Filed under: News Girl, Part-time Catholic and full-time sinner, Too liberal for the Bible belt
Have you heard the news? If you’re Catholic and a bit sinful, you can “buy” your way into heaven at a faster rate and forego a longer period of time in the waiting room of Purgatory before your entrace beyond the pearly gates.
Indulgences have returned – check out this NYTimes article for more information because, well, indulgences aren’t too simple to explain – and apparently, the Catholic church is somewhat using them to sway the more liberal churchgoers back to confession and into the pews. So in the hopes of persuading the part-time-Catholics to return to the church, many dioceses across the country have reinstated the dispensing of indulgences for the forgiveness of sins.
In a larger-than-normal nutshell – because I’m certain you didn’t click the link – an indulgence is a means of forgiveness in the eyes of the Catholic church. Traditionally, a sinner would go to confession, explain his sins to the priest and be issued a penance, such as four “Our Father” prayers and maybe a “Hail Mary” for good measure, and lesser sins would be forgiven by the church. However, the sins still stacked up, especially the doozies like adultery and murder, when judged in Purgatory, adding toward how much time one must spend there before entering heaven. An indulgence, more or less, provides a faster track into the cloudy haven up above. Thus, for a few hours of community service or an extra fifteen prayers toward a specific saint, the sinner can receive forgiveness for his indiscretions, knocking off a few days, weeks or years from his wait in Purgatory.
To me, completing an act of kindness shouldn’t be done simply because someone wants to erase their less-than-perfect past and by the Catholic church – a church I grew up with and still deeply believe in – almost dispensing these indulgences for something in return, it’s showing that regardless of one’s actions on earth, heaven is never unattainable. And while that may be a fabulous ideal, I somewhat find it deplorable that the church would practically sell someone their way into a divine afterlife.
Yes, the dioceses involved explain that they are not seeking monetary donations for indulgences, which the Catholic church did accept centuries ago and which, furthermore, became a catalyst for the birth of Lutheranism. But accepting voluntary acts and special pilgrimages for lesser time in Purgatory sits just as badly with me as if the sinner handed a $50 bill to the priest following Sunday’s mass.
Disregarding the sale of indulgences entirely, how exactly can the Catholic church even promise potential sinners such forgiveness? How do they, as human beings just like the rest of us, truly know that a few charitable actions will shorten ones wait prior to heaven? What gives priests, bishops, cardinals and yes, even the pope, the authority to make such claims when they can know absolutely nothing of death and the afterlife that awaits? Need I even go into the scientific side of life after death and the ways in which time will be measured once we leave this planet? I think not.
It’s as if people are bargaining for their forgiveness as the church sells clemency for sinful actions without any concrete knowledge that said indulgences will have any real effect on eternity. And as someone who struggles with organized Catholicism to begin with, it’s another reason to question the entire belief system I’ve held for my 23-year existence.
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