Several readers have asked along these lines:
To get a plenary indulgence we have to be completely detached from sin, affection for sin, even venial sins. Since only Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother were perfectly free from attachment to sin, how can any of us ever gain a plenary indulgence? Doesn’t the Church set an impossibly high standard? Why bother trying?
First, having high standards is a good thing. Shouldn’t we be free from attachment to sin? To what degree is being attached to sin okay?
In the final analysis, perhaps we have to admit that gaining plenary indulgences is rarer than we would like.
That said, it is not impossible. And I don’t think we have to be a hermit living on top of a tree beating his head with a rock to be free of attachment to sin so as to gain this plenary or “full” indulgence.
Also, we do not know the degree to which a “partial” indulgence is “partial”. It could be a lot. That in itself is something which should spur us on!
Generally, if someone is motivated to obtain an indulgence, he does so from true piety, desire to please God and to help oneself and others.
When it comes to complete detachment from sin, even venial, few of us live in that state all the time. Nevertheless, there are times when we have been moved to sorrow for sin after examination of conscience, perhaps after an encounter with God as mystery in liturgical worship or in the presence of human suffering, that we come to a present horror and shame of sin that moves us to reject sin entirely. That doesn’t mean that we, in some Pelagian sense, have chosen to remain perfect from that point on or that by force of will we can chosen never to sin again. God is helping us with graces at that point, of course. But we do remain frail and weak.
But God reads our hearts.
Holy Church offers us many opportunities for indulgences. The presupposition is that Holy Church knows we can actually attain them. They can be partial (and we don’t know to what extent that is) and full or plenary. But they can be obtained by the faithful.
Holy Church is a good mother. She wouldn’t dangle before our eyes something that is impossible for us to attain. That doesn’t mean that a full indulgence is an easy thing. It does mean that we can do it. In fact, beatifications and canonizations have been more common in the last few decades and in previous centuries. The Church is showing us that it is possible for ordinary people to live a life of heroic virtue.
Therefore, keep your eyes fixed on the prize of indulgences. Never think that it is useless to try to get any indulgence, partial or full, just because
Perhaps you are not sure you can attain complete detachment from all sin, even venial. Before you perform the indulgenced work, ask God explicitly to take away any affection for sin you might be treasuring. Do this often and, over your lifetime, and you may find it easier and easier. Support your good project with good confessions and good communions. You need those graces.
A person does not become expert in worldly pursuits overnight or without effort. It takes time and practice to develop skills and virtues. It takes time to develop habits of the spirit as well.
We can do this. And when we fall short, we still have the joy of obtaining the partial indulgence and that’s not nothing.