Thursday, December 11, 2014

Dietrich von Hildebrand and Our Relativistic Age

Dietrich von Hildebrand and Our Relativistic Age

German theologian and philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand is pictured in a 1939 photo. (CNS photo/George Baltus, courtesy of Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project) 
Postmodern relativism and deconstruction have produced, at the popular level, what I have termed the “Meh culture,” that is to say, a culture dominated by the “whatever” attitude, a bland, detached indifferentism to the good and the true.  How often have you heard someone say, “That’s perhaps true for you but not for me,” or, “Who are you to be imposing your values on me?” or in the immortal words of the Dude in The Big Lebowski, “Well, that’s just like your opinion, man.”  Is it not a commonplace today that the only moral absolute that remains is the obligation to tolerate all points of view?  What this subjectivism has conduced toward is a society lacking in energy and focus, one that cannot rouse itself to corporate action on behalf of some universal good.  John Henry Newman said that well-defined banks are precisely what give verve and direction to a river.  Once those banks are knocked down, the river will spread out, in short order, into a large, lazy lake.  Applying the analogy, he argued that objective truths, clearly understood, are what give energy to a culture and that when those truths are compromised in the name of freedom or toleration, said culture rapidly loses its purpose and cohesiveness.  It is as though people today are floating on individual air-mattresses on Newman’s lazy lake, disconnected from one another, each locked in the isolation of his or her subjective judgments.  
The great 20th-century philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand was one of the most articulate and incisive critics of the kind of relativism that has come to hold sway in our time.  Following the prompts of both Plato and St. Augustine, Hildebrand delighted in showing the self-defeating incoherence of the position:  if he is to be consistent, the relativist must hold that the claim of universal relativism is itself relative and hence not binding on anyone beside himself.  Hildebrand taught that the philosophy of relativism flowed from the failure to honor the fundamental distinction between the arena of the merely subjectively satisfying and the arena of real values.  There are many things and experiences that we seek because they please us or satisfy some basic need.  One might find a cigarette appealing or a slice of pizza tasty or a political party useful, but in all these cases, one is bending the thing in question to his subjectivity.  But there are other goods (Hildebrand’s “values”) that by their splendor, excellence, and intrinsic worth, draw the person out of himself, bending his subjectivity to them, drawing him toward self-transcendence.  
In the presence of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony or Chartres Cathedral or Plato’s Republic or the daily work of the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, one is compelled to acknowledge the preciousness of a reality that goes beyond the needs or expectation of one’s ego.  To characterize such things as merely subjectively satisfying, as though appreciating them is simply a matter of individual taste, would be simply ludicrous.  The whole point of the moral life for Hildebrand is to cultivate the appropriate response to these objective values, to channel one’s energies according to their demands.  A crucial consequence of cultivating the proper response to values is that real community increases and intensifies.  Whereas the merely subjectively satisfying correlates to the individual and his particular preferences, the objectively valuable correlates to the entire society of those drawn out of themselves and into a shared devotion.  
One might be tempted to think, “so far so abstract.”  But a new book titled My Battle Against Hitler, edited by two of the most devoted Hildebrandians on the scene today, John Crosby and his son John Henry Crosby, vividly demonstrates how Hildebrand himself lived out the principles of his moral philosophy in the face of the most vicious ideology of the last century.  In the 1920s, as the National Socialist movement was gaining ground, Hildebrand, a professor of moral philosophy at the University of Munich, commenced to speak out against Hitler and his cronies.  He saw Nazism—marked by anti-Semitism, crude nationalism, cruelty, and indifference to human dignity—as a repudiation of an entire range of objective values.  Though it put his career and eventually his very life at risk, Hildebrand became, accordingly, an impassioned opponent of this political movement which had begun to attract the support even of leading intellectuals.  When Hitler came to power in 1933, Hildebrand was compelled to leave his beloved Munich and take up residence in Vienna.  From 1933 to 1938, he continued vocally to oppose Hitler, founding and editing an anti-Nazi journal that so infuriated Hitler that the Fuhrer referred to Hildebrand as his “number one enemy.”  When the German annexation of Austria took place, Hildebrand was aggressively sought by the Gestapo and narrowly escaped with his life, eventually settling in New York, where he became professor of philosophy at Fordham University.  
A key concomitant of the assertion of objective value is the claim that objective disvalues exist as well.  And just as we should cultivate a response of love and appreciation to value, we should cultivate a response of hatred and opposition to wickedness.  Hildebrand saw that indifference to evil is as destructive as indifference to good. In our relativistic age, when we are confronted with a whole range of disvalues in our society, Hildebrand’s is a voice we need to heed.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Move Over ‘Bishop of Bling’-Here Comes the ‘Cardinal of Cash’

Move Over ‘Bishop of Bling’

Here Comes the ‘Cardinal of Cash’

By Harry Stevens
How does an elegant pied a terre in Rome sound – at $13.6 million? You’ll probably need it as a place to stay while the $2.2 million renovation is being done on your place back home. In fact, these days, you’re pretty much hip deep in construction projects because you’re building a new office to the tune of $186 million.
Who are you? A Chinese potentate? A Mexican drug lord? An American movie star?
Actually, you’re a German Cardinal of the Catholic Church.
CARDINAL’S MARX’S RIDE: Top of the line German luxury BMW.
In fact, you’re Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising –who reports a monthly income of more than $16K. The Cardinal also lives rent-free in Munich’s Palais Holnstein. Plus, his driver chauffeurs him around in a sleek new BMW 730i.

Pay the Church or Be Denied the Sacraments

Such luxury must seem incredible to the comparatively poor US cardinals and bishops. Most must eke out an existence on between US$40 and $60K a year, gleaned from parishioners who support dioceses freely.
In sharp contrast, German Catholic prelates derive their princely income from a forced church tax collection. This is because in Germany, Catholics must pay to get the Sacraments. 
So, for example, if they don’t allow the church tax to be auto-deducted from their paychecks, they’ll be denied a Christian burial – something of particular interest to the mainly-elderly congregations in this country.

A Curious Double Standard

In recent years, the Germans have been quietly raking in the euros selling luxury cars during the recent great global recession. This means that German Church coffers have swelled to gargantuan levels undreamed of in the rest of the world.
THE ‘BISHOP OF BLING’ made global headlines, but he’s just the tip of the iceberg for the big-spending German Catholic Church.
So, today we have a group of German bishops with very nice incomes who spend quite a lot of money. They have become ultra-powerful. 
Some of them have even gotten into trouble for this. Germany’s so-called ‘Bishop of Bling’ made global headlines last year; Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz van Elst reportedly spent $43 million on renovating his medieval Limburg diocesan offices and residence.(3)
But there’s a curious double standard at work, here.
While Tebartz van Elst was crucified in the media, no one said a word about Cardinal Marx’s spending sprees. He’s shelling out $186 million on his offices alone — more than four times what the ‘Bishop of Bling’ reportedly spent.2

Not About the Money

Why is this? Looking back on the Bishop of Bling’s 2013 media crucifixion, it seems somehow that it was not about the money. In fact, the money issue was all smoke and mirrors that the media latched onto — probably orchestrated by the adept publicists at the German Conference of Bishops. 
In fact, the German ecclesiastical underground says that it was about how Tebartz van Elst ‘divided’ his diocese. The young, inexperienced bishop upset the status quo in his Limburg diocese, it seems. He made career workers accountable, and people didn’t like that.
ATTACKED BY FEMEN while he was saying Mass, Cardinal Meisner was almost the only German voice to defend the hapless ‘Bishop of Bling.’
The real issue for the Bishop was that the German Conference of Bishops lost confidence in Tebartz-van Elst. Only one German Cardinal came to his defense. Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne praised the hapless bishop’s “theological depth and decidedly Catholic orientation.” (In Germany, this means that Tebartz-van Elst is actually a Christian believer.)
But, Meisner – who was subsequently attacked by a mostly-naked radical ‘femen’ while saying Mass in his own cathedral — was soon to retire.

Something’s Rotten in Deutschland

Following the money, we come to one of the principal public tormenters of the luckless Tebartz-van Elst: none other than Cardinal Marx. (Cardinal Meisner even publicly asked Marx to tone it done regarding the bishop of Limburg (4), but to no avail.)
Why did the Bishop’s crucifixion happen? Unfortunately, it seems that Tebartz-van Elst got on the wrong side of the wrong guy. There’s a puppet master of the German Conference of Bishops — Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz is the powerful 79 year old prelate who well-placed German observers say is actually ‘feared.’
THE ‘PUPPET MASTER’ – The powerful Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz
The ill-starred ‘Bishop of Bling’ made an excellent example for any cleric who might take it into his head to defy this super-wealthy, super-powerful ecclesiastical cartel. In the event, Bishop Tebartz-van Elst was called to Rome and publicly humiliated on a global stage, his bishopric taken from him.
As for Marx, his star continues to rise.

Powerful in Rome

Marx has become a powerful prelate in the German Catholic Church, and clearly harbors ambitions for the global Church. In addition to being chairman of the German Bishop’s Conference, he is on the “Council of Eight” as an adviser to Pope Francis. On 8 March 2014, he was named by Pope Francis as the Cardinal-Coordinator of the Council for Economic Affairs.
Moving fast and living well, Marx is heading downstream on the Isar River fast, flowing into the Tiber –and many veteran observers say his Mainz puppet master is manipulating him, full steam ahead.
WHEN ASKED ABOUT HIS LUXURY RESIDENCE, the Cardinal ‘became annoyed.’
Recently, when asked about his lavish spending on his Roman residence, the Cardinal became annoyed. Through his spokesman Bernhard Kellner, he replied, “Who says this is a luxury accommodation for Cardinal Reinhard Marx, is completely wrong. It is a house of the meeting, the members of the cathedral chapter, employees of the Ordinariate, representatives of the laity councils, but also small groups of pilgrims should be available. (7)”
One wonders if a regular German Catholic pilgrim who pays his Church tax could really stay in the Cardinal’s digs on his once-in-a-lifetime visit to Rome?

Moving On Up

At the recent Rome synod of the family, Marx’s remarks (8) seemed to imply that he speaks for higher ups, pointing out that “Saying that the doctrine will never change is a restrictive view of things.Marx’s position (9) is that allowing communion for civilly divorced Germans may bring them back to the Church.
THE CARDINAL’S PALACE IN MUNICH is costing a cool US$2.2 million to update.
Why is this divorce thing so critical to the Germans? Well, elderly Catholics are dying off, and German Catholic baby boomers are deserting the Church in droves. 
This means that in a few years, the spigot will run dry.
Bye-bye BMWs. Arrivederci Roman palazzos.

Unpleasant Historical Facts

It was the Germans who led the charge to modernize the Church after Vatican II, but it seems they haven’t learned much. The  German obsession with acceptance from the ‘city of man’ has proven to be disastrous, seen everywhere in the empty churches of Germany.
St Augustine of Hippo had a few pertinent observations about what happens when the Church becomes too worldly. Perhaps Cardinal Marx should read City of God —  one night, while he’s enjoying an aperitivo in Roma?
  1. does 9.7 million euro sound like a lot of money for a residence in Rome (1,2)? 1.56 million euro (2) renovation to living quarters in the Palais Holnstein,
  2. Does anywhere between 42 million (3,1) and 51 million euro (4) for a chancellery construction project {not including 86 million euro spent for the land (3)}
PHOTO OF CARDINAL KARL LEHMANN © Raimond Spekking / , via Wikimedia Commons


Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Anglicans Wonder Why No One Comes to Church on Sunday

Anglican Worship
Anglican Worship
An article in the Daily Telegraph ponders why the number of people attending parish churches in England continues to plummet.
While attendance at cathedral worship is up, the number of worshippers in the local churches is in free fall.
The Anglicans, of course, are not the only ones.
All the churches in the Western developed countries are seeing numbers decline.
The reasons are complex, but there are two big culprits.
One is simply that people are busy doing everything else on a Sunday. As more and more shops and businesses open on Sunday an increasing number of people will be needed to keep them open. Put simply, people are working on Sundays and shopping on Sundays.
When the civil authorities stopped keeping Sunday special it was bound, eventually to lead to a decline in church attendance.
It takes self discipline to get organized enough to make church attendance on Sunday a priority, and when it ceases to become THE priority for Sunday it soon gets edged out. It has to be fit in with the other stuff to do on Sunday, and if there is enough other stuff, then it is difficult to make it a priority. Soon the church habit slips and before long you’re not really going at all anymore.
So much for the third commandment.
However, there is a more profound reason for the drop in church attendance.
I don’t think many people really understand what church is for. 
Let’s face it. Why should anyone bother to go to church at all?
What’s the point?
In most places the Protestant religion has been reduced to Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism. That means God (if he exists) is out there and doesn’t really interfere. Religion is therefore about becoming a nicer person and doing good stuff.
Sad to say a lot of Catholics have also reduced their religion to Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.
If that is all that Christianity is, then (as Flannery O’Conner would say) to hell with it.
No wonder people have stopped going to church because if your religion is no more than Moralistic Therapeutic Deism why bother dragging yourself off to a dreary building early on a Sunday morning to sing awful hymns with awful people and listen to some guy or gal read from a 2000 year old book and then drone on about being a nicer person peace and justice all are welcome gather them in and songs about eagles.
You get my point.
People are dropping out of church because it simply doesn’t make sense.
However. Take yourself off to a traditionally celebrated Mass and you are on another planet. Suddenly the worship is strange and beautiful and otherworldly.
The priest is talking about stuff you can’t get anywhere else. He’s not talking about making the world a better place, he’s talking about finding our way to the best place.
He’s not talking about saving the environment. He’s talking about saving souls.
He’s not talking about peace and justice, but introducing you to the Prince of Peace and the Fearful Judge of All.
This is something you need if your soul is to be saved and you can’t get it anywhere else.
Here is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of your Redeemer, and you can’t get that at the mall, the athletics activity, the soup kitchen or the activist’s meeting.
This  is why not only the Catholic Church, but the traditional form of Catholicism will ultimately survive and thrive: because it is real religion.
This is what real religion is about: a transaction with the supernatural, the threshold of heaven, the staircase to the stars, the grittiness of repentance and redemption, the soul’s salvation and the heart’s homing.
All the churches that are declining are declining into moralistic therapeutic deism…..and they will continue to decline because what they are offering is not religion.
It’s a blend of the Girl Scouts, Being Spiritual and the Power of Positive Thinking…and you don’t need to go to church for that.
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on the other hand.
That you got to go to church for.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Exorcism 1949 St. Louis

Exorcism Exposé   

An in-depth look at Saint Louis University's part in the most famous exorcism of the 20th century

By Amy Garland

The spirit of the story is always the same, but the specifics are all over the place.
You know The Exorcist? It happened at Saint Louis University. 
It happened in DuBourg Hall. On the fourth floor, in a room that has been sealed off for years. 
A light is kept on in the room, still. The door is only unlocked to change the light bulb. There's a bloody handprint on one of the walls. A giant cage. 
No, it wasn't in DuBourg. It was Verhaegen Hall. It was the College Church basement. Jesuit Hall. 
In hushed tones, upperclassmen tell the story to freshmen during their first days on campus, or maybe once the air turns cold in the fall. New employees hear about it, too, especially if they end up in one of the infamous locations.
A University legend at this point, the story includes its share of error, exaggeration and fabrication. Here is the real story.
exorcism panel
A panel of experts about the exorcism of 1949 spoke at Pius XII Library last fall: Allen, Padberg, Waide and Stark. Photo by Michelle Peltier

Possession Obsession

"Without a doubt, the topic I'm asked about most frequently is the exor­cism," said John Waide. "I get more requests around Halloween, but it's a popular question year-round."
Waide (A&S '73) has worked at Pius XII Memorial Library for 40 years and was the University archivist for more than two decades. He knows SLU history forwards and backwards. So it's a little unsettling when he begins the story of the 1949 exorcism by acknowledging, "There are dozens of versions of what happened."
Don't even think about consulting William Peter Blatty's 1971 book The Exorcist or the 1973 film it became. The version Waide puts the most stock in is Thomas B. Allen's Possessed: The True Story of an Exorcism, a historical account based on two primary sources: a detailed diary kept by Raymond Bishop, S.J., who assisted during the rite, and lengthy interviews with Walter Halloran, S.J., another assistant who was one of the last living eyewitnesses to the exorcism.
On a gray, stormy afternoon last fall, Allen visited Saint Louis University to headline "The St. Louis Exorcism of 1949" discussion hosted by University libraries special collections and the office of mission and ministry. Waide, John Padberg, S.J., a Jesuit historian and scholar, and Paul Stark, S.J., vice pres­ident for mission and ministry, rounded out the panel and provided historical and ecclesial context for the events of early 1949. A crowd of more than 700 spilled into the stacks at Pius Library, and the panel members held them in thrall as they recounted the story.

Tell the Truth and Shame the Devil

A self-proclaimed "Jebbie boy" with six years of Jesuit education in his past, Allen was a freelance writer in the early 1990s when he came across a brief note in a Washington Post gossip column about Halloran giving an interview about the exorcism to a Nebraska newspaper. Intrigued -- and thinking he'd pen something about it for the Washingtonian -- Allen started tracking down the Jesuit. He contacted him on Halloween, of all days, and the two ended up becoming friends.

"He was what the Irish call 'a solid man,'" Allen said. "And he never was certain about whether or not the boy was possessed."
As Allen tells it, Halloran's involvement in the exorcism came about almost by chance.

In 1949, Halloran was a Jesuit scholastic studying history at Saint Louis University. He also happened to be a driver for William Bowdern, S.J., then the pastor of St. Francis Xavier College Church. One night, Bowdern asked Halloran to drive him and another Jesuit to dinner at a home in a northwest St. Louis suburb. Halloran had no idea what he was getting into.
"He thought he'd be waiting outside, but when they pulled up to the house, Bowdern turned to him and said calmly, 'I'll be doing an exorcism. I want you to hold the boy down in case it's needed,'" Allen said.
What happened that night -- and for weeks afterward -- is still somewhat shrouded in secrecy.

What the Devil Really Happened?

The story began a couple months before Halloran showed up on the scene. (See the full timeline.)
In January 1949, a 13-year-old Maryland boy -- not the 12-year-old girl depicted in The Exorcist -- started experiencing strange, troublesome episodes: scratching sounds coming from the walls and floor of his room, the sound of water dripping, move­ment of a mattress and other objects. At first, his family thought he might have been plagued by the spirit of a recently deceased aunt, who had introduced the boy to the Ouija board. The family con­sulted physicians, psychiatrists and a minister from their Lutheran church. They grew desperate as the situation worsened.
Go to a Catholic priest; the Catholics know about this kind of thing.
"They go to Rev. Luther Miles Schulze, a Lutheran minister who happened to be greatly interested in the paranormal, as it was called at that time, and he said, 'Go to a Catholic priest; the Catholics know about this kind of thing,'" Allen said.
(Incidentally, Schulze later spoke at a meeting of a Washington, D.C., branch of the Society for Parapsychology about this case. That information made its way to the press, and the published Schulze interview led to the leaking of the exorcism story by Catholic sources. Studying at Georgetown at that time, William Peter Blatty read the story in the Washington Post and years later used it as inspiration for The Exorcist.)
On Schulze's advice, the family went to a local priest, Father E. Albert Hughes, who "gave them a bottle of holy water and candles and sent them on their way," Allen said.
Hughes later asked the arch­bishop of Washington, D.C., for permission to perform an exorcism on the boy. That attempt ended when the boy broke off a piece of a spring from the mattress he was strapped to and slashed Hughes "from shoulder to wrist," Allen said.
The boy's mother, a St. Louis native, suggested a change of scenery. After several incidents of scratches appearing on the boy's body without apparent cause, the word "LOUIS" emerged on his rib cage. The family took this as con­firmation: They should take the boy to St. Louis.
The boy ended up staying in a house with a relative who had attended Saint Louis University. One of her professors was Father Bishop, who became one of sev­eral Jesuits to participate in the exorcism and kept the day-by-day account on which Allen's book is based. Bishop talked to his friend William Bowdern, S.J. After both men consulted with Paul Reinert, S.J., then president of Saint Louis University, and St. Louis Archbishop Joseph Ritter, all agreed that an exorcism would be performed according to the Roman Ritual. It was something that Bowdern, who was chosen to be the lead exorcist, knew little about.
"Father Halloran said the first thing Bowdern did was hit the books," Allen said. "He would have learned something about it while becoming a Jesuit, but there isn't much call for exorcism to the modern-day priest. But Bowdern was a veteran of World War II, he'd been in combat -- so he was a combination of a religious man who was very tough."
The process ended up taking more than a month, during which Bowdern fasted. Several priests, Alexian Brothers and family members participated in or witnessed the rite, which  always began in the evening.
"The pattern was that the boy would act normally during the day, and then he would put on his pajamas and go to bed, and go into a trance and start screaming and yelling and acting wild," Allen said. In the morning, the boy apparently never remem­bered what transpired the night before.
The exorcism continued on almost a nightly basis, even though the boy seemed to be get­ting worse. The priests asked his family for permission to teach him about Catholicism and con­vert him as a way to strengthen the fight against the supposed demonic possession. As he got closer to conversion and making his first holy Communion, his episodes become increasingly violent.
On April 18, the day after Easter Sunday, the exorcism appeared to have succeeded. An entry from Bishop's diary reads: "Since Monday at 11 p.m. there have been no indications of the presence of the devil."
The boy left St. Louis several days later and went on to lead an otherwise normal life; he mar­ried around 1970, had children and never experienced anything like possession again, according to the Jesuits and Alexians who "kept track of him," Allen said.
None of the exorcism's eye­witnesses ever publicly revealed the details of the incident, out of respect for the boy's privacy. But in the words of Jesuit historian and scholar John Padberg, S.J., who also participated in the University's exorcism panel with Allen last October, "It's too good a story not to tell people about it!"
And so, it continues ...
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Universitas magazine.
Read more:

Souls in Purgatory ask for earthly help.

Do Souls Return from Purgatory? - Aleteia

Judging from the response to a recent post on holy souls who return from Purgatory, there seems to be a lot of interest in the subject. But, as Rome’s Little Museum of Purgatory contains only a tiny collection of the known “hard evidence” left behind by these holy souls, it makes sense to follow up with a sampling of burn marks left on cloth, books, doors and people, which can (or could, in the case of people) be seen in many places across Europe. And then there is, of course, the written testimonies of saints to which one can turn as further evidence of holy souls returning from Purgatory.

Unlike Marley’s ghost in Dickens’ “Christmas Carol,” holy souls rarely (if ever) return to warn hardened sinners of the hellish fate that could await them in the afterlife. Instead, God allows a relatively small number to appear to living people who are future saints — declared and undeclared — on whom these holy souls can count for “suffrages,” i.e., prayers, Masses, works of charity or penance offered for their release from Purgatory. 

An engrossing book on these phenomena, Hungry Souls: Supernatural Visits, Messages and Warnings from Purgatory by the renowned Belgian psychologist Gerard J.M. van den Aardweg, was published in 2010. Here’s a taste of some of the fascinating people and events you can find in this book.

Just a few of the many saints whose experiences with holy souls in Purgatory are described in Hungry Souls are Saints Teresa of Avila, Gertrude of Helfta, Catherine of Genoa, Francis de Sales, Margaret Mary Alacoque, and in the past century, Maria Faustina Kowalska and Padre Pio. Many “blesseds,” as well, are known to have been visited by holy souls in Purgatory, among them Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, Anna Maria Taigi and Stanislaus Papczyński, founder of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception.

A striking example of a hand mark left by a holy soul is kept in the Paulinian monastery in Częstochowa, Poland, the pilgrimage site of the “Black Madonna” icon (Our Lady of Częstochowa). In 1890, Father Reichel, a parish priest of Hundsfeld (near Wrocław in western Poland), was visiting Częstochowa on a pilgrimage with two “confreres” and gave the earliest extant account of the corporale he was shown. The Paulians explained the story behind it this way:

Two clerics of the monastery (of the Paulinian Order) had promised one another many years ago that the one who would die first would give the other one a sign from the beyond. Now one of them was dead already for a long time and never had given a sign. This was what the other one was thinking about, when one day he just had finished holy Mass and, as usual, was folding together the corporal before him, in nine folds. Then the evil doubt went through his head that perhaps there would be no survival after death at all. At that moment, a hand appears, lays itself on the corporal, and immediately disappears again. How much it was ablaze through and through, however, is shown clearly enough by the combustion of the nine-times folded up linen, exactly in the form of the hand.
Here is Father Reichel’s description of the corporale, which appeared to have been touched on the top layer by a hand that was burning red-hot: 

The upper layers of the linen were totally burned through, the lower were browned, increasingly more lightly; in the deeper parts between the individual joints the folds of the linen were conserved [visible], there where the muscles are more articulate [thicker], the combustion was quite visibly stronger, decreasing gradually to the sides.
At the monastery of the Franciscan nuns of St. Ann at Foligno, Italy, one can still see the hand imprint of a deceased religious, Sister Teresa Margarita Gesta, on the door of the linen room 

– “better and more clear than if made with a glowing iron hand.” Sister Teresa Margarita left the imprint there on November 3, 1859. Less than three weeks later, an official examination was conducted. Sister’s body was exhumed and it was discovered that the nun’s hand exactly fit the burn mark on the door. 

The deceased Johann Klements appeared numerous times between 1641 and 1642 in what is now Bratislava, Slovakia. Affidavits of 32 people attested to their having witnessed at least some of the apparitions. In 1643, the local bishop examined and published the “case” describing the events. Klements left a total of five burn marks of a hand that matched his own in life, missing the upper phalanx of his right forefinger. 

In 1669, deceased Vicar Christoph Wallbach left a burned-in thumb imprint in a prayer book in Hall in Tirol (Austria). Wallbach appeared to the housekeeper of one of the priests who succeeded him in the parish, explaining that, having already been in Purgatory for 65 years, he was fated to spend another 50 in Purgatory “if he were not released by suffrages during the half-year granted him to ask for help.” Wallbach left an “impressive sign to make it clear how terrible a fire it was he was in, because on earth he had read holy Masses out of avarice, for the money he could get; also, he wanted to prove that his appearance was no illusion.” A number of people, including the parish priest, had witnessed strange manifestations in the church and heard Wallbach’s moaning. 

The thumb burn in the prayer book of Hall went right through a heavy cover of wood and pigskin and then through 40 pages and, decreasing in intensity, through 30 more pages. It must have been produced during one short, intense moment, for there are no traces of burning beside the burned-in hole. A blacksmith experimented with a glowing iron thumb but could not reproduce the phenomenon himself; instead, the whole paper burned. 
Van den Aardweg explains that as an apparition begins 

the seer and bystanders often observe physical phenomena such as atmospheric changes, a gust of cold wind, crackling sounds, a strange and sudden silence; the spirit develops its figure and form out of a hazy cloud or mist, or starts as a passing shadow. It is not unusual for animals to perceive something physical, too: dogs may become scared, and cattle or chickens become restless. The perception of a spirit cannot be reduced to a merely mental event, something internal in the seer; it is a manifestation outside of him.
Holy souls may appear as the persons they were in life, wearing clothing typical of their time and state, and sometimes amid flames. But they also may appear “as deformed humans with remarkable symbolic features that represent their sins and/or punishments — sometimes even as humanized animals or animalized humans.” 

Van den Aardweg quotes an observation of the 20th-century seer, Eugenie von der Leyen, who wrote: “You never see such eyes in men … they demonstrate, or give to understand, misery. The mouth … this bitterness is found in no [living] human.” 

Some holy souls appear in early visitations to be ghastly, moaning half-human beasts, incapable of speech. Thanks to the prayers and sacrifices of an intercessor, they gradually begin to look less terrifyingly ugly and more beautifully human. As more of the “rust of sin” wears off them, as God’s love and grace is able to transform them, they become luminously beautiful, before announcing that they are about to enter heaven. 

One example described by van den Aardweg is that of the father of Sister Mary Seraphine, a monastic in Malines (Belgium). He appeared to her in 1870, within three months of his death, engulfed in flames. He informed her that he was to spend six more months in Purgatory (after the Blessed Virgin Mary had obtained a reduction of his sentence of several years due to his devotion to the Blessed Mother and his many acts of charity). He showed his daughter the fiery cistern that he occupied with “several hundreds.” He begged for the prayers of her community to reduce his sentence by half. In his early visitations, he complained ceaselessly about his suffering and asked his daughter to endure greater sacrifices and have the community intensify their prayers for him. Gradually, his complaints gave over to greater joy and a desire to love God better. In the last visitations to Sister Marie Seraphine, “he was so resplendent that her eyes could scarcely bear the dazzling light.”

Some final thoughts: St. Teresa of Avila noted that of the many holy souls she had known, only three had been able to totally escape Purgatory by the holiness of their lives. I don't know about you, but I suspect the total escape from Purgatory is not in my future.

And don't count on being able to return to beg your family and friends for many Masses and sacrifices. The memoirs of a German parish priest, Fr. Hermann Wagner, who survived the Nazi occupation and World War II, record the confidences of a holy widow he called “Ruth” to preserve her anonymity. She reported to him the many visitations she had received from holy souls in Purgatory and what she’d learned from them. “Most poor souls are never allowed to make themselves known by appearing to someone,” she noted. “In particular not the poorest poor souls.” Ruth added that “a certain category of poor souls do penance in such a terrible darkness and desolation that they believe they are lost forever” and “if a human being were to see their real condition, he would die.” 

The holy souls in Purgatory are powerless to help themselves to attain heaven. It is only through the Blessed Mother’s intercession and our suffrages that their time in Purgatory can be shortened. And, of course, no one is more grateful for the gift of living in the presence of God, his angels and his saints than are the holy souls who had suffered much to get there and who were aided by our prayers. They, in turn, become our ardent intercessors. 

This November and always, we’d do well to follow the advice and attitude of St. Josemaría Escrivá:

The holy souls in purgatory. Out of charity, out of justice, and out of excusable selfishness — they have such power with God! — remember them often in your sacrifices and in your prayers. 

May you be able to say when you speak of them, "My good friends the souls in purgatory."
Susan E. Wills is spirituality editor of Aleteia's English language edition.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Hate the Sin Love the Sinner – How Do I Do That?

Hate the Sin Love the Sinner – How Do I Do That?

The Prodigal Son
It’s a typical Christian bromide: “Hate the sin. Love the sinner.”
The problem is–how do I do that?
The sinner sins. How do you separate the sin from the sinner, and to be honest, at the final judgement it is the sinner who is condemned for his sin. It’s not like Jesus says, “There, there, you can come into heaven, but  I’m going to send your sin to hell.” No. At the last day the sinner is condemned with the sin.
In the meantime how do I hate the sin and love the sinner? This is especially tough when there are some sinners who deny that they are sinful and say, “I was born this way. You can’t condemn the sin without condemning me. You have to accept me and the stuff I do that you call “sin”. Or they might simply be nonchalant about the sin–not giving two hoots and happy to shrug their shoulders and deny the sin.
And how do I love the sinner but hate the sin when it comes down to practical matters like defending my children from the example of immorality? How do I love the sinner while not condoning the sin? What about the situation where I am enabling an addiction, giving in to violence or simply doing nothing about an intolerable situation confusing being nice with indolence?
What is “hating the sin but loving the sinner” becomes a mask for compromise of the truth, laziness in our duty to protect the innocent and no real concern or compassion for people who are locked into behaviors that are destructive to them, to others and to society?
Here’s an example: Uncle Bob is divorced and has re-married Sally. They want to visit the home for Thanksgiving and be accepted as husband and wife. But I don’t condone that relationship and I tell my kids that divorce and re-marriage is wrong. When Uncle Bob and Sally turn up do I give them a warm welcome show them the guest room and open a few beers? Then what about Aunt Ginnie who Bob divorced for his trophy wife? What about their kids? Where are they this Thanksgiving? Isn’t my warm welcome of Bob and Sally a slap in the face to Ginnie and his kids?
My attempts to love the sinner and hate the sin actually end up condoning the sin, confusing my children about marriage and being unkind and hurtful to the wronged wife and her kids. Out of justice to the wronged and the need to uphold Christian marriage maybe I need to tell Uncle Bob and Sally to enjoy Thanksgiving somewhere else.
This is why Christian communities used to exclude those who broke the rules. They did so to protect not only the rules, but everyone else who was trying to live by the rules, and they wanted to live by the rules and help everyone who wanted to live by the rules because they believed the rules were the best and most effective way to possibly, just possibly build a happy and wholesome life. People who broke the rules were breaking marriage, and they were breaking it for everybody. Therefore, those who broke marriage were excluded from the advantages of marriage and family life. They were excluded not to be mean to them, but to strengthen and defend the very fragile thing called marriage.
We don’t do that anymore, and I’m not suggesting that we should return to shunning and exclusion, but then the question still remains, how do I love the sinner and hate the sin?
From a practical point of view sometimes you have to exclude the sinner in order to exclude the sin, but this is no worse than realizing that you can’t always embrace opposites and you sometimes have to choose between the lesser of two evils.
Let’s say Ben is your brother and his partner Jerry want to come visit in your home. They are “married” and proclaim their gay lifestyle openly. They expect to be welcomed as family members, to stay in the guest room together and you’re supposed to act as if this is perfectly normal. But let’s say you have a houseful of children, and you are doing your best to bring them up to understand what a true Catholic understanding of marriage is. You’ve taught them that Ben and Jerry’s relationship is not that. So what are you going to do?
You have to choose between two goods.
The good of preserving your children’s understanding of Christian marriage without confusion or compromise is a greater good than being nice to Ben and Jerry. After all, Ben and Jerry are not members of your immediate family, and although you might want to be nice to them, your duty to your children comes first. This is no different than any number of other choices we make  between two goods. I want to take my kids on a grand European vacation, but I also want to pay for their college education. I choose the college education.
Therefore in the wish to be nice to everyone and love the sinner while hating the sin sometimes the sinner is going to get knocked. It can’t be helped.
Furthermore, am I the only one who is feeling bullied by this idea that everybody has to be nice, kind and accepting to everyone all the time with no questions asked? Isn’t this a kind of emotional blackmail getting me to condone something I cannot condone?
I’m calling “bully” on these folks and resent being pressured by their passive aggressive bully blackmail tactics.
I can defend my beliefs and stand up for what I believe in without either compromising those beliefs or being nasty and ugly to people who do not share those beliefs.
Does that mean we go around looking for ways to be mean and judgmental? Of course not. We do our best to be kind, accepting and welcoming to all, but there are limits.
Common sense demands boundaries. Sometimes the best way to love the sinner and hate the sin is to speak clearly to the sinner about the situation and warn him. If you have an alcoholic in the family you’re not doing him any favors by making excuses and enabling him. If your husband beats you up every Friday night and burns the kids with a cigarette you aren’t doing anybody any favors by letting him when he arrives home drunk.
Finally, true love for the sinner is to see them for who they really are and to see past whatever problem, addiction, broken ness or confusion they suffer from and to wish God’s perfect healing love to be active and fruitful in their lives. We’re all a mess, and the sooner we realize it the better, and the person who is most compassionate is the one who realizes what God’s amazing grace has done for them and how they have been rescued and to wish that same deliverance for others.
So it is first in our own conversion and the long, hard road of repentance, reconciliation and renewal that true love for the sinner and hatred of sin is fostered. Hatred of sin because we see how it has destroyed our own lives, and love for the sinner because we can see what they might be and who they could become if they were only to yield to that amazing grace.
That’s why St Julian of Norwich writes that God looks on us with pity not with blame. His mercy is everlasting. He loves the sinner because he sees what that fallen, broken child could become, and he hates the sin because he sees how it has diseased and deformed the child.
When we begin to have those kind of everlasting eyes we can begin to hate the sin and love the sinner.
Everything else is either sentimental clap trap, wishful thinking or do-goodism.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Purgatory-The Saints & Concerned for Lost Loved Ones

The Saints & Concerned for Lost Loved Ones
[Judas Maccabeus] took up a collection . . . to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead.
-2 Maccabees 12:43-44
When loved ones die, many people experience, in addition to grief and loneliness, a concern over the state of those loved ones, particularly if those departed souls weren’t the saintliest people in their lifetime or if they died sudden, unprovided deaths. What has become of these souls? Those who are left behind wonder.
The Church has always taught the existence of Purgatory, a place or state of existence after death, where, if necessary, we’re cleansed of any remaining effects of our sins and made ready to enter into Heaven. Moreover, as Scripture attests, our prayers and sacrifices can be of immense spiritual help to the persons undergoing this purification process; we can pray for specific persons, such as deceased loved ones, or for the souls in Purgatory in general.
Because God loves us and wants us to be with Him in Heaven, there must be some opportunity for us to finish being healed, or purged of our sins, after death, should this be necessary.
This cleansing process is what we call Purgatory. The saints believed without reservation in this reality. They themselves, because of their immense love of God, were ready to enter Heaven immediately after death, but they were mindful of those who werenot as fortunate; after all, this is one of the signs of true love: caring for those in need, whether that need be physical or spiritual.
***St. Elizabeth of Portugal, who reigned as queen of that country at the beginning of the fourteenth century, had a much-loved daughter named Constance. The young princess died very suddenly after being married, causing Elizabeth and her husband, King Denis, much grief. Soon after this, a hermit came to the queen with a shocking story: while he was praying, Constance had appeared to him, beseeching him to take a message to her mother. She was suffering terribly in Purgatory and would remain there a very long time unless Mass was offered for her each day for a year.
The king responded, “I believe that it is wise to do that which has been pointed out to you in so extraordinary a manner. After all, to have Masses celebrated for our dear deceased relatives is nothing more than a paternal and Christian duty.” Elizabeth accepted this advice, and arranged for the Masses to be said by a holy priest. One year later her daughter appeared to her, clothed in a brilliant white robe, and said, “Today, dear mother, I am delivered from the pains of Purgatory and am about to enter Heaven.” St. Elizabeth gave thanks to God and expressed her gratitude by distributing alms to the poor.
A number of saints (plus other mystics and visionaries) have allegedly seen Purgatory (and also Heaven and Hell). St. Frances of Rome was granted such a vision; she said that it consists of three levels. The lowest level is like a vast burning sea, where the persons undergo various sufferings related to the sins they committed on earth. The middle level is less rigorous, but still unpleasant.  The highest level of Purgatory is populated by those who are closest to being released. These persons suffer mainly the pain of loss: that of yearning for God and of not yet truly possessing Him.
There’s consolation in all three levels, but especially in the highest. The souls in Purgatory know that, sooner or later, they’ll be with God in Heaven and that all their present sufferings are valuable and redemptive. Other saints and visionaries confirm this description, adding that our prayers and sacrifices — because they’re freely given — are immensely helpful to those in Purgatory, for God greatly values each one of our freely offered sacrifices, no matter how small. Some mystics have supposedly learned that when we pray for specific persons who are in Purgatory, they see us at that instant and are strengthened by the knowledge that we’re remembering them.
Many of the saints are said to have had experiences that confirmed the Church’s teaching on Purgatory. For instance, St. Louis Bertrand, a seventeenth-century priest, offered Masses, prayers, and sacrifices for his deceased father until finally he was granted a vision of his entry into Heaven. This happened only after eight years of prayer on his part. In the twelfth century, the famous Irish bishop St. Malachy learned that his sister was destined to suffer a long time in Purgatory, for she had lived a very sinful life before repenting; his prayers eased her sufferings., but did not significantly lessen her time there. In the fifteenth century, the sister of St. Vincent Ferrer appeared to him as she was about to enter Heaven and revealed that had it not been for the many Masses he offered on her behalf, her time in Purgatory would have been much longer.
A story is told about St. Teresa of Avila in this regard. A priest she knew had just died, and God revealed to her that he would remain in Purgatory until a Mass was said for him in the chapel of a new Carmelite house that was to be built. Teresa hurried to the site and had the workmen begin raising the walls of the chapel immediately, but as this would still take too long, she obtained permission from the bishop for a temporary chapel to be erected.  Once this was done, Mass was celebrated there, and while receiving communion, Teresa saw a vision of the priest thanking her most graciously before entering God’s kingdom.
Showing concern for the dead and the dying is a great sign of love. Bl. Raymond of Capua, the biographer of St. Catherine of Siena, wrote that she attended her father, Jacomo, during his final hours. Learning in a revelation that this holy man nonetheless would require some purification in Purgatory, Catherine begged God to let her suffer pains of expiation on his behalf so that he might enter Heaven immediately. God agreed; Jacomo, who had been suffering greatly, thereupon experienced a happy and peaceful death, while Catherine was seized with violent pains that remained with her for the rest of her life. Raymond witnessed her suffering, but he also took note of her incredible forbearance and patience, along with her great joy on her father’s behalf.
An incident from the life of the Italian priest Bl. Padre Pio indicates that souls in Purgatory may request our prayers. One day in the 1920s, he was praying in the choir loft when he heard a strange sound coming from the side altars of the chapel. Then there was a crash as a candelabra fell from the main altar. Padre Pio saw a figure he assumed to be a young friar. But the figure told him, “I am doing my Purgatory here. I was a student in this friary, so now I have to make amends for the errors I committed while I was here, for my lack of diligence in doing my duty in this church.” The figure said that he had been in Purgatory for sixty years, and after requesting Padre Pio’s prayers, he vanished. Many other souls in purgatory are said to have asked for his assistance, including four deceased friars sitting around the fireplace in a state of great suffering; Padre Pio spent the night in prayer, securing their release.
Other saints are said to have had similar experiences, including St. Odilo, the eleventh-century abbot who began the practice of offering Mass for all the souls in Purgatory on what is now known as All Souls Day, the day after the feast of All Saints.
Our prayers for those who suffer there can be spiritually valuable to them. Because the saints believed in both sin and redemption, mercy and justice, they also acknowledged the existence of Purgatory and did everything possible to relieve those undergoing purification there. As the saints were far more conversant with the ways of Divine Providence than any of us could honestly claim to be, we would do very well to follow their example.

For Further Reflection

“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.” — Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1030
“It cannot be doubted that the prayers of the Church, the Holy Sacrifice, and alms distributed for the departed relieve those holy souls and move God to treat them with more clemency than their sins deserve. It is the universal practice of the Church, a practice that she observes as having received it from her forefathers — that is to say, the holy Apostles.” — St. Augustine
“Many [Doctors of the Church] affirm with great probability that we should believe that God reveals our prayer to those holy souls so that they may pray for us. The souls in Purgatory, being beloved of God and confirmed in grace, have absolutely no obstacle to prevent their praying for us. If we desire the help of their prayers, it is only fair that we should remember to help them with our prayers and good works.”— St. Alphonsus Liguori

Something You Might Try

·Reflect on this passage from the writings of St. Francis de Sales: “To assist the souls in Purgatory is to perform the most excellent of the works of mercy, or rather it is to practice in a most sublime manner all the works of mercy together: it is to visit the sick; it is to give drink to those who thirst for the vision of God; it is to feed the hungry, to ransom prisoners, to clothe the naked, to procure for poor exiles the hospitality of the heavenly Jerusalem; it is to comfort the afflicted, to instruct the ignorant — in fine, to practice all the works of mercy in one.” Consider what you might do for those who’ve died: offer your sacrifices for the souls in Purgatory, have Masses offered for them, pray for your deceased loved ones, etc.
·In addition to praying for those now in Purgatory, think about how to avoid this experience yourself. After all, it may be presumptuous — or at least unduly optimistic — to assume you’ll automatically enter Heaven as soon as you die. In his 1936 booklet How to Avoid Purgatory, Fr. Paul O’Sullivan offers the following suggestions:
·Give up your sins as much as possible.
·Do penance for the sins you’ve committed.
·Offer up your sufferings as a sacrifice.
·Regularly attend Mass and receive the sacraments.
·Ask God for the grace to avoid Purgatory.
·Practice holy resignation (that is, trustingly accept God’s will in all things, especially in regard to the time and circumstances of your death).
·If and when appropriate, receive the Last Rites of the Church.
·Your own love for the souls in Purgatory — expressed by your prayers and sacrifices on their behalf — is received very favorably by God. If you find yourself in Purgatory after death, those whom you’ve previously helped release from there will not cease praying on your behalf until you join them in the kingdom of God. As St. John Vianney stated, “We must pray for them that they may pray for us.”

Further Reading

Matthew 18:34; Luke 12:58-59; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15.

O Eternal Father,I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus,in union with all the Masses said throughout the world today,for all the holy souls in Purgatory and for sinners everywhere —for sinners in the universal Church, for those in my own home,and for those within my family. Amen.
Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Fr. Esper’s Saintly Solutions to Life’s Common Problems, which is available from Sophia Institute Press. 


Fr. Joseph Esper studied at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit and at St. John’s Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit in 1982. He has lectured at Marian conferences, spoken on Catholic radio, and written more than a dozen articles for This Rock, The Priest, Homiletic, Pastoral Review, and other publications. From his experience as a parish priest, Fr. Esper offers today’s readers practical, encouraging, and inspiring wisdom.