Saturday, February 21, 2009

Indulge Me

This has been kicking around in my brain ever since I first read about it online a few weeks ago. The Catholic Church is bringing back indulgences. Seriously. Pope Benedict and his men fear that we have gotten away from an awareness of sin in the world. And they want to bring back traditions that are uniquely Catholic, things that set Catholics apart from other Christians.

Apparently, the best way to do this is to reintroduce God as a jailer with a stop watch in one hand and a calendar in the other, keeping track of who has to spend how long in purgatory. Yes, that’s right—purgatory. That’s making a comeback, too: that dark cave of suffering where we are denied the company of God until he decides we are sufficiently chastened and sorry enough to join Him in heaven.

When I was growing up in the post-Vatican II seventies and eighties, purgatory was not something we focused on in CCD classes. I knew that it was technically still on the books, but didn’t worry about it. I have always thought that there might be something to the idea that all souls go through some kind of transformation as they pass from this life to the next, and that’s how I thought of purgatory, if I thought of it at all.

My grandpa talked about praying for the souls in purgatory, and coming from him it sounded like an old-fashioned, romantic notion.

My favorite history class in college was called Reformation Europe. I loved the Erasmus-Luther debates. Although I found Erasmus to be more persuasive, I found Luther to be an absolutely necessary voice. He pointed out excesses and hypocrisy, and cried out for a more direct relationship with God. And he liked beer, which I found endearing.

OK, so the pope is not advocating the selling of indulgences, but when we start parceling out salvation bit by bit to those who perform certain tasks a certain number of times, are we really that far from it? Do we need to cling to such a custom to feel more Catholic, to set ourselves apart from and above the rest? If our Pope and bishops have the power to take off days, weeks, months, even years from our purgatorial sentence, well gosh, then, we must be the One True Church, right? We can ignore the Reformation and Vatican II and just go back to the way we were, when everything was so much holier and simpler. What a perfect way for an increasingly archaic, reactionary, chauvinistic hierarchy to appear more relevant!

I know the Vatican is not going to consider my input on this. After all, I haven’t gone to confession in years, I don’t make it to mass every Sunday, I voted for Barack Obama, and I am a woman, for God’s sake! But the thing is, in spite of nonsense like this, I still feel like this is my Church, but not because we hold the only key to salvation, and not because I agree with the Church on birth control, the role of women, or the church’s attitude towards the divorced.

It’s my Church because I love the language of the mass. It is full of imagery and mystery, and at its heart is a God of sacrifice and unstoppable love.

It’s my Church because it holds up as holy the bond between mother and child.
It’s my Church because the Exultet of the Easter Vigil liturgy is one of the most beautiful poems I have ever heard: O happy fault! O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer! I love the paradox that lives in those words.

It's my Church because on Holy Thursday, we remember by reenactment the Jesus who washed the feet of his disciples before laying down his life. I can’t believe that that Jesus would act like a warden or the head of the parole board and tally up our time in purgatory.
It's my Church because On Good Friday, it shows me the Jesus who said Father, forgive them. They know not what they do. Not Father, they’re going to have to suffer for a fixed amount of time before we let them in.

I will try to keep focused on my Church, my Catholicism, and try and separate it from the Church of Pope Benedict. It’s not easy, but I’ll be damned, or at least sentenced to a long time in purgatory, if I let them chase me away.

More Madder has some interesting indulgence-related thoughts on her blog:

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure I fully understand the notion of purgatory or indulgences, but, like you, I try to keep my eye on the prize--God's love and forgiveness and his eternal sacrifice on our behalf.