In the middle ages, there were serious excesses and corruptions surrounding the granting of indulgences in the Catholic Church and this is one of the things that led to the Protestant Reformation. An indulgence is the remission, before God, of the temporal punishment due to unforgiven venial sins or the lingering effects of mortal sins that have been forgiven by the sacrament of Confession. This temporal punishment is the purpose of Purgatory. The Catholic Church teaches that Purgatory is the place or condition in which the souls of the just are purified (i.e., “purged” of these things) after death and before they can enter heaven. In other words, a living person can use indulgences to lessen time spent in Purgatory after his/her death. A “plenary” indulgence is one in which all of this temporal punishment is erased such that any purging is unnecessary and, upon his/her death, the person can enter heaven directly. Plenary indulgences can be gained by a living person for himself or herself, but also for someone who has already died.
Protestants today object to the doctrine of indulgences and, in fact, do not believe in the existence of Purgatory or the practice of indulgences. My purpose today is not to address this situation (much as I would like to), but rather to communicate how I have used the plenary indulgence in my life.
Indulgences are gained by participating in some appropriate religious activity that the Church has determined is worthy while at the same time, receiving the sacraments of Confession and Holy Eucharist and praying for the intentions of the Holy Father. I believe I have gained plenary indulgences over the years by going on weekend religious retreats at the Our Lady of Good Counsel Retreat House near Waverly, Nebraska, and, while there, fulfilling the required actions. In each case, I have, in my prayer, transferred the indulgence to some specific deceased person. I have done this on an annual basis, for each of the last thirty years (approximately). So I believe I have won the direct and immediate entrance into heaven of some thirty people. Over the years, I have, in my mind, come to refer to these people as “my secret saints,” since I am assured that they are now in heaven and so, in fact, are saints. Included in the list are my mother and father, aunts, uncles, other relatives, friends, relatives of friends, and others. I feel I can call on these folks at any time for their intercession on my behalf, just like any other saint. I feel this is one of the greatest accomplishments in my life. After all, it involves the direct and immediate entrance into heaven of people I had the privilege to know during my life on Earth.
The photo is that of a statue of St. Francis of Assisi on the grounds of the Our Lady of Good Counsel Retreat House. While St. Francis is obviously a declared saint, it is my great privilege to know that there are many undeclared saints, some of whom I have known personally.