Mr. Scratch: A soul? A soul is nothing. Can you see it, smell it, touch it?
The Devil and Daniel Webster 1941
Yesterday at the end of Mass our Pastor informed us of a special local event for the year of mercy. There will be a 24 day of prayer and mercy taking place at St. Joseph’s Church in Fitchburg stating at 3 PM EST including confessions being heard round the clock.
What jumped out at me about the announcement was the designation of St. Joseph’s as a place of pilgrimage for the holy year. This means that if a person meets the usual conditions (1. receiving holy communion, 2. Praying for the Pope’s intentions, 3. Confession either within seven days before or after ) they can receive an indulgence which can be applied to themselves or someone who has died , by simply entering the church any time during the Holy Year. (A Full Plenary indulgence if you have no attachment to sin, a partial if you do)
It is quite possible or even probable that your local bishop has designated a place of pilgrimage in your area. If he has then you will also have this opportunity to earn this indulgence regularly.
This should be cause for excitement & joy for faithful Catholics. If it’s not then today’s first reading from morning’s mass about Naaman the Syrian is made for you:
Naaman, the army commander of the king of Aram, was highly esteemed and respected by his master, for through him the LORD had brought victory to Aram. But valiant as he was, the man was a leper.
Now the Arameans had captured from the land of Israel in a raid a little girl, who became the servant of Naaman’s wife. “If only my master would present himself to the prophet in Samaria,” she said to her mistress, “he would cure him of his leprosy.” Naaman went and told his lord just what the slave girl from the land of Israel had said. “Go,” said the king of Aram. “I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman set out, taking along ten silver talents, six thousand gold pieces, and ten festal garments. To the king of Israel he brought the letter, which read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you, that you may cure him of his leprosy.”
When he read the letter, the king of Israel tore his garments and exclaimed: “Am I a god with power over life and death, that this man should send someone to me to be cured of leprosy? Take note! You can see he is only looking for a quarrel with me!”
When Elisha, the man of God, heard that the king of Israel had torn his garments, he sent word to the king: “Why have you torn your garments? Let him come to me and find out that there is a prophet in Israel.” Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. The prophet sent him the message: “Go and wash seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will heal, and you will be clean.”
But Naaman went away angry, saying, “I thought that he would surely come out and stand there to invoke the LORD his God, and would move his hand over the spot, and thus cure the leprosy. Are not the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be cleansed?” With this, he turned about in anger and left.
But his servants came up and reasoned with him. “My father,” they said, “if the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it? All the more now, since he said to you, ‘Wash and be clean,’ should you do as he said.”
So Naaman went down and plunged into the Jordan seven times at the word of the man of God. His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. He returned with his whole retinue to the man of God. On his arrival he stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.
2 Kings 1-15AB
There are few things that better illustrate that most deadly sin of pride than this reading.
Consider Naaman. Here is a guy who has come to Israel because he’s been told in such a way that he believes it, that he can be cured of his leprosy by this trip. This is not an easy trip. He is traveling by caravan from Damascus to the king of Israel with his servants and a bunch of valuable goods in an age when the fastest mode of land conveyance is a horse or camel, and he’s doing it at a time when even Roman roads are far in the future.
His party has to stop to eat, to water and rest their beasts of burden. The closest thing they have to headlights are torches fueled by oil so they are likely only traveling by day. Since they’re carrying valuables they have to post guards at night and depending on how many are in the caravan might even be securing their camp with stockade.
Maybe, if they’re very lucky, he’s averaging making 3-5 MPH during the travel time from Damascus to the Capital of Israel where he delivers his letter. That’s 135 miles as the crow flies but God knows how many miles via the trails available at the time, 150 miles? 200 perhaps?
Given all that let’s say he and his people traveling 10 hours a day make the trip in 5 days to a week if nothing goes wrong.
After all that time, all that trouble to get down there in the hopes of being cured of this horrible disease, what does the prophet do? He tells him: Go wash in the local river and you’ll be fine.
And that’s when Naaman gets pissed off!
How DARE he not have me go on a heroic quest. How is it possible that I don’t have to slay a dragon, climb the highest mountain, storm a heavily maned fortification through a rain of arrows or recover the lost Ark of the Covenant (rumor has it that’s it’s in a pit somewhere in Egypt) Naaman the warrior is thinking: Cripes If all it took is a bath I could have taken one back home and saved the trip.
Some thing never change.
Fast forward to today. Think of the sacrament of confession. All you have to do is show up, wait your turn (and it’s not a long wait these days) confess your sins, be sorry, do your penance, usually just a few prayers and BOOM! You’re forgiven!
You don’t even have to go to your own church if you’re embarrassed to do so, and in my experience most priests will consent to hear your confession outside the normal hours if you just ask. How hard is that? It’s a piece of cake!
So why don’t Catholics go? The church and Christ offers them the gift of a clean soul practically any time a person wants it and most people don’t bother. Yet if those same people were given a card unlimited washes at any car wash of their choice they’d be driving through once a day and twice on Sundays.
That’s what confession is, an unlimited car wash coupon for your soul people don’t use it, why? Usually Pride, I don’t do anything that wrong, and anyways God will forgive me. Why should I bother confessing to a priest?
Even though Christ tells his disciples directly in the Gospel of John :
“Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
It’s the same with the Holy Doors and the indulgence. Even if you’re a person who only goes to Church on Sundays it means that once a week you can earn an indulgence to shorten or eliminate your time in purgatory either for yourself or a loved one , a parent, a friend, a spouse a child simply by taking the extra time to drive to a particular church and walk in? Here is a chance to completely or partially remove the temporal punishment for forgiven sins and yet how many people are doing it? I mean if a policeman said, all you have to do is walk though a door and you’d be excused of a Traffic ticket or fine you’d do it in a second.
We look at the story of Naaman and laugh at the idea that he is so offended by the simple task that Elisha give him to be cured. Yet all over America Catholics are doing the same thing turning down the forgiveness of Christ out of pride. And remember, if Naaman’s had refused Elisha generous offer the consequences for Naaman’s would have lasted a lifetime. When you refuse Christ’s generous offer of forgiveness, the consequences.
Naaman was lucky he had servants with a lot of guts willing to challenge his pride saying to him in effect: Cripes why are you upset that he’s making it easy for you? Just do it! Thanks to them he finally consents to bathing in the Jordan and washed clean of his illness.
When pride keeps us from accepting the mercy that Christ & his Holy Catholic Church offer, will we have the wisdom to hear the voice of those telling us, Just do it and have our souls washed clean of our sins?
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