In my last two morceaux I’ve dealt with the serious subject of punishment as a consequence of sin. When we stop to think about it, wrongdoing demands redress. We must be purified of the evil of sin if we are to completely put it behind us.
This brings us to a last idea related to this, one which occasionally gets some attention around the world. This is the reality of indulgences. It’s not a very central doctrine of the Church, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include mention of it here.
Now don’t you roll your eyes and decide to skip the rest of this article! Stop and think about it for a moment. God can, of course, graciously free us from even the obligation to suffer the consequences of our sins. God can remit the punishment due to sin. (And, frankly, since the Lord is so merciful I suspect He does this all the time!) But who else can do this, too?
Since the Lord God has given His Church full spiritual authority on earth – see Matthew 16:19 and John 20:21-23 for just the most important indicators of this in the Bible – it stands to reason that the Church also can remit the usual obligations of punishment and purification due to sin. The traditional poetic image used in history has been that of the Church’s “treasury of graces” being used to pay the debt of sin.
How can we make us of this rich storehouse of grace? Many opportunities of prayer and action, corporal works of mercy and spiritual works of charity, are available to us at all times – these are contained in the Church’s Handbook on Indulgences last revised in 1999. Sometimes the Church will propose special activities in certain places or on the occasions of certain feasts or events – such as World Youth Day – as meritorious. From pilgrimages to the Cathedral to special graces given to those who minister to the poor and needy, our faith readily admits that we have many ways in which we can respond to God’s gift of unmerited grace – and the truly religious person takes advantage of these opportunities!