Fr Z on Attachment to Sin, Indulgences and You

In the unlikely event that you haven’t yet discovered Fr Z’s blog, it’s high time to check it out. Meanwhile here’s an example of the sound and helpful teaching you can find on WDTPRS:

As I write it is All Hallows Eve, the Vigil of the Feast of All Saints.  As November begins will are called upon by Holy Church to pray in a special way all month long for the Poor Souls, whom we may help by obtaining indulgences.

I have written elsewhere about some of the indulgences, plenary and partial, we can obtain.

A reminder in brief: An indulgence is the remission of some or all of the temporal punishment due, in God’s justice, to sin that has been forgiven.  The remission is granted by the Church, through her use of “the power of the keys” given by Christ to bind and to loose, through the application of the super-abundant merits of Christ and of the saints. Indulgences are not pardons for sins, past or future.  It is no sort of “grant of immunity”, as it were, which is so stupid a notion as to be dismissed out of hand as beneath our consideration. Indulgences concern the penance we owe in justice for sins which have been forgiven. Indulgences are applied to the poor souls who are, in justice, being purified in purgatory and in that state dealing with the penance due for the forgiven sins they committed in life. We can help them in their time of penance and purification by performing works which the Church has prescribed.  Indulgences are full (plenary) remission of all temporal punishment or partial.

Several people have written with a measure of dismay to ask how it is possible for us to obtain plenary indulgences.  They assert that it is pretty much impossible because one of the conditions is that we must have no attachment to any sin, even venial sins.  How, they wonder, can be be without any attachment to sins?

First, consider that Holy Church, in laying down this condition, nevertheless believes that you can, in fact, gain the indulgences!  Holy Church, the greatest expert on humanity there has ever been, is confident that you can perform these works and also make an act of will against all sins, even venial sins.  Holy Church would not offer something that it impossible to obtain.

We are members of a fallen race, susceptible to the problems that arise from the world, the flesh and the devil.  We are always in a state of striving while in this world.  We often fail, but we must always keep striving.

We can, in fact, habituate ourselves to making an act of will against all sins.  We can do this!

Just as you habituate yourself to be grateful to God for all His gifts by praying before meals and after, just we we habituate ourselves with acts of the will to love God above all creaturely things by making acts of faith, hope and love during the day, just as we habituate ourselves to check our actions and words carefully by making a daily examination of conscience, we can also habituate ourselves truly to hate sins and desire not to commit them.  We can have the intention, the desire, not to sin even when realistically we know that we are still poor sinners in need of graces and mercy.

Before performing an indulgenced work make an act of will against all sins and ask God to take away all attachment for any sins you might habitually or even infrequently commit, moral or venial.

People habituate themselves and organize their time around all sorts of worldly pursuits. They will move heaven and earth to be able to park themselves in front of a television for a sports event on a certain date.  They will make plans to go to the opening of a new movie.  If we do these things, which are passing and ephemeral, can we not be even more dedicated to watching for opportunities for gaining indulgences?  Think of the benefit. We have pleasure from watching a ballgame and we prepare around the event.  But by plenary and partial indulgences we help souls in purgatory who, in turn, will be grateful for our help and will pray for us before God’s throne when they enter into the happiness of heaven, perhaps in part because of YOUR prayer!

As Catholics, it should be part of our identity and regular practice to avail ourselves of the great treasure Holy Church offers from the merits of the Sacrfice of the Lord and of the saints.  We should, as a normal part of our lives, develop the habit of seeking indulgences.  Therefore, we should keep close track of the liturgical calendar.  Priests should announce opportunities for indulgences during announcements at Mass and in the bulletin.  We should help each other gain them, for example by going together with people to a church on its patronal feast or to a cemetery during November, etc.

This is what Catholics do.

It is all about developing habits.  This can take some time, but the rewards are far more than the effort we spend on them.

You can indeed make an act of will to detest sins and desire not to commit them.  You can do this.  It takes some practice, so that it becomes easier, but … you should be doing that anyway, indulgences in view or not.

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8 Responses to Fr Z on Attachment to Sin, Indulgences and You

  1. kathleen says:

    A great article!

    “We can, in fact, habituate ourselves to making an act of will against all sins. We can do this!”

    Thank you Fr. Z for these encouraging words, and I shall put this into practice straight away…… Yet somehow, with my impetuous nature, I have a little niggling feeling (ahem) it won’t be easy ;-). (Especially not if Mr. Whippy starts ‘tickling’ me again soon.)

    Fr. Z is quite right though, it’s all about developing good habits and making good use of all the sacraments and benefits Holy Mother Church offers us.


  2. toadspittle says:

    Toad thinks it’s a sin to use the word, ‘habituate.’

    Make an act of will, Father Z!


  3. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    “It is all about developing habits”.

    Some are encouraged by this, but I’d say that habits are unthinking, reactive, conditioned reflexes which are doomed to become the fossilised remains of a bygone era; Pavlov gave us a hint. Your knee has the habit of reacting to the tap of the doctor’s hammer, and your knee doesn’t even have the IQ of room temperature. Talking of temperature, a thermostat reacts in the same way. Disastrous comment then, Father Z, whose name is spookily reminiscent of the mysterious Zorro.

    Could it be that Fr. Z has ‘summited’ the heights of his habituation? Could we be reading the sorry results of his wish to ‘habituate’ thinking? I only muse here, and await the thunder of the heavy intellectual howitzers. Whoa! K, I don’t mean you!

    Surely we want to avoid sin by an understanding of the sin and our part in it, rather that use an unthinking reflex? Surely contemplation of our acts is much more solid than a simple knee jerk reaction, and which will bear better results than blindly dodging that sin again? I believe that in the Middle Ages such a reflex was normal, as is Islamic thinking today -in other words, do the superficially ‘right thing’ and all is OK . I don’t feel encouraged by the promotion of such antique ideas. I find them dishonest.

    I would suggest that far from being encouraged by those who ‘habituate’ behaviour, understanding our sins is much more productive than Fr Zorro’s annihalation of thought and grammar.

    But what


  4. kathleen says:

    Mr. Whippy, I think you’ve got the wrong idea about what Fr. Z is saying here. Acquiring good habits, or making a conscious decision to try to avoid sin, being grateful to God for all His many blessings to us, and carrying our own crosses behind Our Blessed Lord etc….. is definitely not acting in the zombi like way you describe. Sin is what enslaves the person, not striving to lead a virtuous life.
    When Our Lord says many times to His disciples: “Peace be with you”, after His Resurrection, I believe that peace here can mean happiness i.e. peace of heart. There is no joy for the wicked.

    (See, I managed to say all that without ‘provoking’ you ;-).)


  5. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Thank you K, though with respect I think you’ve moved very far from the main points of Fr Z and your own previous comments. Habits are bad things, as I describe, except when they are worn by nuns.

    I can’t do smileys or you’d get loads!

    As always, I am relaxed that habitually you don’t agree!

    XXXXX in place of smileys.


  6. JabbaPapa says:

    There are, naturally, various divergent opinions on this matter.

    The notion that there are virtuous habits and sinful ones is mostly a feature of I’d guess 17th to 18th century Catholicism ; as is the notion of the “liturgical cycle”.

    Some clergy and theologians view both of these notions with some suspicion, because even though sinful habits should certainly be struggled against, it is doubtful that their replacement with some other habits is necessarily virtuous ; and the “liturgical cycle” presents an understanding of Time that is at least partially incompatible with the Catholic teachings about Time itself.

    These notions as presented by Father Z are not actually condemned though, and it is known that these ideas have been positively helpful to many people.

    I think this is one of those areas that some Catholics will find value in ; whereas others will not… 🙂


  7. kathleen says:

    Mr Whippy, I can’t really see any inconsistencies in my two above posts, but never mind, I’ll give it one more go :-).

    Sin (venial sin that is) is easy to fall into if we are not alert. Our fallen nature, due to Original Sin, makes falling into bad habits, and choosing not to keep away from occasions of sin, all too easy. Trying to put God first in our life by the many ways the Catholic Church teaches will help us avoid temptation and grow closer to Him. By making a conscience decision to avoid sin we can learn some good habits (or if you don’t like that word, how about customs, practices, routine, patterns, norms etc.) that will help us in this endeavor. (Btw, my dictionary gives as many as four different meanings for the word ‘habit’.)
    We shall never obtain sinlessness this side of the grave – and sometimes our ‘two steps forwards and one step back’ will get reversed :-(, but this too can be a good lesson in humility. Just to pick up the pieces and keep trying, that’s what counts.

    And, as a little peace-pipe offering, try this for the smilies 🙂


  8. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Thanks K for a thoughtful reply, though I still feel that any habit, ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is not wanted, because it is an unthinking reflex. I have such habits I should say, though I wish I didn’t. A mob has such habits, and I find the actions of a mob terrifying, from skinheads on the street to MPs in Parliament. We have heard them baying like beasts for war, have we not?

    To avoid sin without consideration or reflection on why we did it, reduces us to mere machines and it is futile. I would say it is an insult to God, not to use the abilities given to us. We must understand why we sin, for therein lies the right way to stop that sinning. Or we become like those sorry pigeons in behavioural laboratories pecking at a trigger to release some food, or Pavlov’s sad dogs salivating at the sound of a bell. These are learned habits, and I don’t want that. You and I are better than that. Some habits are very subtle and take a bit of detecting. I see some/much of that in myself.

    I used to have the habit of going to confession – no longer. I will go when I am unable to find out why I did this or that, when I have run out of road. Not before, and never out of habit. And I don’t expect to get the right answers; that depends. However, a long time go I had the briefest of chats with the Dominican the late Fr. Herbert McCabe who I believe confirmed what I’ve suggested.

    Thanks for the smiley stuff, I’ll check that out. Don’t ever worry about peacepipes; it’s never as serious as that!! Do say what you wish to- it’s all part of what’s what. If we all agreed, we’d never post.



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