Monday, December 1, 2014

Black Friday Special!

Last Thursday we celebrated Thanksgiving here in the United States and many celebrated the retail extravaganza “Black Friday” the following day with all its usual deals for toys, housewares, clothing and electronics.  However, hands-down this year, the best Black Friday deal did not come from a retailer but from Pope Francis.  On Black Friday, Francis announced “Get out of Purgatory Free” cards, otherwise known as plenary indulgences. 

For those unfamiliar with the term, “Purgatory” is where one’s soul is excoriated until it shines brightly enough for heaven.  Though the sacrament of penance forgives people of their sins, forgiveness in the Catholic dogmatic style does not include freedom from punishment.  The Catholic Church teaches that people commit sins, and God forgives them using priests in confessionals as conduits, but then God will still exact at least a pound of flesh in punishment, typically in this quaint place called Purgatory.  It’s kind of like saying, “I forgive you for eating my cookie, but trust me, Bucko, I’m still going to make you pay for doing it.”  This might sound to the inexperienced as a non-forgiving form of forgiveness but let us not get caught up in pesky details lest we miss out on Pope Francis’ Black Friday special.

Moving on, let’s review “indulgences.”  They are like coupons one exchanges in lieu of enduring purgatorial punishment.   One can have partial indulgences which, as the name indicates, partially cover your punishment...sort of like a 50% off coupon.  Or one can have a plenary indulgence which completely gets rid of any punishment...sort of like a "get one free" coupon. 

I read this very statement to my youngest daughter (in her 20s) assuming she would stop the car and excitedly exclaim, “Where can I get my indulgence?  I want an indulgence!”  I regret to inform you, this was not her reaction. After re-reading the statement to her today, she decided it was a story from "The Onion." 

Yes, such magnanimity is hard to believe so I understand how someone might confuse it with satirical writing on a comedy website.  But, no, this is REAL and the pope is sincere.  He is spraying anti-whoop-ass but not just willy-nilly into the atmosphere so that freedom from punishment lands on just any old surface.  He is following the “customary conditions” for indulgences.

I hope you are sitting down because my daughter did NOT know the customary conditions for indulgences.  Thus, I read them verbatim to her from a Catholic website.  And, I read them to her again….and again…and again.  Finally she said, “This is more complicated than learning the rules for Monopoly…” and began speculating if rolling double sixes might have the same effect as receiving a plenary indulgence. 

By the way, the “customary conditions” for an indulgence do not include paying oodles of cash, playing BINGO at the local Knights of Columbus hall, cheering for Notre Dame, walking backwards while reciting the rosary in Latin, or whistling “Lift High the Cross” while eating Lenten Friday fish-sticks.   The customary conditions are simply these: In addition to doing the pious act, 1) go to confession, 2) receive Holy Communion, 3) pray for the pope, and 4) be absent of all attachments to sin.

Holy crap, it was a slam-dunk until the whole “be free from sin” thing.  Not to fear.  If you don’t get the full plenary indulgence, you can still get a partial one.  It’s kind of like doing a very complex chemistry problem where you get partial credit for the things you did do correctly.

Buying and selling indulgences inspired people like Martin Luther to insist upon hierarchical reforms.  The hierarchy, being every bit or perhaps even less good natured about criticism then than it is now, excommunicated Luther but did reform the corrupt practices around buying and selling indulgences.  Thus, you cannot buy your way out of purgatorial suffering with indulgences purchased at a local Catholic boutique like Hobby Lobby.  But, you can still give them away!!!  Wondering what to get that special someone who is hard to buy for?  What to get for the person with everything?  Try going for an indulgence, gift wrapping it and giving it to your favorite someone this Christmas Season.  Certain restriction apply; see Pope for details.    


  1. As clarification for those unfamiliar with Catholic doctrine, the sacrament of Penance is a conduit for forgiveness. This keeps one from hell, i.e. eternal damnation. Purgatory is temporal (temporary) punishment for one's sins.

    Many evangelicals will mock Catholics for doing acts towards their redemption. They believe their faith alone redeems them and thus we have many evangelicals who do not imitate Christ or frankly even try. They simply revert to the "I was saved by Jesus Christ my personal Lord and Savior" as an excuse and then do whatever the heck they want. We have all seen this sort of "Christian."

    The concept of Purgatory and Indulgences is a system of trying to incent good behavior post-confirmation (The Catholic way of accepting Jesus as one's personal Lord and Savior). However, the indulgences tend to be heavy in the piety category and light in the "take care of your fellow human" category. Therefore we see Catholics like Paul Ryan who with clear conscience ignore the needs of the weak and vulnerable. He will just go to confession and then take several laps around the rosary or perform some other piety ritual thinking it will save his eternal hide.

    But the reality is as the book of James expresses in James 2:14-18
    What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

    Indeed someone might say, “You have faith and I have works.” Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.

    I qualify for many indulgences but I do not seek them. I try to instead seek to care for my brothers and sisters.

    But, the evangelicals described above and the Catholics like Paul Ryan are the reason many people flee Christianity or any organized religion - as the hypocrisy is too much for some to bear.

    It is interesting that people falling into the categories described above tend to be the quickest to advertise and market their faith for political and financial gain. However, perhaps such Christians are actually publishing a warning to the rest of us that they don't really give a crap how they treat others because they believe they've already saved their own hides? Food for thought.

  2. Indulgences, really?!? What?!? I don't have any words. This is really a part of my religion in the 21st century? Catholics still believe in this stuff and do it?
    I really am a bad Catholic. My God is a benevolent God. I believes he forgets as well as forgives.