Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Day I Broke Mom's Dryer: and how that helped me to understand Indulgences

This is the second year in a row that I have been a Coming Home Network Helper. For two years, I've had the privilege of helping other women (from a similar faith heritage) to enter the Church. Both years, the women had the same questions. The questions came at about the same point in their journeys, too.

First, grace showed up, in an almost infused way, to lead them to an understanding of Jesus Christ, truly present in the Eucharist. And they wanted to run, full-tilt ahead, straight to Him.

Second, they hit a wall with Mary. Things didn't come to a screeching halt, but they were afraid that it very well might. But they kept asking questions, demanding answers that quelled their fears, and then they regained a sense of rightness and order to even the teachings on Mother Mary.

But now, in this final lap to Lent and the weeks leading up to Holy Communion, the question that has come is always a question about Indulgences.

Maybe you are on the journey (or you know someone who is). Perhaps my answer will help you put the pieces together. You may click on the Facebook or Twitter Share-Button below the post if you'd like to share this with Facebook friends who might have doubts about Indulgences.

Indulgences 101

Yes, “Indulgences” is a tough one because we (former Protestants) have baggage. And that is all we were given with regard to Indulgences. There are two aspects to sin - forgiveness/reconciliation and the fulfillment of the temporal punishment attached to a specific sin. And yes, temporal punishment remains. Like when you broke something in anger as a child and your mother forgave you when you were sorry (which is like true contrition with the Sacrament of Confession), but there was still something more needed. Something more to make it right. The temporal part had to be addressed.

What we struggle with is the scandal of selling Indulgences - that baggage that sticks with us and lingers in the form of uneasiness. Somehow, cradle Catholics find it easier to see the good and true and right even as they recognize the part that was wrong (selling what should be offered without money and received in acts of love and devotion). Sometimes, the Church has had to reform practices that are not in keeping with what the Church teaches. And this is one of them. Selling Indulgences was a scandal, and it was not in keeping with Church teaching -- in fact, it scandalized the true teachings of the Church (and scandal always brings harm to the Body of Christ and the Unity of the Church). As an aside, that should be a lesson to all of us to never bring scandal to Mother Church. We must strive in all things and in all ways to share the true teachings. It should also give us joy to know that God will never let the gates of hell prevail - even in scandal - and that Mother Church will make it through every storm. Okay, back to the topic.

Indulgences (as something the Church offers to us for the remission of temporal punishment) is a blessed opportunity. It is usually offered to the Faithful as an opportunity to embrace acts of love and devotion - things that build up the Kingdom of God through prayer and pilgrimages and the special and unique "yes" that we give to Mother Church and Our Lord Jesus Christ.

As with all things Catholic, there is order and rhyme to this teaching. And the venues for Indulgences are rightly ordered too. Here's the thing. You don't have to say yes to a single Indulgence. You are given the choice. It is not required, though the temporal payment for sin will one day be required, and Our Lord will provide you with a way, even if it is during that preparation when all that remains is purged (purgatory) so that you can stand before a Living and Holy God and not be destroyed upon seeing Him face-to-face.
For we know, only the righteous will see God.

But the Church is offering the Faithful venues for love and devotion, special ways to seek remission for what remains.

When I was a child, my mother asked me to go downstairs and move the clean laundry from the washing machine and put it into the dryer. I didn't want to do it. I was angry because she had interrupted my free time. I went downstairs and moved the laundry and I slammed the dryer door so hard (in anger) that a piece of the latch broke off. I took that broken part up and had to tell Mom what I had done. She forgave me. But she said that I still had to
hand her the replacement part. I remember that all was righted (though I was already forgiven) when I paid for the part and gave the new part to Mom. Strange how this fits, isn't it? Even the allowance which I used to buy the part came from Mom. She simply gave me the idea, the venue, for making amends.

And that is how it is with Indulgences. She (Mother Church) gives us the opportunity to say yes to an Indulgence, and we can give it back in the form of love and devotion -- so that all will be made right regarding the temporal aspect of our sin. I know it isn't a perfect metaphor, but I was still forgiven by Mom; I still had a place at the table; I still had a home in my parents' home. But something more was required for all to be set aside.

And we, though forgiven, still have a place at the Table (Eucharist) and a home in the Home.

*Dr. Scott Hahn tells a similar story about making things right after he sought forgiveness for stealing records (many years after the sin of stealing occurred). Scott went to the store and paid for the records - in full. He was already forgiven by God, but justice required something of him, something more, something to heal the wound he'd caused to another. For me, it was a dryer part. For Scott, it was the price tag on a stack of records. The perfect King of Mercy is also the Perfect King of Justice. Forgiveness is ours for the asking. But with some sin, the temporal punishment remains undone. Every kid who's broken a window (and had to replace it) kind of "gets" Indulgences. Everyone who has been wounded by another in a deep, deep way understands that justice demands something more. We leave that part in the hands of God - the One who is Perfect Justice. On some level, we all "get it".


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