Sacramentals, Circumcision, and Shortening Purgatory

Fr. Josh answers questions about the difference between sacramentals and being superstitious, whether or not Catholics should practice circumcision on their children, and if earthly suffering can shorten our time in purgatory before we go to heaven. If you have a question, comment, or response for Fr. Josh, email us at You may hear your question or comment in an upcoming podcast episode!

Snippet from the Show

All suffering united to the cross purifies our souls. We can live out some of our purgatory on earth to the degree that we allow our suffering to unite us to the cross of Jesus Christ.

Glory Story (3:01)

Part 1: The Adventures of Fr. Josh and Fr. Rueben

They have some crazy and funny experiences that Fr. Josh will share on the next two episodes!

Listener Feedback (13:33)
Sacramentals (17:52)

How are we supposed to view sacramentals, such as the Miraculous Medal & Scapular? We aren’t supposed to believe that power actually comes from the thing, right? Would that not be idolatrous? Is it supposed to be like the statues which lift our minds & hearts to heaven? If so, then why do people stress the importance of wearing Miraculous Medal and Scapulars for protection? Do these items actually protect us in some way?

-Resi (pronounced “reh-see”)

Circumcision (29:16)

I have lately been thinking about circumcision as part of the Catholic canon. It has been raised as a question a few times if I have had my genitals mutilated and after enough times of posing this question to myself I looked it up as part of our faith. It seems that as the majority of the world is uncircumcised and the practice doesn’t create many lasting benefits and is more of a aesthetic surgical procedure here in the U.S. I have run across a few papers suggesting that circumcision is against moral law and that the apostle Paul strongly urged against it.

How do you see this practice in our faith and how does it play into the dialogue that we are created in God’s image if that doesn’t include our natural body. Not to mention that the foreskin appears to be functional tissue that is removed without consent of the person. Thanks for your podcast, it is always awesome to tune in and hear a researched opinion. Keep doing what you are doing!


Time Off Purgatory (36:59)

I was just wondering if a deceased person had a painful death or a difficult life, does that shorten their time in Purgatory?


Universal Points (40:57)
    1. Sacramentals – God can use anything to draw us to him.
    1. Circumcision – The Church is neutral. God gives us the freedom to choose what is best for our family.
  1. Time Off Purgatory – The point is not suffering, it is Jesus. When we unite our suffering to Jesus, it is an imitation of Christ crucified. Imitation of Christ is the best thing we could ever do in this life.

Fr. Josh smiling
Meet Your Host, Fr. Josh Johnson:                            

While Fr. Josh was raised Catholic, he didn’t like the Church growing up. One day, in adoration, he fell in love with Jesus and received the call to become a priest. Now, Fr.Josh is the pastor for Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Louisiana, and he is a presenter in two of Ascension’s programs: Altaration, and YOU: Life, Love, and the Theology of the Body.


  1. The Morality of Circumcision
    from “The Question Box,” October, 2004, by Father John J. Dietzen, M.A., S.T.L.

    Q. What is the morality of circumcision? The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that amputations and mutilations performed on innocent people without strictly therapeutic reasons are against the moral law. Pope Pius XII taught that circumcision is morally permissible if it prevents a disease that cannot be countered any other way. In spite of these and other church statements against circumcision through the centuries, I’m told there is no strict Catholic rule against the practice today. Why not? No medical association in the world today any longer says circumcision is therapeutic. (Ohio)

    A. I’m not sure why not, but the fact is male circumcision generally just doesn’t appear very much on the “radar screen” of Catholic moral teaching. Many major moral theology texts don’t mention it. A notable except is “Medical Ethics,” by Father Edwin Healy SJ (Loyal University Press), who holds that since routine circumcisions are not medically defensible they are morally objectionable.

    A few observations may help explain. The practice of circumcision arose thousands of years ago and is prevalent in many cultures around the world. Nearly always it has religious or social significance, signifying full membership in the group and establishing one’s social position in the society.

    The first divine command to the Jews, for example, was that every male child be circumcised, symbolizing the covenant between God and Abraham (Gn 17).

    After the famous confrontation between Paul and other leaders of the early church (Acts 15 and Galatians 2), Christians pretty much rejected the necessity of circumcision for becoming a believer in Christ.

    The idea didn’t entirely die, however. The theory that circumcision still held some spiritual benefits even for Christians, prompted at least some of the condemnations you speak of. The Council of Vienna (1311), for example, decreed that Christians should not be lured into Judaism or be circumcised for any reason.

    The following century, the Council of Florence (1438-1435) ordered “all who glory in the name of Christian not to practice circumcision either before or after baptism, since whether or not they place their hope in it, it cannot possibly be observed without loss of eternal salvation.”

    Today, while nontherapeutic male circumcision remains common in some places, as a general practice it is forbidden in Catholic teaching for more basic reasons of respect for bodily integrity.The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against moral law” (N. 2297).

    Elective circumcision clearly violates that standard. It is an amputation and mutilation, and, to my knowledge, and as you note, no significant medical group in the world defends it as having any therapeutic value. In 1999 the Council on Scientific Affairs of the American Medical Association stated that neonatal circumcision is nontherapeutic because no disease is present and no therapeutic treatment is required.

    Modern Catholic Church documents do not deal explicitly with the morality of elective circumcision. The above basic principles, however, clearly render it immoral. It violates the bodily integrity of infant male children and unnecessarily deprives them of a part of their body that can protect the glans of the penis during infancy and serve at least a sexual function for adults.

    My understanding from physicians is that circumcision rarely if ever arises as an ethical consideration. Usually it is requested by the parents for more social reasons such as, it’s always been done in our family. In that case, the procedure might be carried out in some places rather routinely, even if it is not what the child needs and no curative or remedial reason renders it ethical.

  2. What do the Scriptures Say about Circumcision?

    Jesus never advocated circumcision!!!

    St. Peter dismissed circumcision as unnecessary and disadvantageous in Acts 15:10, “And now are you going to correct God by burdening the Gentiles with a yoke that neither we nor our fathers were able to bear?”

    St. Paul often condemned circumcising the flesh, as seen in the following passages:
    Galatians 5:2-6: Pay close attention to me, Paul, when I tell you that if you have yourselves circumcised, Christ will be of no use to you. I point out once more to all who receive circumcision that they are bound to the law in its entirety. Any of you who seek your justification in the law have severed yourselves from Christ and fallen from God’s favor! It is in the spirit that we eagerly await the justification we hope for, and only faith can yield it. In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor the lack of it counts for anything; only faith, which expresses itself through love.

    Philippians 3:2-3: Beware of unbelieving dogs. Watch out for workers of evil. Be on guard against those who mutilate. It is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus rather than putting our trust in the flesh.

    1 Corinthians 7:18-19: Was someone called after he had been circumcised? He should not hide his circumcision. Did the call come to another who had never been circumcised? He is not to be circumcised. Circumcision counts for nothing, and its lack makes no difference either. What matters is keeping God’s commandments.

    1 Corinthians 12: 18: As it is, God has set each member of the body in the place he wanted it to be.

    Or, as one person put it, “If God had intended men to have foreskins, they would have been born that way.”

  3. St. Paul’s letter to the Galatian’s (for example) addressing circumcision is to point out precisely what Fr. Josh explains about Sacramentals in this same podcast. Just having it, doesn’t mean squat! St. Paul calls it “works of the law”. I like to call it “Work Alone”. The act of having something or wearing something or doing something should be there as a reminder of Christ. If your Faith and Love for Christ leads you to have it, obtain it, keep it, wear it, do it, etc is what is important. Faith that leads to Works. His Works… through you. And if parents choose to circumcise their children for the sake of tradition, out of Love for God, then it is because Christ first shed His Blood for His Family through, with, and because of Tradition, out of Love for them and His Father.


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