IndulgencesThe Problem: This subject is difficult largely because it requires a deep understanding of how sin sends its roots through our lives. While all Christians affirm the need for the forgiveness of sin, many do not formally acknowledge the temporal consequences of sin, nor the need for those temporal consequences to be repaired. When we sin, we build up our own will in opposition to Christ's will for us. When we are forgiven for sin, the sin is wiped from our soul, but the habit of opposition we have built up in our will remains. In order to successfully avoid sin in the future, we must re-learn the submission of our wills to Christ; we must break down our own wills so that we can again submit to Him in docility. This self-created impediment to Him is one way to think about the temporal punishments of sin. Only Christ can give us the grace to accomplish the necessary submission of our will. While the temporal consequences of sin are sometimes tacitly acknowledged in Christian theology, only Catholics formally discuss or acknowledge how these are dealt with .
The Truth: The temporal punishments of sin which remain after the forgiveness of the guilt of sin can be removed. This remission is not itself a forgiveness of sins, nor is it a sacrament, but it requires and presupposes that the sin has been forgiven, that the sinner has shown true contrition and undertaken confession. It is granted to the living by way of absolution and to the dead by way of intercession. For an indulgenced act to be effective, the cleansed sinner must not only accomplish the act, but must also have the proper attitude and intention, i.e., disattachment from all sin. Without such an orientation, the indulgenced act is worthless.
Lk 12:33-34 Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
The smallest drop of Christ's blood was sufficient to wipe away the stain of sin from the souls of all who ever have or ever will live. Yet Christ poured Himself out completely for us, and He allowed His martyrs to imitate Him by pouring out their own blood as well.
Col 1:24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church...
This infinite treasury of merit is an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, built up pre-eminently by the sufferings of Christ and secondarily by His martyrs, who imitate Him, for the use of all the faithful.
Mt 16:19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
Mt 18:18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Christ gave the power to bind and loose to Peter, the first Pope, and the Apostles. What they bind or loose in heaven is bound or loosed on earth. This binding and loosing includes the binding and loosing of the treasury of merit created by Christ's suffering and death.
Heb 5:7-8 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. 8 Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered...
Obedience was the only thing Scripture affirms Christ had to learn. He had to learn it so that His Body would learn it. He learned it through suffering. The treasury of merit in heaven is the complete merit of docility and obedience, built up by the suffering of Christ and His martyrs.
In the parable of the unjust judge who ruled for the widow (Luke 18:2-8 - see "Repetitious Prayer"), Christ compared God to an unjust judge, and us sinners to the righteous widow, turning the real situation on its head in order to drive home the reality of God's perfect justice. In this parable, a similar style is used:
Lk 16:1-12 He also said to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a steward, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. 2 And he called him and said to him, 'What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.' 3 And the steward said to himself, 'What shall I do, since my master is taking the stewardship away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that people may receive me into their houses when I am put out of the stewardship.' 5 So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' 6 He said, 'A hundred measures of oil.' And he said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.' 7 Then he said to another, 'And how much do you owe?' He said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eighty.' 8 The master commended the dishonest steward for his shrewdness; for the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations.
10 "He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own?
In this topsy-turvy parable, heaven is not the master's house, as one would normally expect, but is the homes in which the debtors dwell ("eternal dwellings"). The master's house is, instead, the created world; his storehouse, represents all the things of the created world. The debtors themselves are those who see heaven as their home. The steward, representing the Church, is rewarded for making wise use of the resources of the created world in order bring all who owe allegience to the king into heaven. In reality, the treasury of merit is not a resource of the created world, rather it is true wealth which belongs to the whole Church. This true wealth, unlike the wealth of this world, is guarded by the most faithful of stewards, the Bride of Christ, who dispenses the merits of the treasure to all the faithful who are in debt. Through clear acts of submission and obedience, we may draw upon the treasury of meritorious obedience which Christ earned for us. We become obedient to our Mother, the Church, as Christ was obedient to His parents.
Lk 2:51-52 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.
Col 1:22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him,
1 Jn 2:2 and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
This storehouse was established for the purification of the whole world.
2 Cor 2:5-10 But if any one has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measurenot to put it too severelyto you all. 6 For such a one this punishment by the majority is enough; 7 so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. 9 For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. 10 Any one whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ...
What harms one part of the Body harms the whole Body. What heals one part of the Body heals the whole Body. When one part of the Body learns obedience, then all are able to learn it. This total submission of ourselves to Christ is a necessary part of our purification, so that we may enter heaven. We are helped into heaven by Christ and by those whom He allows to image Him - He helps us through them, so that they may be true images of Him.
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