when God pours love for him into hearts (Rm 5:5), we are freed and are doing things or not doing things because we love what God loves.Both Augustine and Aquinas appear to have taken "the love of God" in that Pauline text (Rm 5:5) to refer to our love for God rather than God's love for us. But, the two go together: Our love for God is God's loving gift to us.

Thank you again Fr. Komonchak. Your latest comments are very comforting and valuable for reflection.The issue I am struggling with is this:> If we are to do things or not do things for the love of God, and solely for Him, and not "partially" or "secondarily" for another purpose, e.g., for the fear of purgatory and the temporal punishment due to sin, then does this prevent Love from coming to perfection within us and thus we will not be able to face the day of Judgement without fear?

The author of First John states that even thought we will never be without sin, and our hearts may condemn us, God is greater than our hearts. This is the ground of our trust in His mercy, not any actions we may perform. St. Augustine says somewhere: "The more you love the less you fear; the more you fear the less you love." What more can be said? None of us arrives perfect at our deathbed. But God is greater than our hearts. We shouldn't imagine that when we come before the Lord, we'll be able to say, "But, Lord, look at all I've done--prayers, acts of abnegation, devotions, etc., etc.!" Won't we throw ourselves on His mercy? Isn't it a phenomenon that the holier a person gets the more acutely they become aware of their sins and failures?

A man died and went to heaven with Saint Peter meeting him at those pearly gates.St. Peter said to the man, "Here's how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you've done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in.""Okay" the man says, "I attended church every Sunday""That's good, says St. Peter, " that's worth two points""Two points?" he says. "Well, I gave 10% of all my earnings to the church""Well, let's see," answers Peter, "that's worth another 2 points. Did you do anything else?""Two points? Golly. How about this: I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans.""Fantastic, that's certainly worth a point, " he says."hmmm...," the man says, "I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart.""That's wonderful," says St. Peter, "that's worth three points!""THREE POINTS!!" the man cries, "At this rate the only way I get into heaven is by the grace of God!""Come on in!"HT -

Fr. Komonchak,I think it is my fault that we might be misunderstanding each other. I will try one more time and then I will stop.I don't disagree that we are sinners. Frankly, I count myself as the most unworthy of Catholics. It would be foolish to make an argument about what one had done....prayers, acts, devotions etc, as evidence of our worthiness of heaven. We worship God and try to do good works, and make devotions etc, because we sin and offend God and we want to love him as he wants us to do. At the hour of our death and judgment, we must trust in His mercy. I also completely agree that the more holier one becomes that more acutely aware of our sins and failures. I get it.I am questioning the purpose of the teaching about the reparation of sins? Should we not take advantage of plenary and partial indulgences? If so, do we need to do these works for the Love of God, and not to have a partial or secondary purpose., e.g., for the fear of purgatory? If so, it is hard to imagine that one does not have such a secondary purpose. Perhaps, this is something that some but not all of us grow into. Do not indulgences impart some assurance of salvation and the lessening of the temporal punishment due to sin, while it does not guarantee it?It seems that all we can ever have is fear tempered by hope and the trust in God's mercy. I apologize if I am missing your point.

JAK ==If we are supposed to love only God, then how come Jesus tellsl us: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself"?

I'm puzzled by your question. Who has said that we are supposed to love only God? Certainly not I.

St. Augustine often developed the theme of "chaste love," by which he meant a love that is not for anything other than the Beloved. A woman who loves a man because of his wealth, loves his wealth and not him. This would be supremely true of God: Gratis amandus Deus, God is to be loved for His own sake, and not for the sake of something else that he might give us, in this world or the next. This would be a very pure love, perhaps attained by only a few, as you seem to suggest. Doing good things, even (especially?) ones with an indulgence attached, for some purpose other than God wouldn't meet Augustine's criterion for a chaste love. Acts of reparation undertaken out of genuine regret for one's sin or as an effort to repair a relationship, newly appreciated and embraced, can be quite chaste, in Augustine's sense of the word. Perhaps we need to personalize all this, or, better, to inter-personalize it. Think of interpersonal relationships--a marriage, a deep friendship--and what authenticity and selfless love do and expect and require.Remember the act of contrition: "And I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell. But most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love." Contrition out of fear of hell is a very imperfect thing, and wouldn't get to the root of sin in one's own heart. The contrition should be motivated by the love of God, not the fear of punishment. (What would we think of a man who is faithful to his wife only out of fear of being discovered?)

Just one text from Augustine on "chaste love" of God:

Is it a great thing to fear evil? Heres a great thing: not to do evil; heres a great thing: to love the good. Even a thief fears evil, and where he doesnt do it because he cant do it, he remains a thief. God examines the heart, not the hand. A wolf comes to a sheepfold, seeks to enter, wants to kill, wants to devour; but the shepherds are watchful, the dogs bark; it cant do anything, take anything away, kill anything. It was a wolf when it came and a wolf when it went away. Just because he didnt take a sheep away, did he come as a wolf and leave as a sheep? ... If you dont do evil when you could and when its not out of fear of being punished by men that you wouldnt do it, then its God you are fearing. No ones there except you and the one you might do evil toand God, who sees both of you. ... But what Im been saying is a slight thing. Love the good. For if its out of fear of hell that you dont some evil, youre not yet perfect. I dare to say it: If you dont do the evil out of fear of hell, you have faith because you believe in Gods future judgment. Im glad for your faith, but Im afraid of your wickedness. Why have I said this? Because if you dont do the evil out of fear of hell, you dont do the good out of love of righteousness.Its one thing to fear punishment; its another to love righteousness. You ought to have a chaste love in you, by which love you desire not heaven and earth, not the bright expanses of the sea, not trifling sights, not flashing and glittering jewels; no, you desire to see God, to love your God, because it is said; Beloved, we are children of God, and it is not yet apparent what we shall be; but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is (1 Jn 3:2). Thats it: do the good for the sake of that sight; for its sake dont do evil. For if you wish to see your God, if in this wandering you sigh with that lovesee, Gods testing you, as if he were saying to you, Go ahead; do what you want; fulfill your desires; expand your wickedness; indulge your pleasures; consider licit whatever you want; I wont punish you for it, wont send you to hell; Ill only deny you my face. If that terrifies you, you love; if your heart trembled when it was said that God will deny you his face, if you think it is a great punishment not to see God, then you love gratis [without hope of reward]. So then, if my words have found in your hearts some spark of a gratuitous love of God, nourish it; to increase it avail yourselves of prayer, humility, repentant sorrow, love of righteousness, good works, sincere groans, praiseworthy conversation, faithful friendship. Blow on that spark of good love in yourselves; nourish it in yourselves. When it has grown and caused a most fitting and roaring flame, it will consume the grass of all your fleshly desires.

(Sermon 178)

Thank you Fr. Komonchak. This is much clearer to me and you have been very generous with you time in answering my questions. I will reflect on your comments. If I may provide a final comment (really).The act of contrition says "but most of all". This means that one also detests their sins because they dreads the loss of heaven and the pains of hell. As you rightly stated, if one is doing acts et al., because of sorrow for sin, to repair the relationship with Christ, because you have offended Him, because you love Him, then this may be a form of chaste love. I fear I have all of these intentions, including wanting to love God for Himself and not for the consequences of loving him, but I also have a fear of purgatory and the desire to avoid punishment. Thus, the teaching about the reparation of sins seems to be a catch 22, because few can ever achieve a pure love of God. Thus, fear is a good thing when it leads one to growth in the love of God and neighbor. However, it seems to me that fear is always with us, perhaps more or less so for one versus another, but to have a partial purpose in seeking indulgences (for fear of purgatory), while one also has the overwhelming primarily one of loving God and repairing the relationship, is something that I fear will always be least for me.This teaching about the reparation for sins is highly confusing and not clearly understood. In the end, I will leave my destiny to the grace and love of God who as a wise and loving parent will guide me appropriately and forgive me for my sins because I have a sincere heart but weaknesses.

I regularly take the train at a station in the middle of a forest. There is no staff, only a ticket-vending machine and a machine to punch one's ticket before boarding. I have bought lots of tickets in advance, and always have spare tickets. But one day I saw that the ticket-vending machine was broken. "Great!", I thought: "Now I can take the train without punching my ticket, and if a controller comes by, I can always tell him that I couldn't buy a ticket because of the broken machine, and I won't have to pay a fine." So, without further ado, I boarded the train without punching my ticket, and thus traveled for free as a matter of course.But the next time, I was with my daughter. Then I punched my ticket, of course: I wanted to set a good example of honesty. And the following time, I was with friends. Then I also punched my ticket, after a short hesitation: they know that I am a scrupulously honest citizen, and I would not disappoint them.The next time, I was alone. What to do? I hesitated at length, then thought "it's only 8 dollars" and punched my ticket. Upon further reflection, I decided that I wanted my previous decisions to punch my ticket to be a testimony of my honesty, rather than of a mere wish to project an image of honesty. I wondered just how expensive the ticket would have to be in order for me to decide otherwise, but as soon as the question was posed in those terms, the answer was obvious: honesty is part of my character and cannot be bought at any price. I was pleased with myself to have reached that conclusion. How many people would be as honest as I am? Such admirable integrity. After that lengthy internal debate, the matter was settled: the next few times until the machine was repaired, I was alone, but always faithfully - and smugly - punched my ticket with no hesitation.Now the question is: such decisions are not out of the fear of any particular consequence. Are they "gratis"? Given that no one can see what I am doing (the controller never showed up), does the resulting smug feeling come from a "love of the good"? I think that there is a wide grey area between "fear of punishment" and pure "love of the good". Fear of punishment is way too crude a gauge. Rather than lack of fear of punishment, here is a possible test for "pure love of the good": does it give as much pleasure to see someone else doing it as it does to do it ourselves? If so, then I think that that's a good indication.

Your criterion will go far, I think, Claire. Aquinas' criterion was that one do the good because it is the good thing to do and refrain from the evil because it is evil. People of integrity do that; the rest of us do it sometimes and not other times. We'd all love to have some "objective" criterion that would tell us what's the right thing to do--a kind of moral yardstick. But, of course, there's no such yardstick that can work as infallibly in determining moral issues as the physical yardstick does in determining physical dimensions. Lonergan said that such a notion of objectivity is a myth, and he agreed with Aristotle and Aquinas that the measure of virtue is the conscience of a good man. If we're lucky, in the course of our lifetimes we encounter a person or persons who exemplify what it means to be a person of integrity, and we can begin the long process of becoming such ourselves.

Claire,Thank you. I very briefly perused the comments and I will indeed study them further.While I respect Fr. Komonchak and agree with much of what he has written and spoke about, his comments to me on America Magazine reflect a sense that we ought to focus on doing good and avoiding evil and not on prayers, devotions and indulgences. While I found a lot of truth and have learned from his comments, I objected to the fact that I was being presumptuous about being joyful about going to heaven at the hour of my death. Perhaps he meant that I should not be counting on indulgences with certainty, or not counting on anything we do in this life because it is only by the grace, mercy and love of God that we gain everlasting life. If so, I get it. Nevertheless, I was equally confused and critical about the teaching regarding the reparation for sins and the plenary indulgence attached to certain works and devotions. I wonder how many people are doing special devotions because they believe they are pilling up "points' in heaven? Having said that, I do believe that good works and doing what pleases God and hating what God hates does amount to something. Why else would we be doing it? I often pray to God to give me the right intentions and disposition in all that I do, to love him for Himself, for the good in it, because He commands it, and not for myself. However, who among has a perfect love of God and neighbor? We should strive for it, and never give up and make progress but we will never know where we stand in terms of perfection, in terms of what God expects us to be.I ask "What is wrong with being joyful and optimistic about being with God forever and trusting in His Divine Mercy at the hour of our death? I believe that if we ask God for his guidance throughout our life, sincerely feel sorry for our sins, frequently pray, receive the sacraments and make devotions for others as well as a reparation for our sins and to repair the offense against God, then I believe He will accept us as we are with all of our brokenness, weaknesses and past sins. What the Church wants us to believe is that we will all likely spend time in purgatory because we all are in need of a certain purification that only God knows and wants. However, I find it perplexing and in a way misleading when the Church also says "fear not", we offer you these indulgences so that you will likely only spend a short time in purgatory, or none at all. Whatever God gives us in terms of a judgment, we should accept it lovingly. However, at the hour of death I sincerely hope to be joyful, not fearful, optimistic and not pessimistic, trustful in His mercy with an assurance of heaven but not irresponsibly presumptuous of it. This will be based on, I hope, a sincere heart in doing what I believe to be right, good and just, even if I make mistakes out of ignorance. "Under these circumstances", what loving parent would inflict a certain pain and suffering on their child, to refuse to show them their face for a short or long time, to refuse to let them into their house because he/she did not measure up to a certain standard of love that clearly very few can realistically achieve? However, this is but one human reflection and imperfect. Thus, I admit to ignorance.As you say and as Fr. Komochak implies (I believe), we should focus on loving God and neighbor, to be a person of integrity, a good person doing good things, by living a virtuous life and striving as best we can, with God's grace, to be the man or woman He wants us to become.

Mr. Barberi: What has America Magazine to do with this? I haven't published anything there that's relevant to our conversation. I agree with this statement of yours above:"However, who among has a perfect love of God and neighbor? We should strive for it, and never give up and make progress but we will never know where we stand in terms of perfection, in terms of what God expects us to be."But I would have reservations about this statement: "Whatever God gives us in terms of a judgment, we should accept it lovingly. However, at the hour of death I sincerely hope to be joyful, not fearful, optimistic and not pessimistic, trustful in His mercy with an assurance of heaven but not irresponsibly presumptuous of it. This will be based on, I hope, a sincere heart in doing what I believe to be right, good and just, even if I make mistakes out of ignorance."I'd put this rather in terms of one's confidence on one's deathbed, not on what one has done, but on God's over-flowing love and forgiveness. We don't have to earn that love, and I don't think we should conceive of our Christian lives as efforts to do enough good works in order to be confident on the day of judgment but rather as an effort to live up to the love already granted to us in Christ and in his Holy Spirit. Christian morality should be a morality of response to the gift already given.

I believe that if , then I believe He will accept us as we are with all of our brokenness, weaknesses and past sins. By professional bias I tend to view everything under the lens of education and learning: our hope to share in Christ's divinity is not merely a matter of being accepted thanks to God's generous judgment, but also of learning to become divine. As I see it the problem is not God's acceptance of us but our own ability to be with God in a perfect union.For a concrete analogy, think about sex: rare is the time when it is a near-perfect experience, when the two partners are heart to heart, the barriers raised by our egos are gone, we have enough trust to show ourselves to each other just as we are, we do not get bruised by an untimely look, word or move - whatever misstep may occur is swept away by the partner's obvious care for us, and feelings can merge so that sex feels like the expression of a union of our souls. Maybe that's an overly romantic view of sex, and it is certainly not the every day sex experience, but it seems to me that it can give us a glimpse of heaven. How can sex be like that? It's not enough that one's partner is an experienced and caring lover, and that we have goodwill. It is not sufficient that the Other is willing to accept our inadequacies. Both partners have to be humbly open. Both have to be willing to be vulnerable, disarmed. Both have to be focused on one another. Both have to know enough about themselves to be able to reveal themselves as they are. Even under loving guidance, even with grace, all that will take time to learn.So I guess that that's my image of purgatory: learning to have great sex.

JAK --I haven't responded to your comment to me of 12-14 because I]m havng some eye trouble, have apparently misread your posts, and can't re-read them. I thought that was a funny thing for you to say, but that's the way I interpreted them. Sorry;

I think that the first chapter of 2 Timothy has a comforting phrase: "I know whom I have believed [or: "in whom I have trusted"; or: "to whom I have entrusted myself"], and I am certain..." The important thing is that the one whom we believe, to whom we have entrusted ourselves, follows the logic of the father in the parable, not that of the elder son.Claire: The analogy was familiar to the mystics, and to others. For St. Paul life below is the period of betrothal (2 Cor 11:2); the marriage embrace comes at the End. Your analogy is the sort of thing I meant when I suggested above that we personalize--even interpersonalize--how we think of our relation with God.

"Christian morality should be a morality of response to the gift already given."I like this a lot, and will think about it in my Advent contemplations.

I see. I had not read that paragraph carefully and had missed it, but now I get it.

Fr. Komonchak,I think you are taking my comment out of context. I also said "I often pray to God to give me the right intentions and disposition in all that I do, to love him for Himself, for the good in it, because He commands it, and not for myself." As well as trusting in His Divine Mercy at the hour of our death.What does "living up to the love of God already granted" mean if not to love what God loves, hate what he hates, live virtuous lives, trust in His Divine Mercy, pray and act with the right intentions and dispositions in loving him for Himself and not for ourselves, et al.? We love Him by our actions, and we love Him as we serve him. I did not want to imply that my joy at the hour of my death was "solely" based on what I have done, as though everything I did will earn me heaven. I was referring to the fact that I am a sinner and that God will be merciful to me and because "Christian theology teaches that God will judge us, not on the basis of our actions being objectively right or wrong, but on the basis of the sincerity of our hearts in seeking to do what is right, even if we make a mistake (Richard Gula, "The Moral Conscience" p. 57, in Conscience by Charles Curran, 2004). This also must be understood in its proper context.Let us not argue about what we agree on, that we will be saved, judged and enter heaven based on God's grace, love and divine mercy, not on what we have done as if what we did earns it. However, there is nothing wrong with being joyful at the hour of death and not fearful because we have sinned and are imperfect. Nor is it presumptuous if we believe in the assurance of heaven (not certainty) based on his divine mercy. However, indulgences emphasizes works and the lessening of the temporal punishment due to them, so that we might go to heaven and not to purgatory. They might help but I have serious reservations about them. I discussed this topic at length with my parish priest on Friday, and he agrees with my understanding. Clare,Marriage and conjugal love is not perfect as you know. We need to be open and vulnerable so that we can strip away our false faces, our defense mechanisms, in order to truly learn to love our spouses. Unfortunately, there is no criteria or guide book that is perfect. Our journey to love God is also a journey of striving and education and being open to the spirit. If purgatory is a a state one must remain in for a period of time in order to be purified before entering heaven (as a judgment of God), I accept it. However, the teaching on purgatory and indulgences has a lot to be desired in directing Catholics to love God as He wants us to love Him.

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