Did you know that, under certain conditions, doing the following can take away some of the punishment that we deserve by our sins? Wearing a crucifix around our neck (We’ll come back to this one), visiting a cemetery and praying for the dead, praying the Rosary, teaching someone Christian doctrine, visiting the Blessed Sacrament for any amount of time. Did you know that, under certain conditions, the following can take away all the punishments that we should endure in purgatory? Renewing our baptismal vows on the anniversary of our Baptism, adoring the Cross on Good Friday, praying 14 Stations of the Cross, making a three-day retreat, praying the Rosary as a family.
Jesus says today, “Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven” (Lk 12:33). We all know how to store treasures in the bank. And everyone these days loves keeping track of progress: we track our weight, steps, views, clicks, etc.
Today, I want to share with you a way of storing up treasures in heaven (Cf. Mt 6:20), so that we can know what and how much we’re investing, and aim for greater love. This activity concerns what are called indulgences.
Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Lk 12:32-34). God the Father wants to give us the kingdom, and His kingdom is centered on His Son, Jesus; that actually means the Father wants to give us everything, because Jesus is the fullness of life! But this gift requires a response: If we really want to receive Jesus, Who is goodness and truth itself, then that means changing our lives. That’s why Jesus says, ‘Sell your possessions, and give alms.’ We need to let go of our earthly focus and start focusing on love of God and neighbour.
What’s an indulgence? It’s the remission of temporal punishment due to sin. Let’s explain. Whenever we sin, there’s eternal and temporal punishment. When Jesus died for us, He offered forgiveness for our eternal punishment, so that we won’t go to hell, but He didn’t remove all the punishment that we experience on earth. And so, if we break a window, we not only say ‘Sorry’ but we also replace the window. If we get drunk on purpose and then go to Confession, the Father forgives the sin, but our body will still be damaged from the excess alcohol. So, here on earth and in purgatory, we have to make up for the wrong we’ve done. There’s been an imbalance in justice, and we have to make up for it with more love!
Here are some additional examples: Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for 30 minutes; praying the Rosary in a church or as a family; praying with Scripture for 30 minutes; when a priest is unavailable, praying at the point of death, provided that we’re in the habit of praying during our lifetime; praying for the dead in a cemetery between Nov. 1-8 (this is only applied to souls in purgatory) are all examples of plenary indulgences, meaning that, if we do these actions in union with Christ (indulgences all depend on Him), all of the punishment we’ve acquired from all our sins would be forgiven. And so, if we die at that point, we’d go straight to heaven!
How is it possible that something so small could atone for all the punishment our sins deserve? Who knows the answer? It’s because of Christ. The Church always uses this phrase: ‘The treasury of merits of Christ and the saints’ (CCC 1478). Think about it this way: In my eternal treasury, I’ve invested some acts of love: Over the years, I’ve tried to love God, do acts of kindness to others, bring them closer to God, etc. But, these acts are very limited. However, in Christ’s treasury, His merits are infinite! He’s invested infinite acts of love with His preaching, sufferings, courage, and most importantly, His Death and Resurrection. So, whenever I do an indulgenced action, I’m tapping into His treasury of merits to heal my punishments. That’s the power of Baptism, which unites us to Christ!
Yet there are conditions, and the most important one is detachment from sin. Jesus says today, ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ Do we still enjoy our sins? We’re sorry for them, but a part of us still enjoys them. If that’s the case, the plenary indulgence becomes a partial indulgence, meaning that only some of the punishment of sin is remitted, and only God knows how much punishment is taken away. Detachment from sin is the main reason why it’s actually quite hard to obtain a plenary indulgence.
Here are examples of partial indulgences: Wearing a blessed crucifix (Are you telling me that that can help take away the punishment due to my sins? Only if it’s worn with love of Christ, not as a superstition); praying this phrase mentally or out loud, “Heart of Jesus, I trust in You”; performing charitable works or charitable giving (making a donation to help the poor); listening to the preaching of the Word of God (it’s a plenary indulgence if you stay awake during my homilies. Just kidding); prayer at the beginning and end of work.
Now, indulgences are not a way of buying God the Father’s forgiveness, because salvation is a free gift that can’t be earned; it only comes through grace and through Jesus! They’re not get-out-of-jail-free cards, because they have to be done with love (Indulgentarium Doctrina, 11). And why do we still have to go to Confession with all these indulgences? Because indulgences don’t take away eternal punishment—only Confession does that.
One woman said that “attempting to obtain indulgences is like following a Vatican-approved training program for strengthening your faith, while at the same time getting the amazing free bonus of time out of purgatory.” That’s why she tries to get a plenary indulgence once a day by praying the family Rosary.
Today, we have pamphlets of the other conditions for indulgences, and many examples. Remember the conditions are actually quite easy considering the benefit we’re receiving, and they’re there to help us convert our hearts.
Imagine if we started considering that every day we can invest acts of love in union with Christ: I’m going to deny myself this dessert out of love for Christ, in atonement for my gluttony; I’m going to ask someone how they’re doing in union with Christ in atonement for my past selfishness.
Jesus said, “Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward” (Mt 10:42). Even doing something so small in union with Christ like giving someone water is meritorious. This is part of what it means to store up treasures for ourselves in heaven.