“You have heard that it was said..."
At his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ says:
“You have heard that it was said, „You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.‟ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father… 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. 5:43-48.
To enter the fullness of heaven we must 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 unconfessed 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, “I am 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 to restore 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 in order to remain righteous or have a just and right relationship with God in Christ. Yet, we still sin, and so out of justice we must die for 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 about 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.
We thank God that Jesus Christ gives us the opportunity to receive and show his mercy even after our brothers and sisters have died in the Lord, and we call this spiritual gift an “indulgence.” 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 the faithful of their venial sins or stains of their mortal sins. Yet, we can reduce that time of purification for them and for ourselves since the religious practice of seeking indulgences helps us to become holier.
An “indulgence” is a merciful gift from the Lord, for it is the remission of temporal punishment due to sin which has already been forgiven, assuredly forgiven in the Sacrament of Confession when we confess the kind and number of mortal sins to the best of our ability after a sincere review of one‟s life. 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 (good for 21 days).
2. Receive the Eucharist in the state of grace on the day of doing the indulgent work.
3. Pray for the Pope‟s intentions: Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be.
4. Complete the indulgent work such as praying a family Rosary, reading Sacred Scripture for 30 minutes, praying the Rosary before the tabernacle, or visiting a grave and praying for that deceased person.
5. And the most difficult, be detached from all sin, even venial sin, whether sins of commission or omission. In other words, any time temptation to be selfish (especially against the poor) or a past sin comes to mind, we must not enjoy entertaining it, but we must detest it. Tell the Lord that you hate sin because it impedes his true love for you and your true love for others, especially regarding the material and spiritual poor.
The partial completion of the above wins a “partial indulgence,” which is some (but not all or “plenary”) remission of punishment due to sins already forgiven. This charitable work to help release the poor souls from purgatory into heaven takes much faith, hope and charity, because we do not see immediate results. Yet, we live by faith and not by sight, although we may see with the eyes of faith the progress of virtue in our own life.
Rejoice in God‟s mercy and help the material and spiritual poor when you can, especially during this month of November as we remember our deceased loved ones by praying for them, applying our indulgences to them, and visiting their grave sites.
Peace in Christ, Fr. Thomas McCabe