A Parable of Catholic Penance and Indulgence

Catholic Church Saint Ulrich in Bollschweil (B...

In order to understand the Catholic Teaching on Penance and Indulgences let us use a practical example from ordinary life to illustrate what is taking place. One might call this a parable of sorts:

 We have a family (a husband, wife and child) that live together on a small farm. The husband is called away by his Father for an extended visit, leaving the wife and child to run the household in his absence.

 The husband issues some instructions before his departure. To the wife he says: “You will be in charge during my absence. Do as I have taught you. Whatever decisions you make will be honored by me.”

 To the child he says: “Your mother will be in charge while I am gone. Do as she says and obey these simple rules that I will now give you in the presence of your mother.”

 Let us say that among these rules is a forbiddance to drive his tractor. Some time later, the child, knowingly violates that rule. The child drives the tractor into a ravine and breaks the axle. The mother is told of this occurrence and because of the tears and sobbing of the child, forgives the child for the disobedience. However, to make things right, justice needs also to be served. Therefore, the mother (fully aware of the husband’s sense of justice and his unprecedented mercy) wisely tells the child to get a job at a neighbor’s farm in order to pay back the price of the broken axle. The child would then have the tractor restored to the original condition as soon as practicable.

 The child, showing remorse and the best of intentions, begins working in order to save the money necessary for the repairs. However, the mother, in her mercy, sees that the child is working as hard as possible and may get discouraged by the task. Therefore, exercising her mercy (knowing full-well the mercy that her husband would show), relieves the child of the duty of working at the neighbor’s farm and instead gives the child a few simple chores around their own home instead.

 The mother then goes to the bank and withdraws a sum of money from the family’s savings. This is comprised mostly of the money that her husband has earned but partly from the inheritance of relatives that had passed away. This money is mercifully used to repair the tractor and to restore the child to the condition that the child was in before the unfortunate mishap. But the child must accomplish the few menial chores around the house as specified to receive the benefit.

 Now the husband, in the above story represents Christ while His Spouse, the Wife, is the Church as established before Christ’s departure from our midst. The child is, of course, the members of the Church. Since Christ told his Apostles that whatever they bind and whatever they loose would be bound and loosed in heaven[1], the Church has the right, as did the wife, to exercise this power in the absence of her Spouse. She first, exacted a fair penance for the misdeed in accordance to the justice that was due. Secondly, she exacted mercy, in the name of her husband, to lighten the burden on the child while applying the merit (money in this case) as accumulated by her husband and those close relatives who left their money to the estate. Now the Church too has an estate and can use the merits gained by Christ and the saints (His brothers and sisters)[2] to be applied to souls for their aid and comfort.

 


[1] “Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.” __ Matthew 18:18

[2] “For whosoever shall do the will of my Father, that is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.” __ Matthew 12:50

Catholicism: the Reason for My Hope Part I

Vatican

“. . . sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you.” __ 1 Peter 3:15

I will in a series of posts try to satisfy the answers of those who might ask my reason for the hope I have in our Lord Jesus Christ. My reasons consist in large part to the very existence of His Church (the Mystical Body of Christ), still active and present from Her founding, that brought Christ Jesus to me in all Truth, in His Word and in His Sacraments. The Catholic Church has provided a living memory and memorial of the original faith of our fathers which She delivers whole and entire to the present generation. So it is my faith which fills me with the same hope that has filled the hearts of countless Christians in an unbroken chain for 2,000 years.

The motivations for becoming Catholic are as many as there are Catholic converts. However faith informed by reason means that my journey will not be complete for it is a continuing conversion and growth in faith that lasts a lifetime. There are both intellectual and spiritual attractions and I will need to address them as such.

My principle intellectual reasons are these: Divine Authority, Scripture, Structure, Continuity of Teaching and, of course, the History and Teachings of the Early Church Fathers. While my principle spiritual reasons lie in the Sacraments, the Scriptures again, the Saints and the Mystics of the Church.

Let’s look at each of these in a series of posts though I may not be able to put these together back to back: it takes too long to write them.

The Church Was Founded on Divine Authority

“And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.” __ Matthew 16:18,19

We all know this passage but it is meaningless to those who don’t want to hear it. However, it says what it says and means what it says and no intellectual, mental, interpretational gymnastics will change the verse. Likewise the following verse:

“He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.”__ John 20:21-23

Note that God only breathed on man one other time in scripture; when he gave life to the original father of humankind, Adam (Genesis 2:7) who grievously sinned against God. “O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!”[1] So our Savior has breathed onto these Apostles a new gift of life; the life of the Holy Spirit delivered to the new fathers of humankind, the leaders of Christ’s Church. And Christ gave the Apostles assurances that He had prepared them and given them all that they would need to minister to His Church:

“But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you.” __ John 14:26

So that which was dramatically displayed at Pentecost (the indwelling of the Holy Spirit given to the Church) was also given in a more intimate way to the Apostles.

“I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will teach you all truth. For he shall not speak of himself; but what things soever he shall hear, he shall speak; and the things that are to come, he shall shew you. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me; because he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it to you.” __ John 16:12-15

Now for those who are outside of the Church as I was, it is apparent that the Truth (which is Christ Himself) gave the Holy Spirit and Himself (the Truth) to the Church and will guide them into all truth as the scripture says. Is there any man who can take that gift away? Christ alone would have to do it Himself but it would mean that Christ was not an all-knowing God who knew that he would revoke this gift. That would make all of Christianity null and void. Is there anywhere in Scripture that says Christ would strip His Church of the Truth and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? Historically do we have a person who claims that Christ took the Holy Spirit from the Church and from the succession of Apostolic Leaders and gave it to them? Has the Holy Spirit failed the Church? These questions seem fundamental in the quest for the Church that bears the marks of Christ’s Church.[2] The answers to the questions are obvious: Christ never revoked any gift or went back on any promise made.

Why then, you might say, can a Church be filled with corruption and sin? I would answer that it is because mankind is still a fallen being, as we are the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, with Original Sin on each of our souls. We are all sinners. Yes, many will scandalize the Church but we have Christ’s assurance that he will always be with us. “I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you.” __ John14:18

So did we become orphans, without Christ’s protection? Did
Christ lie to His Apostles or did His word become impossible? As a believer in Christ, I cannot even entertain such ideas as Christ is Truth and “no word shall be impossible with God.”[3]

Christ knew that we would fail him and cause scandals – he even told them so:

“And he said to his disciples: It is impossible that scandals should not come: but woe to him through whom they come. It were better for him, that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should scandalize one of these little ones. Take heed to yourselves. If thy brother sin against thee, reprove him: and if he do penance, forgive him. And if he sin against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day be converted unto thee, saying, I repent; forgive him.” __ Luke 17:1-4

Can we not bear the Truth that Christ foretold? Yes, we are as poor a bunch of stewards of Christ’s Church as were the Jews who sinned and even killed the prophets that God sent to them. Did God divest Himself from his people, the Jewish Old Testament Church? No! He bore with them as patiently as He could and chastised them for their disobedience and sins but he never abandoned them. Is the New Testament God a different God that breaks His covenant with the Church? Or is it that Martin Luther or Calvin or whosoever left the Church has been given the gift of the Holy Spirit and the promises Christ bestowed on the Apostles? According to these, Christ’s breathing on the Apostles and his sending of the Holy Spirit were but a waste of time and came to nothing. And what of the forgiveness of those who did sin against the Church, did the reformers give them a chance to amend their faults and return anew to full communion therein? The Pope had asked Martin Luther for meetings to discuss the matters and Luther refused him. The Church has always had a remedy for heresy and schism and that is the invoking of a Church Council. The Council of Trent made right many of the grievances of Martin Luther and yet they came to believe a new gospel. They did not take the same route of James and the Judaizers as chronicled in Acts 15. They left the Church while James accepted the judgment of the Council and the final decision of Peter.

It is His Church that is the foundation of Truth as Timothy says: “. . . the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”[4] So when was this wrested away and given to another? Can anyone dare claim the authority that was given to Christ’s Church?

If so, give the proof: for “Thou shouldst not have any power (authority) . . . unless it were given thee from above.”__John 19:11     Indeed, it is God who gives true power and authority. And the only authority he gave to any Church that I know was the Old Testament Church of the Jews and the New Testament Church called the Catholic Church.

As a side note: it is interesting to see how God dealt with the sedition of Core in the Old Testament and his followers. [See Numbers 16:6-33]

Is there even a human historical record that corroborates that the authority was transferred from the apostolic Church? Otherwise it is still dwelling in Christ’s only Church. The only answer it seems to me is what Luther was forced to do; make a claim (from his self-appointed authority) that Christians need only the Bible for their authority. So after 15 centuries of constant teaching, Christians need no authority but the Bible alone. I wonder where such a teaching can be found in the Bible. Thus begins the exegesis of Protestantism that redefines the meanings of Biblical passages to justify their positions, with total disregard of the teaching of the Church as constantly taught for 15 centuries and the voluminous accounts from the early fathers of the Church.

Luther taught that the truths were obvious and apparent to anyone who read the texts, but are they? 35,000 Protestant denominations later, we might think that some might take fault with his assertion.

Even Luther’s teachings have changed. For a few examples: his acceptance of indulgences (he only believed that the Church misused them – which it did); belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary (many Protestants now deny this); the sinfulness of contraception (no Christian denomination accepted contraception before Margaret Sanger and the Planned Parenthood of the 1930’s). There are others but this will suffice to make the point that the teachings of Protestantism are evolving and changing to mimic the desires or thinking of the secular world.

Likewise, there is more I could say about the topic but this was a quick overview of my acceptance of the Authority of the Catholic Church and of no other.


[1] From the Exultet (or Easter Proclamation) made at the Easter Mass.

[2] The 4 Marks of the Church: One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic

[3] Luke 1:37

[4] I Timothy 3:15