Tag Archives: Fr. John Bartunek

What are indulgences?

The issue of indulgences is an area of difficulty for many people. In fact, it was one of the sparks that started the tragic blaze of the Protestant Reformation, a blaze that incinerated the cultural and religious unity of Christendom starting back in the 1500s.

Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC

An indulgence is simply a specific manifestation of God’s grace — one that the Church offers to us as a concrete way to show our love for the Lord and for our neighbor. An indulgence can only be attained with the intention of attaining it. So, if I were to lift my mind to God in the midst of my workday, I wouldn’t receive an indulgence for doing that unless I consciously intended to receive it. Through prayer and sacrifice, we become channels of God’s grace, and an indulgence is a manifestation of that grace.

In the first centuries of the Church, Confession and penance were much more public than than they are now. It wasn’t until the sixth century that Irish monks really began to popularize individual, private confession. Until that era, it was more common for Christians who had fallen into grave sin to make their confession in front of the bishop and the entire congregation — and to be assigned a visible penance.

For example, a public sinner might be required to wear some kind of penitential garb and stay at the back of the church during Mass for six months or even an entire year.

Even during those early centuries, however, the practice of indulgences was emerging. For example, if a believer caved in under pressure of persecution and publicly denied his faith, it was considered the grave sin of apostasy. If that believer repented, he would be given a hefty penance. But that penance could be lessened if he visited a future martyr or confessor who was imprisoned for their faith. He would get this holy person to sign an affidavit by which he would express his desire to apply the merits of his sacrifice to the believer’s penance. He then would bring this document to the bishop and some or all of his penance could be remitted.

After the period of the Roman persecutions, obtaining this kind of remission of penance through the merits of the saints continued. Thus, the practice of indulgences emerged. Until recently, the relative value of the different indulgences was still expressed by correlating them to certain amounts of days. This harkens back to the early Church and its public penances, which were assigned for specific periods of time. Today this method of expressing the relative value of indulgences has been simplified. Instead of specific numbers of days, we just have partial or full (plenary) indulgences.

FR. JOHN BARTUNEK, LC, is a former professional actor who became a Catholic priest in 2003. This column is printed with permission from his book Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions (Servant Books, 2014).


Catechism 101

An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins. Thus the Church does not want simply to come to the aid of these Christians, but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance and charity.

Since the faithful departed now being purified are also members of the same communion of saints, one way we can help them is to obtain indulgences for them, so that the temporal punishments due for their sins may be remitted.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1478-1479

What does the Church say about end-of-life issues?

The Church offers solid principles regarding end-of-life issues, but it’s not always easy to apply those principles to particular situations. Let me review the principles, and then reflect on how they might apply to someone’s final days.

Fr. John Bartunek

Fr. John Bartunek

Because each of us is created in God’s image and invited to everlasting friendship with Him, human life is sacred. Therefore it’s never justified to directly will or cause the death of an innocent person. To defend sacred human life, the Church has always taught that abortion and euthanasia are morally wrong, just as wrong as any other form of murder.

Nevertheless, in this fallen world, death is inevitable. When it becomes clear that someone is dying, we do not have a moral obligation to do everything possible to extend a life as long as possible. Now, in some cases, there may be a particular reason why we would indeed want to keep someone alive. For example, take the case of a father and son who have been estranged and live on different sides of the globe. The father is facing heart failure, and doctors agree that intervention would most likely be useless, though some extreme measures may keep him alive for a few days or weeks. They may request that those extreme measures be taken so that the son has time to travel in hope of a final reconciliation. That family may decide to use aggressive treatments, whereas a family already at peace may not. Each would be justified.

Accepting the inevitable, however, does not mean abandoning a dying person or hastening their death. Therefore, if someone is dying, it would be immoral to willingly deny them the fundamental necessities that we owe to every human being: shelter, clothing, basic nutrition, and hydration. In many cases, as a person is dying, their system will no longer accept nutrition and hydration. If that’s the case, it would most often be futile and disproportionate to try and force-feed them.

In some cases, the dying process is so painful that the amount or type of palliative medicine required to relieve the pain may actually hasten the death. Nevertheless, such palliative care is acceptable (indeed, even an expression of love) if the person truly is dying.

Again, however, if the dying person wants to remain alert in order to converse with family members, for example, they may choose to forego pain relievers.

Those are the basic principles: the sacredness of human life, the inevitability of death, the moral duty to provide basic necessities, when possible, but not to provide futile or disproportionate treatments.

FR. JOHN BARTUNEK, LC, is a former professional actor who became a Catholic priest in 2003. This column is printed with permission from his book “Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions” (Servant Books, 2014).

Catechism 101

Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is refusal of “overzealous” treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decision should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.

Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted. The use of painkillers to alleviate the sufferings of the dying, even at the risk of shortening their days, can be morally in conformity with human dignity if death is not willed as either an end or a means, but only foreseen and tolerated as inevitable.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2278-2279

Why are some sins so hard to overcome?

FR. JOHN BARTUNEK says attachments and self-absorption can hinder spiritual progress . . .

Fr. John Bartunek

Fr. John Bartunek

It’s important to remember that here on earth we’re members of the Church militant. We’re in the midst of a battle. As we grow spiritually, the enemies of our soul don’t sit idly by.

Did you know that the Church’s most notable heretics were almost all priests in their 40s? Pelagius, Arius, Apollinaris, Nestorius — these were all men of God, passionately dedicated to the Church and seeking deeper intimacy with Christ, who advanced in theological knowledge and in the spiritual life. Who would have guessed that they would become instruments of ecclesial devastation and spiritual shipwreck? Yet, they did. We can never forget that as we grow spiritually, the battle doesn’t go away.

The enemy of our souls is smart. He knows that temptation has to be customized to the situation of the person being tempted. The devil can’t invent new sins, but he can disguise them in new ways. So, for someone who is well along the road toward spiritual maturity, the tempter instead seeks to clothe the capital sins in spiritual garments.

For example, the inclination to vanity can appear in a subtle desire to have one’s new and advanced piety noticed. You might start trying to draw attention to the outward manifestation of your devotion. Or you find yourself seeking to impress your spiritual director — hiding your real struggles, lest your director thinks you are less holy than you want to appear. You may even switch spiritual directors, not for any objective reason, but simply because you don’t want to follow anyone’s advice except your own.

In the area of sensuality, one can become attached to the consolations that God has given during one’s prayer and sacramental life. Maybe you find yourself trying to force certain emotional reactions during your meditation or after Communion. You start to seek spiritual feelings too much, forgetting that the goal of holiness is union with God in mind and will, not feelings of consolation.

Spiritual greed can take the form of an insatiable desire to read every spiritual book, to accumulate rosaries and holy cards and icons, to jump around from devotion to devotion trying to imbibe the entire spiritual patrimony of the Church all at once — even to the neglect of life’s basic duties, instead of seeking patiently to go deep in the essentials.

These types of attachments and self-absorption can hinder spiritual progress as much as the less subtle sins. We need not become obsessed with them. As always in the spiritual life, the compass and anchor remain the same: I love God by accepting and fulfilling his will in each moment of my life. That’s the surest guide through the shadows and tangles of this earthly pilgrimage — as sure a guide for us as it was for Jesus: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34).

FR. JOHN BARTUNEK, LC, is a former professional actor who became a Catholic priest in 2003. This column is printed with permission from his book “Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions” (Servant Books, 2014).

Catechism 101

Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.”

Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it engenders vice by repetition of the same acts. This results in perverse inclinations which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgment of good and evil. Thus sin tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself, but it cannot destroy the moral sense at its root.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1849, 1865