(22) As soon as we hear the word ‘indulgence,’ our minds hark back to their abuse in the Roman Church in and around the time of the Protestant Reformation. So, to read Pope Francis’ declaration that the Year of Mercy must include the Church’s increase in granting indulgences gives us pause.
If nothing else it means that we need to understand indulgences in another light–in something other than their misuse in the past. Pope Francis seeks to provide that new light.
In essence, indulgences are the Church acting as God’s representative on earth saying to sinners everywhere, “In the Name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!”–and doing so (in the Pope’s words), “in ways that are continually new and surprising.”
Mercy becomes ‘indulgence’ when it reflects the heart of God, not only to forgive sin, but to remember it no more. Only then writes Pope Francis, is any sinner free to live out from under the shadows and stigmas of sin. Mercy as ‘indulgence’ is the strongest guard against a person falling back into sin.
Radical? Yes. Risky? Clearly. Mandatory? Absolutely. Pope Francis puts it this way, “To gain an indulgence is to experience the holiness of the Church, who bestows upon all the fruits of Christ’s redemption, so that God’s love and forgiveness may extend everywhere.”
Pope Francis ends this segment exhorting the Church to practice “merciful indulgence” to everyone everywhere.
[Note: the numbers at the beginning of each meditation correspond to the section of the Pope’s document on which it is based]