At his Sermon on the Mount Jesus Christ said: “For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not tax collectors do the same?... So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Mt. 5:46-48.
To enter into the fullness of heaven we have to be made perfect, purified from all sin and attachment to sin: the sins of commission and omission. Thus, we pray for our deceased loved ones who we hope died in the state of grace, that is, without any mortal sin on their soul, but who need to make reparation for their sins.
An example: if a person stole your car and crashed it, but then repented and said, “Sorry”, we need to forgive him, but we should also have him pay back what he can for the damages; we offer mercy and justice for the common good, and for the healing of his soul.
Jesus died on the cross to take away our sins which is mercy, and he rose from the dead to win the grace never to sin again. Yet, we still sin, and so out of justice we must die because of our sins and then be purified from all sin and attachment to sin. When we remain in Christ by sanctifying grace, we can bear much fruit, as the Gospel of John 15:1-8 reminds us with regard to God trimming away the branches that do not bear fruit, so that we can bear more fruit. Jesus said to the servant who did not show mercy to the other servant, “„Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?‟ Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt.” Mt. 18: 33-35. If we do not repair the damage our sins have caused by doing sufficient penance, we will have to “pay back the whole debt” in purgatory.
Thank God that Jesus Christ gives us the opportunity to show mercy even after our brothers and sisters have died in the Lord. When Jesus gave the power of the Keys to Kingdom of God to St. Peter, the rock on which Jesus would build his Church, the Lord Jesus said to him, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Cf. Mt. 16:16-19
As the Vicar of Christ on earth the Pope has the power to write the remedial guidelines to help those in Purgatory, where the fiery love of God, over time, purifies people of their sins. Yet, we can reduce that time for them and for ourselves by seeking indulgences which helps us to become holier.
An indulgence is the remission of temporal punishment due to sin of which has already been forgiven, assuredly in the Sacrament of Confession. A plenary indulgence (complete remission) can be applied to oneself or to a deceased person once a day, for 21 days, by doing the following:
1. Make a good confession (efficacious to obtain an indulgence for 21 days);
2. Pray for the Pope‟s intentions: Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be;
3. Receive the Eucharist in the state of grace on the day of doing the indulgent work;
4. Complete the indulgent work such as praying a family Rosary, or prayerfully reading Sacred Scripture for 30 minutes, or praying the Rosary before the tabernacle;
5. And, the most difficult, be detached from all sin, even venial sin. Every time that sin comes to mind, you must detest it.
The partial completion of the above wins a partial indulgence. This work to help release the poor souls in purgatory takes much faith, hope and charity, because we do not see immediate results. The grace that we tap into to help our suffering friends in purgatory is called the Church‟s treasury.
We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
#1475: In the communion o the saints, “a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things.
In this wonderful exchange, the holiness of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others.
Thus recourse to the communion of saints lets the contrite sinner be more promptly and efficaciously purified of the punishment of sin.
#1476: We call these spiritual goods of the communion of saints the Church‟s treasury, which is “not the sum total of the material goods which have accumulated during the course of the centuries. On the contrary the „treasury of the Church‟ is the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ‟s merits have before God. They were offered so that the whole of mankind could be set free from sin and attain communion with the Father. In Christ, the Redeemer himself, the satisfactions and merits of his Redemption exist and find their efficacy.”
#1477: “This treasury includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are truly immense….
In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints, all those who have followed in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by his grace have made their lives holy and carried out the mission the Father entrusted to them. In this way they attained their own salvation and at the same time cooperated in saving their brothers in the unity of the Mystical Body.”
In today‟s Gospel we hear of how Jesus wants us to deal with one another charitably and prudently, and that we are to “make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth.” See Luke, 16:1-13. It seems to me that this, “dishonest wealth,” in a sense, is the grace that is stored up for us. For this extremely valuable grace of purification is not what we sinners earned, but what we, in a sense, dishonestly gain from Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and all the Saints who suffered to gain that grace, and we can apply it to ourselves or deceased loved ones, as if it were our own.
Peace in Christ,
Fr. Thomas McCabe