Indulge Me for a Moment: Rethinking Indulgences

My initial thoughts on the topic of indulgences have been prayerfully thought out and represent my current feelings on the matter. But before I embark on sharing my thoughts, let me be clear that I do so with utmost respect for the Church and her teachings. This is an initial post, with the possibility of further meditation on this exhaustive topic. (We will not even touch upon the indulgences abuses of centuries past).

sale of indulgences
In centuries past, the Church’s failings led to the sale of indulgences, a precursor to the Reformation.

First, let us begin with what the Catechism defines indulgences to be:

“An indulgence is remission before God of temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfaction of Christ and the saints.” 1471

A temporal punishment by definition has as its existence a place in time. Punishment is pejorative, and makes the assumption that the actions of our consequences are necessarily negative. Logically then, a reward would follow from an act of good, again in the temporal realm. The Creator, in love, created a system not limited to Catholicism, which goes by different names: karma — what goes around comes around, you reap what you sow etc. In my understanding, this notion of you get what you put in, is built into this beautiful system we call creation.

God, Creator of the intricately designed tapestry of this universe, created this flawless system. I become uncomfortable with the idea that we could somehow escape, and even selfishly desire to escape the consequences of our actions (as well as our words and thoughts). I believe to do so would deny us the possibility of wisdom and further growth.

Pope Francis has declared that participants in the World Youth Day coming up in Brazil will receive indulgences.

Setting aside those concerns, we look further into the Church’s teaching on plenary indulgences:

A plenary indulgence can be gained only once a day. In order to obtain it, the faithful must, in addition to being in the state of grace:

  • have the interior disposition of complete detachment from sin, even venial sin;
  • have sacramentally confessed their sins;
  • receive the Holy Eucharist; and
  • pray for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff.

purgatory indulgencesThe notion of a list of requirements concerns me, more so than the actual listed requirements. Certainly a detachment from sin, sacramentally confessing, and the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist offer graces and spiritual nourishment to a penitent, or one who is burdened with the shame of guilt. Even praying for the intentions of the Pope is laudable. Suspending disbelief for a moment, believing temporal remission is a possibility, how can a temporal checklist of requirements even begin to assume an authority to dispense the non-temporal, infinite mercy and love of Christ? And to say access to the treasury of the saints, charity from the Mystical Body of Christ, is somehow contingent upon satisfactory adherence to these requirements condescendingly makes the Church into a temporal remittance dispensary, gatekeeper of access to the faithful departed and their good works of charity and love.

I would like to pose a different definition of indulgences.

An indulgence is a prayerful commitment to take responsibility for the consequences of your actions, to become mindful of your spoken words and their causative effect, and to increase awareness of your thoughts through prayer and meditation, having faith and trust that our prayers have a very real effect on ourselves and our world. Prescribed conditions, if there must be any, are a commitment to work for peace and justice within ourselves, so that this inner peace can be shared with the world around us.

We are the ministers of redemption for one another, and by sharing each other’s joys and sorrows, we help to ease our feelings of separation and experience a true unity, a unity in which Christ died to embrace us. This work opens us to the treasury of the kingdom, the communion of saints, the Love of Mary in which we have gained admittance through Christ’s redemptive death.

Lord, If there are temporal consequence for my temporal deeds, I accept them lovingly — grateful for their wisdom — and commit to using them to lead others closer to Your merciful, abundant Love.


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