33rd Sunday Ordinary Time
A Homily - C Cycle - 2003-2004

First Reading - Malachi 3:19-20a
Psalm - Psalm 98:5-6, 7-8, 9
Second Reading - 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12
Gospel - Luke 21:5-19


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Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.

While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus said, "All that you see here - the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down."

Then they asked him, "Teacher, when will this happen?  And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen"?  He answered, "See that you not be deceived, for many will come in may name, saying, "I am he,' and 'The time has come.'  Do not follow them!  When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified, for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end."  Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.

"Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name.  It will lead to your giving testimony.  Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.  You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death.  You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.  By your perseverance you will secure your lives."

As we near the end of the liturgical year, the readings of the Mass take on a decidedly apocalyptic tone.  Time and time again, we hear about the end times and the four last things - death, judgment, heaven and hell.  In this month of November, dedicated to the memory of all the souls of the faithful departed, we take time to pray especially for the souls in purgatory.  We also take time to take advantage of the spiritual treasury that the Church offers, especially the custom of gaining indulgences for the souls in purgatory.  By way of this homily, I would like to explain what we believe purgatory is, why it exists and why people go there.  then, I will explain what indulgences are and how they can assist the dead and each of us. 

Purgatory

According to the Catechism, purgatory is "a state of final purification after death and before entrance into heaven for those who died in God's friendship, but were only imperfectly purified. . ."  It is, "a final cleansing of human imperfection before one is able to enter the joy of heaven."  Part of where we derive this teaching is from the Book of Maccabees, in the Old Testament.  After a battle, Judas Maccabeus, one of the greatest war heroes of the Jewish people, "sent twelve thousand drachmas of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the Resurrection. . . It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead."  We find this in
2 Macc 12:43-46.  One might ask,  "If the dead are in heaven, then why pray for them?  They should pray for us.  And if the dead are in hell, then our prayers do them no good."  So, it stands to reason that there must be a third place where people who die may go that is neither heaven or hell.  We call that place purgatory.

A further examination of purgatory reveals that its existence is another vestige of God's mercy.  In a system of strict justice, only heaven and hell would exist.  Only the perfect would enter heaven; the rest would be condemned to hell.  Purgatory means that God still gives us time after death to be purified of our sins, to make atonement for what we have done and to detach from the sins we have committed.

Perhaps an analogy would elucidate this further.  Let us say that I am sitting on my couch in the living room on a Sunday afternoon after a long morning of offering Masses and teaching religious education.  Meanwhile, one of the neighborhood kids, who happens to be an altar boy here, decides on a dare, to try to see if he can throw a baseball far enough so as to break my living room window.  In a moment of weakness, he makes a premeditated throw and successfully breaks my window, causing all kinds of undue stress to me, innocently sitting on my couch watching a football game.  The young man comes to my door and claims responsibility for his act.  I forgive him.  However, merely forgiving him is not enough.  He owes me, doesn't he?  It's only fair.  Due to the fact that he can't pay for the window, he makes restitution by mowing my lawn, washing my car, trimming my bushes, etc.  THAT'S PURGATORY.  Sinners are forgiven in Confession, but they still owe for their sins.  Confession is mercy; purgatory is justice.  In God, mercy and justice are held in perfect unity.  That is why someone who has just to Confession my mistakenly think that if they died right after the Confession, they go straight to heaven.  Not necessarily.  God does not forget.  He does forgive, but he doesn't forget.  It's only fair that we owe.  We can repay God in this life by suffering all kinds of illness or difficult situations and offering these up for the remission of our sins.  We can pray in reparation for our sins or we can perform acts of mortification such as fasting and almsgiving in order to make reparation for our sins.  One of the more unique ways of making reparation is by gaining indulgences.

Indulgences

Unfortunately, indulgences get bad press.  That's an unfortunate reality because it need not be the case.  Indulgences get bad press because once upon a time, individual priests decided to sell indulgences.  Indulgences by themselves are quite good; the abuse of indulgences is not.  So, what is an indulgence?

By definition, an indulgence is a partial or full remission for temporal punishment (purgatory) due for sins already forgiven (in Confession).  Indulgences are either partial indulgences or plenary (full) indulgences.  They are released by the Church through the ministry of the Pope, who, takes this authority from St. Peter who was given the power to bind and loose sins on earth, thus making them bound or loosed in heaven.  We call this the power of the keys.

Each of us here can gain partial or full indulgences for ourselves or for the dead.  An indulgence can get you out of "doing time" in purgatory.  In order to gain a plenary indulgence, one must perform a prescribed act such as visiting a cemetery and praying for the dead between November 2 and 8 or making a pilgrimage to a holy site or attending Mass or visiting a parish church on the day of its patronal feastday or receiving the Last Rites from a priest who reads the Apostolic Pardon granted by the Pope himself for the dying.  In addition, one must:

1. Pray for the Holy Father
2. Celebrate the Sacrament of Penance within a week
3. Receive Holy Communion within a week
4. Not have an attachment to sin and a deep desire not to want to sin again

In the 16th century, certain priests started guaranteeing parishioners that if they gave a certain amount of money to the Church, they could practically purchase heaven for them.  This is called simony and it was never formally condoned by the Church as an official practice, even though individual priests took matters into their own hands.

So, as this month of November rolls along, don't forget to pray for your dead.  By your prayers and mortifications, you're the only people who can help them.  We do a great disservice to our dead when we forget to pray for them because we assume that they are in heaven.  Remember, such judgment is for God alone.  We should never presume that our beloved dead family member or friend is in heaven.  All too often do we see funerals turn into canonizations.  Out of a false sense of security and compassion, people are led to believe that their dead loved one is already in heaven, when in fact they could very well be in purgatory.  So, if they need our prayers, they benefit from them.  If they are already saints, then God appropriates that grace of prayer to someone else.  In other words, prayers are never wasted in God's mind.

Let us pray for the dead: Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.  And let perpetual light shine on them.  And may all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Praised be Jesus Christ.  Now and forever!

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