Indulging our Children

This reading is in support of the St Thomas mission to support the Year of Faith and the Emeritus Pontiff’s call for mission.

Our Holy Pontiff will soon be on his way to Brazil for the International Youth Day. They expect approximately 1.5 million visitors for this event.

The Vatican announced July 9 that Pope Francis had allowed that the faithful could receive indulgences through participation in World Youth Day. This included following the event through social media.

Naturally our sound bite driven press has announced to the world, that their sins will be forgiven if they follow the Pope on twitter.

International Youth Day is commemorated every year on 12 August. The Focal Point on Youth selects a theme for the day with input from youth organizations and members of the UN Inter-Agency Network in Youth development. It also organizes a commemoration of the Day at United Nations Headquarters in New York. The Program encourages youth around the world to organize activities to raise awareness about the situation of youth in their country.

The Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary; the Vatican court that rules on the forgiveness of sins, has said that indulgences may be given to those who follow the “rites and pious exercises” of the event on television, radio and through social media.

The Penitentiary said that Pope Francis' Twitter account, which has already gathered seven million followers, would be one such medium.

The fact is that the cause and the motivation behind having an International Youth Day is cross border, sponsored by the United Nations and might we dare say, an appealing cause for all denominations and religions?

So, what did our church mean and what can we tell others around the water cooler?

Just what is an indulgence? Indulgences have been recorded since the beginning of the church. In the middle ages the church got a bad reputation from many Archbishops using the promise of indulgences to help pay for supporting the Crusades. Indulgences were seen as an out an out fundraising for the church and according to most historic sources, this has more than a once of truth to it.

Indulgences are not: Payments for the forgiveness of sins. It is not a permission to commit sin, nor a pardon of future sin; neither could be granted by any power. It is not the forgiveness of the guilt of sin; it supposes that the sin has already been forgiven.

An indulgence is defined as the remission of the temporal punishment – the unhealthy attachment to created things – due to sins, which have already been forgiven.

Allowing indulgences to those who follow World Youth Day through the new means of social communication is really an invitation to spend time in prayer with the pilgrims of World Youth Day.

JD Flynn is a special assistant to Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska and he also holds a licentiate in canon law from Catholic University of America.

In an interview he noted the historical link between pilgrimages and indulgences, saying that “a person is invited oftentimes to make a pilgrimage, and in the context of that pilgrimage is invited to sacramental confession, and also invited to pray for the Church, to pray for the Holy Father, to pray for the souls in purgatory – and those are the sanctifying things.”

“People who make spiritual pilgrimages receive in a particular way the grace to overcome the temporal penalties of their sins,” he reflected.

“The great thing about the age we live in is that people can make pilgrimages … even when they can't be physically present, so the extension of the World Youth Day indulgences to so-called 'digital pilgrims' is really a recognition that we, as members of the body of Christ, can participate in prayer and spiritual communion with one another, even when we're not in physical proximity with one another.”

So can we achieve salvation through the Internet?

When I was young and my grandmother was too sick to attend mass. She would listen to the Mass broadcast on the radio. I recently listened to the celebrations in Velehrad that way. She said it was almost like being there and God knew she couldn’t make it that day.

When we receive indulgences normally and in person; or absolution, through confession, we commit ourselves to the process. When we are following the process electronically, it is no different. Vatican officials noted that to obtain indulgences over the Internet or otherwise, believers would first have to confess their sins, offer prayers and attend Mass.

So the Press claim of salvation through tweeting and less purgatory for following Twitter might grab headlines, but a better way to say it would be that the Vatican recognizes that the more time we spend in prayer and refection the less time we spend in purgatory.

God Bless