In 1977, Eddie Money had his iconic and signature hit song “I’ve got two tickets to paradise”, which was released to great fanfare. I remember it well, as it was the summer that I met my wife of 45 years. I have many fond memories of that time. It’s interesting how a song can help us to reminisce. I recently had occasion to think of that song, oddly, while preparing a homily! The gospel reading for that day was on two of the parables Jesus taught his disciples concerning the kingdom of heaven.
You may recall those two parables (Mt 13: 44-50). Jesus began both of these parables with the words “the kingdom of heaven is like…” The first of these parables, was about the person who found a buried “treasure” and upon finding it, reburied it and went off and sold ALL that he had to acquire it. The second was like the first. It was about a merchant in search of fine pearls and when he found the “pearl of great price” went off and sold all that he had to acquire it.
What do you surmise Jesus is trying to convey to his disciples about the meaning of these two parables? Simply, that attaining the kingdom of heaven is so priceless that we ought to have a singular focus in “acquiring” it. And the currency of heaven is love. In this sense, the more we love, the more we emulate our Lord. And the byproduct of this love is we, in turn, draw closer to heaven.
Love is selfless and the personal sacrifice inferred in “the all that we have to acquire it” is all-encompassing. Unfortunately, few are able to love like this during their earthly lives. What does that mean for the rest of us? Does it mean, that if we don’t have this singular focus, that we will not attain the kingdom of heaven? Fortunately for us, and thanks to God’s great mercy, we get a second chance, after our earthly life is over, if we die in a state of grace but not yet sufficiently purified to enter the kingdom of heaven. The Church calls this place, or state of being, Purgatory.
Many don’t believe in its existence. For those of you who are reading this article and who hold that view, contemplate for a few moments, an alternative meaning of these two parables. What then does the “ALL” represent and what if a person was unwilling to pay that price during one’s earthly life? That’s why Purgatory is a masterpiece of God’s great mercy.
St. Catherine of Genoa wrote about the holy souls in Purgatory. “It is true that the overflowing love of God bestows on the souls in Purgatory a happiness beyond expression; this happiness does not in the least diminish the pain. In this manner the holy souls at the same time experience the greatest happiness, and the most excessive pain and one does not prevent the other.” This suffering in Purgatory can be likened to a burn victim whose treatment requires the painful removal of the dead skin caused by the fire. Painful but absolutely necessary to live.
A soul in purgatory cannot help themselves to expedite their departure from there. They are completely helpless in securing their own release. But we can and should assist them. Afterall, most of us will likely be there at some point ourselves.
So with that as background, let me share with you three benefits to acquiring two tickets to paradise. The first benefit is derived from the authority granted by Jesus to Peter (and by extension his successors); when Jesus said “whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” following Peter’s profession of faith (Mt 16: 18-19). Throughout the history of the Church, the popes, as successors to Peter, have granted indulgences to the faithful by virtue of this delegated authority to “loosen.”
Generally there are four conditions, in order to obtain a plenary indulgence, which can be given to a deceased person or retained for oneself. The person wishing to obtain a plenary indulgence must also be free of serious sin and have no excessive attachment to sin.
The four conditions are: (1) perform an act that has been granted a plenary indulgence by the Church (Church approved indulgences are listed in “The Handbook of Indulgences Norms and Grants”, Catholic Book Publishing Corp.), as an example, a five decade rosary said in a church qualifies as a plenary indulgenced act; (2) pray for our holy father’s intentions (generally praying an Our Father and a Hail Mary each once for this purpose fulfills this condition); (3) receive holy communion on the day one performs the indulgenced act; and (4) receive the sacrament of reconciliation within twenty days before or after one fulfills the indulgenced act.
We can obtain a plenary indulgence every day! And one sacramental confession can count towards numerous plenary indulgences. The other three conditions are singularly related to each plenary indulgence sought.
If one meets these conditions, and grants the plenary indulgence to someone who is deceased and is in Purgatory, they are released immediately in full satisfaction. Their entrance into heaven takes place forthwith. One of the verses in the song says, “Pack your bags we’ll leave tonight”. And the soul departs Purgatory just like that! It’s as though you acquired their ticket to paradise! And no ticket is ever wasted in the economy of salvation. If the deceased person is already in heaven the plenary indulgence is used to release another soul. That accounts for the first ticket to paradise.
You may be thinking how relatively simple this is to obtain something so profound! And, in truth, it is! And yet so necessary. But don’t let its simplicity dissuade you from believing in its efficacy.
Recall the story of the prophet Elisha’s cure, of the Syrian general Naaman, of leprosy (2 Kgs 5). Elisha sent Naaman a message, to wash in the Jordan River seven times and you will be healed. Naaman was furious and turned in anger to leave. His servants reasoned with him saying “My father, if the prophet told you to do something extraordinary, would you not do it? All the more since he told you, wash and be clean?” Naaman followed his servants sage advice and plunged into the Jordan seven times and was made clean. In just such a manner, we should believe in the efficacy of plenary indulgences!
The second benefit to acquiring two tickets to paradise, is that it tilts the balance of power in the great spiritual battle, that at present, is raging all around us. This is accomplished by virtue of the fact that the prayers of a saint in heaven are more efficacious in their effect on this spiritual battle than are the prayers of a soul in Purgatory praying for the same intention.
More plenary indulgences offered for the benefit of souls in Purgatory, translates to more saints in heaven, which in turn produces more efficacious prayer in support of those fighting the good fight on earth! Think about that. What if each person reading this article decided to acquire a plenary indulgence for a soul in Purgatory every month, or every week or every day! Think of the army of saints that would be assembled by our efforts, who in turn will aid us “in this valley of tears”!
The third benefit to acquiring two tickets to paradise, is that the souls released from Purgatory by our efforts pray unceasingly for their benefactor who acquired, on their behalf, their ticket to paradise. Their prayer is continuous and unceasing until we ourselves reach heaven. And if we are able to secure, by our prayers and supplications, the release of many souls from Purgatory, that second ticket might just have our name on it!
One of the verses from the song that really moved me while preparing my homily is as follows: “We’ve waited so long, waited so long. We’ve waited so long, waited so long.” They have, in fact, waited so long for our help! It is within our grasp to help these holy souls as I have outlined in this article. Maybe it’s a parent, or a sibling, or a child pleading for our prayers. Don’t delay. Start acquiring tickets to paradise. You’ll be glad you did!