DAILY CATHOLIC   TUESDAY   December 1, 1998   vol. 9, no. 233


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The dividends are still there
because the Pope is indulging us again!

          Bless Pope John Paul II's heart; he's done it again! With his most recent Papal Bull entitled Incarnationis Mysterium ("The Mystery of the Incarnation") , which was released this past weekend, the Holy Father has surely raised the hackles of liberal modernist Catholics everywhere by reminding us all that Indulgences are still very, very valid! The Pope affirms to all in his decree that throughout the new millennium celebration - Jubilee 2000 - Catholics who do charitable works, pray, sacrifice and do penance can gain plenary indulgences collectively and individually. What is this? Why indulgences haven't been mentioned since before Vatican II! How dare he bring back such nonsense? Well, folks, indulgences are not nonsense but part of the great spiritual treasury of Holy Mother Church. The stigma which indulgences received came from the fourteenth, fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries when bishops and even a few popes sold indulgences or offered them as rewards. Such offense is called simony. But anyone who was weaned on the faith before Vatican II can relate to special prayers on holy cards or in our missals in which if they were said, could obtain a plenary or partial indulgence. After Vatican II, these special so-called"short cuts" to Heaven were shelved by liberal, Protestant-thinking theologians who helped forge the "spirit of Vatican II" which truly was not from the Holy Spirit of Vatican II. The fact is the Council Fathers at the Second Vatican Council changed nothing in respect to Indulgences, only clarifying what they are and outlining abuses. They reiterated their importance while wisely cautioning all that indulgences weren't the only answer. That latter aspect is what the radicals ran with and, before long, indulgences were forgotten along with the Baltimore Catechism and the Rosary. Thank God, our present Vicar of Christ has tweaked our consciences that all these things are part of the great deposit of faith.

          An indulgence is the remission granted by the Church of the temporal punishment due to sins already forgiven. Only the Pope has the authority to grant plenary indulgences and indulgences for the universal Church and he has exercised that power in this latest Papal Bull. Archbishops and bishops have the authority to grant partial indulgences for their own dioceses, but not plenary indulgences. A Plenary Indulgence means one who dies immediately after gaining it through the requirements set down, is believed to go straight to Heaven without having to pass through Purgatory. The first Plenary Indulgence was granted by Our Lord on the cross when He forgave the good thief for his perfect contrition of heart as documented in Luke 23: 42-43. Jesus also affirmed the Church's authority for this when He said to Saint Peter in Matthew 16: 19, "Whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven." He also made the same solemn declaration to the Apostles collectively in the upper room. Since Jesus gave the Apostles the power and right to forgive sins, free men from hell, and lead them to Heaven, the syllogism follows that He also gave them the lesser power to free sinners from the temporal punishment due to sin, and save them from Purgatory. Just as a civil ruler, for instance a governor, has the right to pardon criminals and to choose in what manner he will grant the pardon, so also the Church exercises a similar right and power in granting indulgences. When, by means of an indulgence, the Church wipes out or lessens the temporal punishment due to sins already forgiven, this action is accepted in Heaven as Jesus promised in Matthew 16: 19. The Church has determined that there is a spiritual treasury made up of the infinite merits of Jesus, and the superabundant merits of His Blessed Mother Mary and the saints. The passion and death of Christ and the penances and sufferings of Our Lady of Sorrows, who did not need to do penance for she was without original sin, and of the saints, have created this spiritual treasury, which Jesus left for the use of the Communion of Saints. In this way, a penitent who gains an indulgence receives from Holy Mother Church some of the wealth gathered in the spiritual treasury from the merits of Jesus, Mary and the Church Triumphant. Saint Paul in 1 Corinthians 2: 10 talks about how, having been granted an indulgence, now has the power to do the same through the One Who granted it to him. Throughout the history of the Church, martyrs and confessors interceded for sinners through their bishops who could grant partial indulgences in view of the superabundant merits of those who interceded for them. It must be remembered, and cannot be emphasized enough, that no one can receive an indulgence if they are not in the state of Sanctifying Grace. The guilt of sin must have already been taken away through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It also must be remembered that an indulgence applies to temporal punishment due to sins of the PAST and cannot be gained for future sins. In other words, it is not a "license to sin" as so many non-Catholics and even Catholics have misinterpreted.

          Now the Holy Father is trying to clarify indulgences and giving all Catholics incentive to stay in the state of grace and to strive to wipe the slate clean of past sins. The Pope encourages all in Incarnationis Mysterium" to seek forgiveness for past historical blunders collectively and to individually attend Holy Mass in specially designated churches to be released, to perform such special devotions as praying the Rosary and/or the Stations of the Cross, not just during Lent. He also reminds all that by visiting the sick, imprisoned or helping those less fortunate or giving alms to the poor one can also gain an individual indulgence. He places special emphasis on penance and sacrifice, such as giving something up that would be a sacrifice from sweets to alcohol to smoking to television. But all of these are only exercises. The means must justify the end and Our Lady has been reminding us of this for the last seventeen plus years at Medjugorje when she emphasizes prayer, fasting, sacrifice and conversion of heart. An indulgence means nothing if we do not have conversion of heart and "staying power" for an indulgence is not a quick fix, but a life-long savings account that we build up from the spiritual treasury of the Church. It is an account that has been dormant for too long over the past thirty plus years, but thank God, as we near the new millennium, we can see the dividends are still there because the Pope is indulging us again!

Michael Cain, editor