Great article from the New York Times about Indulgences

The New York Times has an interesting article about indulgences, authored by one Paul Vitello, inspired by the recent emphasis on indulgences by some bishops, including Brooklyn’s Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio.

OK, first the inaccuracies: the article claims the Church is “returning” to indulgences, and that the “return” happened in 2000.

The article only notes in passing that the “recent emphasis” comes from Pope Benedict’s special indulgence for the “Year of St. Paul”: namely, if you attend Mass at a church named for St. Peter or St. Paul during the “Year of St. Paul,” and the usual conditions (confession within seven days, praying for the intentions of the Holy Father, and being completely detached from attraction to sin), you can earn a plenary indulgence without the usual “difficult” obligation of reading the Bible for a half an hour or saying a Rosary with your family. However, it implies that this is the only way indulgences can be received, neglecting both the multitude of devotions and prayers that are graced with partial indulgences as well as the standard methods of getting a plenary indulgence (the aforementioend half hour reading the Bible, or a half hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament; saying a Dominican Rosary with meditations either in a group or in church; saying a Franciscan Crown Rosary at all; saying the Stations of the Cross in Church; meditating on the Passion on a Friday in Lent; etc.)

Vatican II, contrary to popular belief, did not “get rid of” indulgences. The “sale of indulgences”–aka Simony–was always condemned, although certain indulgences have been attached to donations for certain causes. It always fascinates me that the Protestants, who supposedly split off because of “sale of indulgences”, make a big deal about requiring their members to tithe.

Vatican II merely got rid of the idea of “X days’ indulgence,” opting for the “partial”/”plenary” distinction.

The article has the obligatory quotations from both Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ and Fr. Richard McBrien–can’t they find *someone else* to quote besides Reese and McBrien??? Can’t they at least quote another liberal priest, if they can’t quote a real Jesuit like Fr. Pacwa or Fr. Fessio?
Karen Nassauer, 61, said she was baffled by the return to a practice she never quite understood to begin with.
“I mean, I’m not saying it is necessarily wrong,” she said. “What does it mean to get time off in Purgatory? What is five years in terms of eternity?”
The ignorance of Catholics over the age of 40 never ceases to amaze me. Simple answer: Purgatory is a temporal state. Purgatory will cease to exist when this world ceases to exist. Duh.
So, guess what? Now they’re talking about how we’re offending Lutherans!!

“It has been something of a mystery to us as to why now,” said the Rev. Dr. Michael Root, dean of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. . . . The renewal of indulgences, he said, has “not advanced” the dialogue.
“Our main problem has always been the question of quantifying God’s blessing,” Dr. Root said. Lutherans believe that divine forgiveness is a given, but not something people can influence.

So, people can’t “influence” God’s forgiveness by demonstrating their sorrow???
I think the attitude towards indulgences is downright hilarious. “We teach love and forgiveness at this school, not indulgences,” said one Catholic school principal I know.
But indulgences are *about* love and forgiveness. Back in the “old days,” a penance actually meant something. It wasn’t just “say five Hail Mary’s.” It was, “Volunteer for a month in a soup kitchen.” It was “Pay back everything you’ve stolen, plus intereset, then give half of what is rightfully yours to the poor.” It was “Carry your armor up the mountain, drop it down, and then carry it up again.”

When penances were that severe, an indulgence was something special: all you had to do was say a rosary, and you could show your penance. It also had to do with the basis of Catholic spirituality. Back when people understood that suffering was necessary for the spiritual life, that people understood that God *expects* something from us, laity felt troubled that they couldn’t live in the desert or go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land or give all their property to the poor. Indulgences gave them an alternative.

In fact, the first indulgence was the portiuncula indulgence: St. Francis, whose whole life was based upon his desire to travel to the Holy Land, established several “alternative to the Holy Land” devotions: the Stations of the Cross, the Nativity Creche at Christmas, and the indulgence of Our Lady of the Angels. The Church granted the first “indulgence’ by decreeing that anyone who visited the Church of Our Lady of the Angels in Assisi (aka the “portiuncula”)–or any other parish church–on August 2, the feast of the dedication of the Church of Our Lady of the Angels–could receive the equivalent grace of having gone on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Contrary to what this Lutheran Dr. Root said, indulgences are not about “quantifying” God’s grace: just the opposite. They’re about saying, “Hey, you don’t have to do quite as much as you think you need to do to show God you love Him.”

Lastly, why do we have to kowtow to everyone else? Why do we have to keep watering down Catholicism to appeal to *their* demands?

Why don’t we see articles in the MSM calling for Lutherans to consider the discipline of celibacy, or calling on Episcopalians to honor Mary or calling on Jews to stop calling Jesus bad names in their literature? Why are all the articles about how Catholicism needs to change?

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