Introduction: Blue Light Specials for the Afterlife
The church’s Crazy Uncle role in society is great fun for secularists. However, Church doctrine is taken quite seriously by the devout, fervent majority of Catholics. The latest manifestation of the Catholic Church’s Crazy Uncle tradition is an offer of time off on after-life tortures. This is a reference to painful horrors that believers are conditioned to expect awaits them after death in a hell-hole called Purgatory.
Now along comes a Vatican court ruling that Catholics can gain some time off the frightful things a loving god does to Catholics in Purgatory through the gift of indulgences.
The latest indulgence on offer is available simply for following the Pope on Twitter.
While this sounds like a send-up from the comics at The Onion, the source of the story is actually a serious exemplar of the journalism trade. (See Tom Kington, Vatican offers ‘time off purgatory’ to followers of Pope Francis tweets, The Guardian, July 16, 2013.) The story is for real.
Indulgences from the Fires of Purgatory
As in the Middle Ages, indulgences entail the promise of some vague level of less torture after you die, unless of course you find yourself sentenced to hell. Then you are doomed to unspeakable, eternal miseries beyond imagining. Indulgences do no good for the souls cast into the ghastly holocaust of holocausts. While details are not available as to how much less burning in Purgatorial flames is associated with most indulgences now on offer, any time off Purgatory for good behaviors seems desirable.
I think all will agree that following the tweets of Pope Francis is a good way to catch a break from the hellish agonies of third degree burns which await those sinners that the Catholic God determines need a good going over by his devoted enforcers.
Purgatory is officially termed a period of purification before a soul moves into heaven. That’s like calling waterboarding a nasal spray. No less a church authority than St. Augustine described Purgatory as a place offering pain more severe than anything a man can suffer in this life. Thanks to the Inquisition and other religious infamies, we know that pains more severe than those humans can and have inflicted upon each other must indeed be beyond belief – and here’s St. Augustine saying, in effect, you ain’t seen nothin till you get to Purgatory.
The Mystery of Time in the Catholic Purgatory
Time in Purgatory is not necessarily the same as time on Earth. A second here could be a year there, and vice-versa. Thus, an indulgence might count for seconds, minutes, days, weeks, years or centuries as we understand these intervals – nobody knows, not even the Pope. But, just to be on the safe side, if you are Catholic and believe in Purgatory, why take a chance? The flames are just as hot in this temporary dungeon of agony as in the eternal fires of Hell itself. (I know this because the nuns told me so over the course of eight years in grade school at St. Barnabas in Philadelphia from 1944 to 1952, and the nuns were experts on punishments.)
So indulgences for reading a few bloody tweets seem like a pretty good deal. Alas, as with most marketing schemes, there are a few catches. You have to read the fine print. You only get the indulgences, according to Mario Celli, head of the Vatican’s social media department, if the Pope’s tweets bear authentic spiritual fruit in your heart.
I have no bloody idea what that means, or how it works or who will check the crops in your heart, but that’s a condition if you want torture time off. You also must be in good standing with the church and be truly penitent and contrite and carry out prayers with requisite devotion. I’m not sure but there might be an expectation of love offerings involved in this, as well.
Indulgences Take Many Forms
If you are not on Twitter, don’t worry. There are other ways to suffer less in the afterlife before being sufficiently purified to enter Heaven. You might prefer to climb The Sacred Steps in Rome. If you do that, the agents of a loving God will subject you to seven entire years less torture. Wow. If I were a true-believing Catholic, I’d be up and down those steps all day, day after day, until dead from exhaustion.
But, let’s say you’re not into exercise, even for such a good cause (i.e., less torture). You can reduce the time given over to the agonies of Purgatory and speed your way into the ecstasies of heaven if you attend Catholic World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
If the costs of doing that are out of your range, still no need to worry. A Vatican court called, and I’m not making this up, The Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary (SAP), exists solely to promote the forgiveness of sins. The good SAP Court offers torture indulgences for those who simply follow the rites and pious exercises of Catholic World Youth Day on television, radio or through social media.
It seems to me the Catholic Church is really going out of its way to cut back on the tortures of Purgatory. However, I would caution stay-at-home World Youth Day viewers not to overindulge in drinking beer and eating chips or dozing off or otherwise observing the proceedings in a less than reverent and pious manner. Otherwise, your heart might not bear authentic spiritual fruit.
Political Force for Theocracy
I love it when the Church acts like somebody’s crazy uncle. When it’s issuing indulgences, making saints, confirming miracles and acting crazy, it’s not working through its cardinals and bishops and priests and Catholic zealot organizations to lower the wall separating religion from government, and thus seeking to separate the American people from their liberties.
I’d much rather read about the latest miracles attributed to dead popes and other catholics and indulgences for the Pope’s tweeting than have to combat its relentless efforts to restrict the rights of gays to marry, women to exercise their reproductive rights, employees to access the birth control provisions in the Affordable Health Care Act and to subject us all to funding parochial schools and rebuilding their churches damaged by acts of their own God, religious symbols on public property, “under god” babble in the pledge of allegiance, in God we trust on our national currency, commandments on public property and prayers at civic functions.
And that’s just a sampling of what the Church does to advance its agenda of a more theocratic America.
Sometimes, it’s hard not to appreciate a crazy uncle.