A Test of Wills, by Charles Todd

In 1918, the combat-related illness known today as post-traumatic stress disorder was called “shell shock.” Its sufferers were more likely to be stigmatized than treated with compassion. In Charles Todd’s literary novel, A Test of Wills, Inspector Ian Rutledge, after four years of trench warfare in France and several months in a sanitarium for the treatment of shell shock, returns to Scotland Yard. Among his symptoms, he’s haunted by an echo in his brain—the voice of Corporal Hamish MacLeod, a man who died in the trenches, along with part of Rutledge’s soul. Hamish sometimes acts as a conscience or consultant, but he’s often a torturer who attacks Rutledge when he wearies.

When the Warwickshire constabulary requests the assistance of the Metropolitan Police in the case of a politically sensitive murder investigation, the ambitious but paranoid Scotland Yard Superintendent Bowles, aware of Rutledge’s delicate condition, dispatches Rutledge with the hope that the case will end his career.

The Warwickshire constabulary suspects that Captain Mark Wilton, ace fighter pilot, winner of the Victoria Cross, and a personal friend of both the King and the Prince of Wales, may have murdered a member of the local gentry. Should Wilton come to trial, he would embarrass the Crown. Should he walk free, the gossips would suspect a cover-up. To avoid negative publicity, the local police pass responsibility to Scotland Yard. Only an expert and experienced investigator, at the top of his game, can solve this riddle and dodge career-ending repercussions.

Barely able to function, Rutledge seemingly rides to his professional death. He’s lost faith in everything, including his intuition. His only possible escapes from Hamish are sleep and death.

“Shell shock” in its many forms meets Rutledge in Warwickshire—an alcoholic veteran whose mind remains on the battlefield, a war widow numbed by the burden of loneliness, a post-traumatic mute child witness to a bloody murder, all share shades of PTSD symptoms. Rejected by the community, they hold the key to the murderer’s identity, but no one believes them.

The Orlando Sentinel says of A Test of Wills, “A first novel that speaks out, urgently and compassionately, for a long-dead generation…A Test of Wills is both a meticulously wrought puzzle and a harrowing psychological drama about a man’s struggle to raise himself from the dead.”

Charles Todd, through his protagonist, explores the depth of every character to the point that the reader walks in their skin, weighs their hearts, and judges their guilt or innocence. Readers stalk the byways of this quaint rural community, visit the church, the inn and the house of ill-repute. They meet Dr. Warren, the ideal family physician who never rests as he ministers to his community. In contrast, Mavers, who disturbs the peace with his political rants and freely insults prominent town’s people, stands as the most likely “scapegoat” to hang for the murder, but for a seemingly iron-clad alibi. C. Tarrant, an extraordinarily popular artist in London, lives quietly in the countryside, allowing metropolitan art critics to believe she’s a man. She conceals other secrets, as well.

The author not only rewards his readers with an intensely compelling story, but pleases with his lyricism: “Rutledge had just returned to the Yard after covering himself with mud and glory in the trenches of France…” and “Rutledge looked into the eyes like black plums in a pudding, and flinched at what he read there, a torment much like his own…” and “…he’d discovered in the trenches of France that hell itself was not so frightening as the darkest corners of the human mind…”

Ian Rutledge reminds the reader of the profound spiritual and emotional damage of war that endures long after the  battered landscape heals. He alerts us to the presence of souls about us, trauma victims who nurse deep scars inflicted by second and third hand shrapnel. And yet, “the War to End All Wars” is just the beginning.

A Test of Wills, by Charles Todd is the first volume of the Ian Rutledge Mystery Series.


Posted in Book Review, History, Near-Death Experience, Novel, Reviews, suspense, The Mystery of Suffering | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Writers: Journal your Faith Story, Part 1

Writing-journaling by Dustin Lee (Unsplash)

Writing-journaling by Dustin Lee (Unsplash)

Part 1 – Always be ready to evangelize

As a sidebar to my presentation of “Sharing Your Faith Story as a Writer” for the March 4-6 Catholic Writers Conference Online, I stress the value of preparing to evangelize by maintaining a spiritual journal.

Writers keep a journal to capture inspirations, observations, story ideas, helpful quotes and random musings. These all relate to our writing vocation, which urges us to express ourselves in writing. Christians have a higher calling. We are anointed at Baptism to become evangelists. How fortunate are Catholic writers to have such a rich heritage of spiritual resources to inspire us. The majesty of the Magisterium, the sanctity of the sacraments and the companionship of the Counselor are ours.

If we are meant to be evangelists, how do we start? The most effective method of evangelization is our personal witness. Yes, that scary, vulnerable stepping out in faith to share what God has done in our lives.

We can wing it or we can be ready, as our first Pope encourages us in 1 Peter 3:15:

“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.”

The basics of keeping a journal

Keeping a spiritual journal is crucial in sharing your faith story effectively. A journal helps you

  • Know your story,
  • Organize it for optimum appeal.
  • Clarify it.
  • Keep focused on what God does in your life.
  • Stay out of the weeds of self-glorification.
  • Avoid rambling and losing your audience.

Journal time is not creative writing time, although it provides inspiration and ideas for blogs and stories and books galore!

Do you write Morning Pages — those three pages of longhand scribbled when first awakening that reflect your subconscious thoughts? Morning Pages can flow into your spiritual journal. Both modes of writing reflect what’s going on inside your mind and heart.

Scripture study is a good preparation. Daily Mass is the best. The Adoration Chapel is my favorite place to journal. I can write a conversational letter to the Lord without distractions and interruptions. There, safely in his presence, I can interact with God with prayers, pleadings, rantings and random songs of praise.

My least favorite place to journal is my computer. But if I have neglected my journal that day, whatever I’m writing sounds like my journal. My heart needs to express what God is doing.

Feedback from a familiar voice

Sometimes I get feedback. I began writing words I sense coming from that inner voice I have learned to recognize as the Holy Spirit. I trust and accept what he says, even though I don’t always act on it enthusiastically. I know he is there by the nudges I get when I have an opportunity to evangelize with my witness. The words flow naturally.

Our spiritual journal is the place to lament about our sins and hurts and let God take those burdens from us. Hurts are as essential to our faith story as blessings. Joy comes in proclaiming his healing. Recording our hurts and healings, sins and forgiveness, fears and comforts reveal how we experience God’s mercy.

The moment may come when someone with a similar hurt needs the encouragement that comes when we share our story. When we are faithful in keeping a spiritual journal, we are always ready for any opportunity to share our faith story.

A brief telling of your conversion, adult commitment, return to the Church, healing or answered prayer gets people interested faster than a long epistle. But choose one of these—not all of them at once!

You can write a summary of your story and put it aside. Hone it later from a collection of your faith experiences that display the pattern of God’s work in your life. Episodes from your collection of faith experiences, written succinctly, will find their place in blogs, speeches and conversations.

Will you wing it or be ready?

(Next month: Part 2: The long and the short of it)

© 2016 Nancy HC Ward, creator of Sharing Your Faith Story, a three-part seminar for evangelization 

Posted in Catholic Writers Conference Online, Encouragement for Writers, Inspirational, Prayer, Spiritual Life | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

The Twelve Steps of being a Spiritual Writer


Step Two – “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore our writing to sanity”

Now that we have taken a good look at giving our writing to God, let’s take a good look at ourselves. Can we turn our writing over to God without turning ourselves over? Can we separate our professional life from our home life? Is it possible to have an independent emotional life and a spiritual life that is surrendered to God? This seems to be the struggle that all people, but especially artists, face. Do we think we can be like Superman, hiding ourselves as a mild mannered reporter and only putting on the cape when we are writing? Or perhaps we see ourselves as Batman, hiding as a well-to-do playboy until we run with Robin to the Bat Cave and rush to capture the Joker.

These are extreme examples but writers, authors and Christians living in the secular world tend to separate the different parts of ourselves. We compartmentalize the different aspects of our personality, character and image. In our home we tend to be relaxed and be who we truly are. I once heard it said that if you want to know the truth about a person ask their spouse. What would your spouse say about you? Do you present yourself as a gentle professional while you nag your husband each day? Do you give generously to other writers, supporting them with charitable book reviews, but hold tightly to your purse when the basket is passed in church? Do you always take the time to give your publisher whatever they ask for, while ignoring the needs of your family?

You can’t give God your writing without giving Him all of yourself. You may think that you have. You may be sure that you have turned over every part of yourself to Him. If you think this we should all follow you to Rome for your canonization or perhaps you should go into prayer and ask Him what part of life you have not given freely to Him. This is something that requires deep meditation and prayer. It is a day by day thing for me as I tend to play a tug of war game with God. I’ll give him my writing, but leave my political views alone, thank you! I’ll give up something for Lent but it won’t be trying to control my children. My point is that it is impossible to give God just your writing. We want to do His Will, follow His Lead and surrender ourselves completely, but as flawed humans we rarely do. As artists we do not have the luxury that others do. We cannot hope to bring others to Jesus with our work when we cheat on our taxes or spend the day telling ‘white’ lies. To coordinate all the different aspects of our life requires insight from the Holy Spirit, continuous spiritual guidance and humility.

Today, I will tackle just a simple (or is it simple?) aspect of being a writer. How do you dress? I can start writing in the morning in my pajamas and startle in the afternoon when the doorbell rings and I am still in slippers and robe. I can look up from my laptop which I opened at 6 a.m. and realize it is noon and I have missed Mass. My husband can come in for dinner and find me without a trace of make-up, and sporting uncombed hair above the coffee stains on my tee shirt. I can become so embroiled in my alternate reality that his dinner can still be in the freezer and my hand on a takeout menu from the local pizza parlor. After all, I think, I am too busy doing God’s Will to take the time to shower and dress. Isn’t it a bit vain to worry about your appearance when your work awaits? It is when I start to ignore my appearance that I remember what I read somewhere – “Just for today, I will look as good as I can, dress becomingly…just for today!”

Does that seem silly and unimportant? Well, it is not. I find that when I take the time to dress appropriately, do my hair and put on make-up, I feel better, more professional, and take my work more seriously. When I dress as if I am going to an office, I give respect and validation to my work. More importantly I have turned my appearance over to God along with my writing.

When I am home, that may just be jeans with spotlessly clean sneakers and a pressed tee shirt. When I am meeting with an editor or publisher it means a crisp pants suit or pressed dress. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen writers go in to pitch to an editor in sloppy clothes and with unkempt hair. I think they imagine that they look the part of a bohemian artist. Instead, they appear as if they don’t respect the person they are meeting. It also looks as if they don’t respect themselves or their position. Turn just this little aspect of your life over to God. Give him your appearance. You represent Him in the way you present yourself to the world. And a strange thing happens when you take the time to dress professionally. You will start to feel professional and your writing will reflect that. You meet your deadlines and edit your work better because you feel more qualified. Your work takes on more authority because you appear qualified. Take this little part of your life and turn it over to God. Be who you are, and don’t segregate yourself into different compartments. If you are a professional writer, dress like one. It is all about attitude and knowing who you are in Christ. Dress as if you are going to work and you will be surprised by how much more your work flows. Dress with respect for others and you will garner respect for yourself. It may be just image but it is your image. And after all aren’t you trying to lead others to the Image of Christ?

Take a chance and try it. Turn your image over to Him and let Him restore your image to sanity. The results may just surprise you.

Karen Kelly Boyce is a mother of two and grandmother of two who lives on a farm in N.J. with her retired husband. She and her husband love to camp and take ‘road trips’ around the country. She has published four novels and three children’s books. Her website is www.karenkellyboyce.com





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CWG Prayer Chain Post: February 7, 2016

The CWG Prayer Chain Post is a weekly post for members to include their special intentions by adding a comment.

Luke 5:1-11

Now it happened that he was standing one day by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the crowd pressing round him listening to the word of God, when he caught sight of two boats at the water’s edge. The fishermen had got out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats — it was Simon’s — and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch.’ Simon replied, ‘Master, we worked hard all night long and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will pay out the nets.’ And when they had done this they netted such a huge number of fish that their nets began to tear, so they signaled to their companions in the other boat to come and help them; when these came, they filled both boats to sinking point. When Simon Peter saw this he fell at the knees of Jesus saying, ‘Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man.’ For he and all his companions were completely awestruck at the catch they had made; so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were Simon’s partners. But Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on it is people you will be catching.’ Then, bringing their boats back to land they left everything and followed him.

The power of prayer and the power of people praying.



God, my Father, may I love You in all things, and above all things. May I reach the joy which You have prepared for me in Heaven. Nothing is good that is against Your Will, and all that is good comes from Your Hand. Place in my heart a desire to please You, and fill my mind with thoughts of Your Love, so that I may grow in Your Wisdom and enjoy Your Peace.

Please leave a comment with your intention. If you have problems adding an intention, email it to Mike Hays at coachhays(at)gmail(dot)com and I will add it.  God bless.

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The Catholic Writers Conference Online is Coming Soon

CWCOiconIt’s almost here! CWCO – the biennial online conference for writers – is set for March 4-6. 2016.  This faith-focused authors conference offers presentations covering all aspects of writing from finding your calling as a writer to publishing and marketing your books.  There will also be online pitch sessions with noted Catholic publishers and secular publishers.

Attendees must register by Feb 27 at on the CWCO website or this direct link. However, if we get 200 attendees, we will close registration early. Don’t delay!

This year, the conference will be held using webinar software, making the experience more personal and immediate.

“We’ve had people asking for webinar formats in the past, but this is the first year we felt comfortable with the technology and the ability of our attendees to stream live presentations,” said organizer Karina Fabian. Fabian said the workshops offer terrific opportunities to ask in-depth questions and get feedback from knowledgeable instructors.

This year’s sessions include an emphasis on the faith aspects of writing no matter what the genre. Speakers like Gary Zimak, author of Faith, Hope and Clarity; Joe Wetterling, President of the Catholic Writer’s Guild, horror author Jonathan Ryan and others will speak on writing as a calling, a literary revolution, and an evangelization. In addition, there are practical workshops including legal issues, techniques for characterization and plotting, how to journal, and time management.

Pitch sessions give authors with finished books a chance to personally interest a publisher.  Pitch sessions include well known Catholic publishers like Servant Books and Ligouri, smaller presses like Liberty Island and Dragon Moon Press, and ebook publishers like eTreasures. (Find the still-growing list here.)

“Every year, we hear back from an author who finished a book, started a project, or got a publishing contract thanks to the Catholic Writers’ Conference Online.  Plus people make contacts and good friends.  It’s a terrific opportunity, especially for those who can’t afford to attend a live conference,” Fabian said.

This year’s conference is $40; $25 for members of the Catholic Writers’ Guild. To register or for more information, go to http://www.catholicwritersconference.com.

Posted in Catholic Fiction, Catholic Theme, Catholic Writers Conference Online, Catholic Writing and Publishing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Americanah, by Chimamamda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah is a tale of two countries, Nigeria and the USA. The protagonist, Ifemelu invites the reader to sit with her at a braiding salon in Newark, New Jersey as she prepares to return to Nigeria after ten years in the USA. She chats candidly with the stylists and other customers—mostly Africans and West Indians. They poke fun at the American accent, argue that public education in Africa is better than in the USA, and bemoan the institution of racism.

At home, Ifemelu is an Igbo, a Nigerian, and an African. It’s only when she visits America that she becomes “Black.” Four hundred years of race-related baggage instantly burdens her. She reveals the subtle racial slights and prejudicial mindsets that she never experienced at home. They shape her interactions with whites and African-Americans. In the US, she could be herself only with a foreign student—national origins didn’t matter as long as they hail from somewhere else—Africa, Asia, Europe, or South America.

Ifemelu speaks her mind, earning rebukes and slaps. Her safest soapbox is her anonymous blog on “race, from the Non-American Black” point of view. As a homage to blogging, the novel appears as a series of blog posts. Between her opinion pieces and narrations, she reveals the secrets of her successful and eventually profitable blog.

With seemingly unconnected essays and short stories, the novel follows a loose plot line. Like a hidden electrical wire connecting a string of lights, the blog bulbs glow, but they derive their power from the story cord hiding in the background.

It’s a love story, but it is not necessarily a romance. Passion and tragedy abound. Denied an American visa, Obinze, Ifemelu’s college crush travels instead, to England where he ekes out an existence with the aid of a “rented identity.” He hopes that a sham marriage will allow him to stay. Meanwhile, Ifemelu’s partial scholarship barely covers her tuition. She desperately struggles to pay rent and feed herself in an America where she cannot legally earn money. Isolated and stressed, both Obinze and Ifemelu explore desperate alleyways to survival. Ifemelu’s shame and desolation lead to depression. The reader wonders if Obinze and Ifemelu have jaded too much to find happiness with each other.

The novel compares Nigeria and America, but focuses on Africa’s most populous and wealthy nation. Nigeria’s wealth, controlled by the few, temps the poor and middle class to cash in. Money becomes a religion to those who read books like Praying Your Way to Prosperity. Both the church-going and secular aspirants to wealth use flattery and other enticements to ingratiate themselves with the wealthy and powerful.

Americanah introduces Nigerians and American to each other as Nigeria’s star rises. Readers in both nations benefit from Adichie’s articulate if blunt description of how the values and mindsets in each country affect the understanding and appreciation required for fellowship and cooperation.


Posted in Adventure, Blogging, Book Review, Current events, Family Life, Novel, romance | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Unbloody Cross?

roosterThe most interesting thing I have to tell fellow writers this month is about being censored.

I bought a “self-publishing” contract with a reputable firm connected to a major Christian publisher. For help with margins and a cover design, the price was right. I excitedly hit “send” and waited for my volume of poetry to be available in print. Imagine my surprise when I was asked to make some revisions to reduce “violence and gore”!

The problem? Christ’s blood kept pouring, oozing, weeping, seeping and condescending through my poetry. The firm was unmoved by my pleas that, in truth, His Precious Blood is the very fountain of life, of anti-violence, of beauty. These images were connected to mother’s milk, waterfalls, abundant life and glorious freedom – how could they offend anyone? I realized I was dealing with people who were not likely interested in arguments from the realm of artistic truth, but when capital “T” Truth failed, I tried that next.

What about the need to tell the truth in art…the whole truth…the truth of blood and violence and evil and ugliness? God seems to have thought it important enough to fill His narrative of history with such realities. The Bible couldn’t have made it past their censor. This contrast between whitewash and the whiteness of garments washed in the blood of the Lamb, between propaganda and truth had to do with another of their quibbles. One of my characters in a poem – a plucky rooster, defending his territory – mentions “that damned dog,” but the d-word is out unless it is God actually damning someone to hell. (And ‘hell’ is only okay in that context, I suppose.)

I wondered how they expected non-Christians to believe we have a faith that can face reality, tell the truth, embrace actual people who speak with actual expletives, if we are this queasy about a rooster with an attitude. They remained unmoved and were not receptive to my suggestion that I cite passages from great Christian writers in my own defense. No replacement words were acceptable, so even if I tamed it to ‘=”drat,” “darn,” or “dang,” that poem was out. Perhaps if I hadn’t used an even worse profanity, we could have come to terms.

Alas, my use of the phrase “in gay abandon” was the third nail in my coffin. Nothing could convince them that this was not a reference to homosexuality, and they – non-literate types, or at least, non-poet types – actually suggested I replace the word “gay” with “wanton,” or “reckless.” I pointed out that the word “gay” has meanings that people of the Word should be fighting to recall, and that neither of their substitutes either scan, or mean the same thing as I meant by it. To me, the word adds, literally, “bright, cheerful color” to the “delighted, happy feelings” I meant to convey.

Well, now you know: your fellow Guild member is violent, gorey, and profane. Strangely, though, my poetry is also worshipful, prayerful, sacramental and sane. You can see it, if you want to double-check! For violence, see Love, With Blood. For my favorite fowl, see Rooster. For that abandon clothed in color, see Avian Medley.

Next stop: actual self-publishing, with whatever cover I can muster on my own.

Posted in Catholic Writing and Publishing, Defending the Faith, figures of speech, Poetry, Religious Liberty, Self-Publishing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Humility and Pope Francis

Image source: Cassie Pease Designs..

This is from the Gospel of Luke; Chapter 9: vs 46-50

An argument arose among the disciples about which of them was the greatest.

Jesus realized the intention of their hearts and took a child and placed it by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. 

For the one who who is least among all of you is the one who is greatest.”

This gospel reading is all about the greatest of all the ‘deadly’ sins, Pride. It is also about the greatest of all ‘heavenly’ virtues, Humility. This is a “clash of the titans” of evil vs Good. And Pope Francis, without trying and by just being who God made him to be, wears the mantle of humility without fanfare, showmanship, pretentiousness or anything that might be self-serving in any manner. Yes, he wears that mantle and it is fastened to his shoulders with the clasp of Love. In so doing he continually  shows  the whole world what it means to think of yourself the least among all others.  (Was that a Fiat Hatchback or a Ford Taurus?)

Jorge Mario Bergoglio never asked to be a bishop or a cardinal. He never “lobbied” for these positions or  sought them out in any way. He did not have “super-PACs” at his beck and call when the vacancy for Pope opened. He simply loved being a priest, working with the poor and homeless, and doing his best to follow God’s call so he would make his life pleasing to Him. Make no mistake, God called him to the papacy. The secular world may mock that concept, but that is why they do not understand. That is why they cannot experience the joy so many millions of faithful are experiencing with his papacy. If they could only swallow their damn pride a bit and open their hearts to some  humility, they may find the elusive peace that evades them.

Pope Francis is filled with the Holy Spirit. That Spirit leads him to stop his motorcade and wade into a crowd of children and hug them and kiss their foreheads. It compels him to embrace the crippled, the disfigured, the mentally challenged, the homeless as well as the “uppity-ups.” He has no qualms about walking into a prison and embracing hard-core murderers, rapists, thieves, and drug dealers. Pope Francis sees the Face of Christ in EVERYONE.

Last September, during his stop in Washington, D.C.,  he visited with President Obama and then offered Mass in the National Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. When he finished he made a point of going to the offices of the Little Sisters of the Poor. He had to send a message to the entire world about the solidarity that exists within the Church when it comes to respect for life, ALL life. That message required no words—just action. The Pope gave that message by meeting with the Sisters who take care of the elderly poor free of charge, and have been doing so since St. Jeanne Jugan founded the order back in 1841.

Pope Francis left our country a more contented and inspired nation. He reached out to everyone and many  responded. He represents the Goodness and Love that Jesus Christ brought to us and, despite the horrors of jihad and the emptiness of secularism pervading our lives, his presence and example make our world a better place. He is HIS ambassador on earth and  he represents HIM well. We have all been blessed.

©Larry Peterson 2016

Posted in Current events, Inspirational, Spiritual Life | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

CWG Prayer Chain Post: January 31, 2016

The CWG Prayer Chain Post is a weekly post for members to include their special intentions by adding a comment.

Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19

The word of Yahweh came to me, saying: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you; I appointed you as prophet to the nations.’  As for you, prepare yourself for action. Stand up and tell them all I command you. Have no fear of them and in their presence I will make you fearless. For look, today I have made you into a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of bronze to stand against the whole country: the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests and the people of the country. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you, Yahweh declares, to rescue you.’


The power of prayer and the power of people praying.


Lord Jesus Christ, who, being made subject to Mary and Joseph, didst consecrate domestic life by Thine ineffable virtues; grant that we, with the assistance of both, may be taught by the example of Thy holy Family and may attain to its everlasting fellowship. Who livest and reignest, world without end. Amen.

Please leave a comment with your intention. If you have problems adding an intention, email it to Mike Hays at coachhays(at)gmail(dot)com and I will add it.  God bless.

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To My Brothers, Or Anyone Else In Purgatory, With Love


A Jubilee also entails the granting of indulgences. This practice will acquire an even more important meaning in the Holy Year of Mercy.  Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, par. 22.

No way. I wasn’t going to jump through hoops to try to gain God’s favor—because that’s how I saw indulgences at the time. As a “revert” to Catholicism from evangelical Christianity, the doctrine of indulgences still scandalized me.

An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1471).

Gains? Under certain conditions? Nope. Not for me. While I had accepted the doctrine of purgatory and the idea that temporal consequences may need remediation after sin is forgiven, the thought that I could do something to help a deceased soul repair the damage caused by sin still seemed like hocus pocus to me.

Until I lost two brothers to suicide—both baptized Catholics—compelling me to ask:

What if indulgences aren’t about jumping through hoops to win God’s favor, but instead about doing something concrete as an act of love for another person?

What if I could indulge my brothers in the unfathomable, unmerited mercy of God, asking that the lingering consequences of sin—more apparent than ever in the face of suicide—be remedied?

And what if I could assist my brothers in the necessary work of purification; in healing the wounds inflicted by sin?

Why wouldn’t I want to help them if I could? Thus began my habitual practice of asking the Lord for an indulgence for them, or someone else in my bloodline, every time I go to Confession.*

Because fundamentally, indulgences admit that we’re not in this alone, but that we’re members of one Body who help and support each other on this journey to salvation. Indulgences acknowledge that we are, indeed, our brothers’ keeper, and that the voices of our brothers and sisters cry out for lavish mercy. Indulgences draw on the power of “the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ’s merits have before God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1476)—the power that alone can redeem sin and its consequences. We are invited to participate in that power each time we pray, each time we turn to God for mercy and forgiveness, and each time we ask for an indulgence, which applies to ourselves and others the fruits of Christ’s redemption.

While I can’t presume to know with certainty that my brothers are saved, I trust that “by ways known to (God) alone,” they are (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 2283). I do not despair of their salvation, but entrust them to the eternal embrace of God that encompasses all time, all people, all things. I beg God’s mercy for them, availing myself of the graced opportunity to pray for a plenary indulgence for their souls. And that is just what I did on Scott’s birthday, December 30, when I walked through the Jubilee Door of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., holding him close to my heart.

God’s forgiveness knows no bounds, Pope Francis wrote in Misericordiae Vultus. Nor does his indulgent love, which can reach into all things, making up—and inviting us to participate—wherever love is lacking.

*The Church teaches that we may gain a plenary indulgence for ourselves or someone who is deceased if we go to Confession, receive the Eucharist, pray for the Pope’s intentions and do a specified penitential act, including walking through the specified Jubilee Doors of Mercy during the Extraordinary Year of Mercy.

Author’s Note: This article appeared first at Aleteia.

Posted in Catholic Writing and Publishing, Faith, Mercy, Year of Mercy | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments