Some people say that talk of indulgences is old-fashioned and counterproductive.
Perfect nonsense. Indulgences are part and parcel of God's economy of salvation and an expression of His overwhelming love for us.
Consider the following analogy:
Sin is like a thick nail driven forcibly into a block of wood―the wood represents our soul.
The nail can be removed from the wood through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but it will leave a gaping hole marring the wood.
Indulgences heal the wood/soul.
I'm often confronted by people who delight in the idea that the Sacrament of Penance simply "excuses bad behavior." Nothing could be further from the truth.
First, one must approach the confessional with the intention of sinning no more, as per Christ's injunction (John 8:11). Second, though one is forgiven after confessing to a priest and those sins will no longer be counted against the penitent, the spiritual and sometimes physical and possible financial damage caused by one's sins still remains and it's up to the penitent, if he's insincere, to make amends.
And whence do Catholics, the original Christians, come to this revelation? From the Bible itself:
- "Give alms from your possessions. Do not turn your face away from any of the poor, and God's face will not be turned away from you. (Tob 4:7)
- Son, give alms in proportion to what you own. If you have great wealth, give alms out of your abundance; if you have but little, distribute even some of that. But do not hesitate to give alms; you will be storing up a goodly treasure for yourself against the day of adversity. Almsgiving frees one from death, and keeps one from going into the dark abode. (Tob 4:8-10)
- Prayer with fasting is good. Almsgiving with righteousness is better than wealth with wickedness. It is better to give alms than to store up gold, for almsgiving saves from death, and purges all sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life (Tob 12:8-9)
- In time of trouble it will be recalled to your advantage, like warmth upon frost it will melt away your sins. Those who neglect their father are like blasphemers; those who provoke their mother are accursed by their Creator. My son, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. (Sir 3:15-17)
- Water quenches a flaming fire, and alms atone for sins. He who does a kindness is remembered afterward; when he falls, he finds a support. (Sir 3:29-30)
- Bow down your ear cheerfully to the poor, and pay what you owe, and answer peaceable words with mildness. (Sir 4:8)
- Do good to your friend before you die, and according to your ability stretch out your hand, and give to the poor. Before your death work justice; for in hell there is no finding food. (Sir 14:13, 17)
- Store up almsgiving in your treasury, and it will save you from every evil. (Sir 29:12)
- Help the poor because of the commandment: and send him not away empty-handed because of his poverty. Lose thy money for thy brother and thy friend, and hide It not under a stone to be lost. Place your treasures in the commandments of the Most High, and it shall bring thee more profit than gold. Shut up alms in the heart of the poor, and it shall obtain help for you against all evil. Better than the shield of the mighty, and better than the spear; it shall fight for you against your enemy. (Sir 29:13-17)
- And reach out your hand to the poor, so that your atonement and your blessing may be perfected. (Sir 7:36)
- One person is lavish yet grows still richer; another is too sparing, yet is the poorer. Whoever confers benefits will be amply enriched, and whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. (Pro 11:24-25)
- He that shows mercy to the poor shall be blessed. (Pro 14:21)
- Give to the poor and you will never be in need. If you close your eyes to the poor, many people will curse you. (Pro 28:27)
- Let my counsel be acceptable to you, and redeem your sins with alms, and your iniquities with works of mercy to the poor: perhaps he will forgive your offenses. (Dan 4:24)
- Happy are those who are concerned for the poor; the Lord will help them when they are in trouble. The Lord will protect them and preserve their lives; he will make them happy in the land; he will not abandon them to the power of their enemies. (Ps 41:1-2)
- But when you help a needy person, do it in such a way that even your closest friend will not know about it. Then it will be a private matter. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you. (Mt 6:3-4)
- "Do not store up riches for yourselves here on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and robbers break in and steal. Instead, store up riches for yourselves in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and robbers cannot break in and steal. (Mt 6:19-20)
- Whosoever shall give to drink to one of these little ones a cup of cold water only, in the name of a disciple, amen I say to you, he shall not lose his reward. (Mt 10:42)
- Give alms: and behold all things are clean unto you. (Lk 11:41)
- Do not forget to do good and to impart; for by such sacrifices God's favor is obtained. (Heb 13:16)
- He who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he that sows in blessings shall also reap in blessings. (2Cor. 9:6)
- In this present time let your abundance supply their want, that their abundance also may supply your want. (2Cor 8:14)
- Above everything, love one another earnestly, because love covers over many sins. (1Pe 4:8)
- In your relations with one another clothe yourselves with humility, God is stern with the arrogant but to the humble he shows kindness. Bow humbly under God’s mighty hand, so that in due time he may lift you high. Cast all your care on him because he cares for you. (1Pe 5:5b-7)