Wherever there is sin, there is disorder, chaos, and slavery. Sin binds us in the patterns of action and habits of thought that isolate us; that disrupt and sever the bonds of charity with our families and friends, and that disrupt and sever the bond of love that unites us to the Lord.
Sin has consequences, in this world, and in the next. Sin can separate us from God eternally. But it can also effect real consequences in this life. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they lost paradise, and were consigned to a life of toil and pain. Our own sins also bring temporal punishments—consequences of hardship that stem from our bad choices.
To spend eternity with God, we must be transformed, from sinners to saints. We must be forgiven of the guilt of our sins, and we must be set free from the effects of sin—our attachments, preferences, and evil inclinations, as well as from the temporal punishment due to sin. This transformation begins now, here on earth, and, if not completed, will continue in purgatory.
God’s mercy sets us free from sin. Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection merits eternal life for us: new life dispensed in the grace of baptism, Holy Communion, and confession. Christ transforms us, during our lives, in holiness. And if we have died in union with God, but not yet totally sanctified, Christ transforms us in purgatory, cleansing us from the temporal effects of our sin, to prepare us for eternal holiness.
But the Lord wishes us to set us free from the temporal consequences of our sin even in this life. And among the ways God sets us free, through his Church, is through the grace of an indulgence.
An indulgence, the Catechism says, “is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.”
Throughout the history of the Church, indulgences have been made available to Catholics who undertake pilgrimages, periods of prayer, or acts of penance. Indulgences are offered, as a special grace, with the condition that Catholics confess their sins, receive the Eucharist, offer prayer for the mission of the Church, and renounce their attachments to sin.
During the Year of Mercy, the Holy Father has asked that indulgences be made available to those Catholics who make pilgrimages of prayer, and who journey through the Jubilee Year’s Holy Doors—the doors of mercy, present at the cathedral doors of every diocese.
On Sunday, Dec. 13, I opened the Jubilee Doors of Mercy in the Cathedral of the Risen Christ. The holy doors will remain open for the Year of Mercy, which concludes with the Solemnity of Christ the King Nov. 20, 2016. These doors symbolize the open door of mercy the Lord extends to each one of us—the doors of mercy that free us from our sins, and lead us to eternal life.
Pilgrims who pass through the holy doors, in humility, and asking for God’s mercy, can receive an indulgence—the mercy of freedom from the temporal consequences of our sin. Each one of us invited to enter the Holy Doors of mercy as a pilgrim, grateful for the mercy of God.
Holy Doors—and the grace of indulgences—are meant to strengthen us, to call us to seek God’s mercy, and to remind us that God desires to free us from all sin. Indulgences remind us that when we repent of our sins, and turn our lives to Jesus Christ, we will become merciful—in freedom from sin, we enter the mystery of love- the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.
Last week, Pope Francis prayed, “in passing through the holy door, then, may we feel that we ourselves are part of this mystery of love.”
In the mystery of his love, God, through his Church, invites us to the mystery of forgiveness, and the mystery of freedom. May we seek freedom from the eternal and temporal consequences of sin. May we enter the holy doors as pilgrims, as we seek the gift of God’s mercy.
Editor's Note: Read more about the holy doors at the Cathedral here.