From a reader…
You have written in the past about the conditions necessary for a plenary indulgence and acts of perfect contrition. Both of these require a lack of attachment to sin, even venial sin. Yet we know we’ll experience temptation until we die. If we continue to be tempted to a specific sin, even if we fight it faithfully and rarely, if ever, actually commit it, the same thing as being attached to it?
Thank you for all your good work.
Interesting. I just answered a couple of indulgence questions in email.
Let’s make a distinction from the beginning: a temptation is not the same as attachment. Temptations can be fleeting and brushed aside, or they can be really tough, perhaps because we are still working to detach from something and we haven’t yet developed the necessary virtues. The test of attachment, and this is something you have to read in yourself with brutal honesty, has to do with consent of the will. Resisting temptations can be meritorious, also. So, temptations are not the same as attachments, though they can overlap.
Looking at this from a couple different angles, I think we will agree that being detached even from venial sin is a good thing, right? Shouldn’t we have high standards?
Also, the Church does not ask us to do things that are impossible. It is indeed possible to free oneself from attachment to sins. It might involve some suffering along the way, but it can be done and the benefits are obvious.
Next, the Church offers plenary indulgences (a condition for the gaining of which is the detachment from even venial sins we are addressing) precisely because she wants the faithful to obtain them! Hence, far from being impossible, while it is harder than gaining a partial indulgence, it can’t be all that hard. Normal people can do this.
You don’t have be hermit living on top of a tree beating your head with a rock to be free of attachment to sin so as to gain a plenary or “full” indulgence.
So, what does it mean to be “detached” of sin?
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.
God reads our hearts.
In a similar way, when we go to confession, to obtain absolution we say that we intend to amend our lives. And, in that moment, we must sincerely desire to amend our lives and not sin any more. If you don’t intend to stop sinning, no valid absolution. So, it is important to stir in ourselves OFTEN those good Catholics senses about attrition and contrition, so that we develop the habit of detesting sins, so that it becomes easier and easier to detest them and detach from them. We can get to work on this so that God’s graces will be of greater effect.
A good way to do that is to contemplate the Four Last Things and also to spend time contemplating a Crucifix.
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 it seems hard.
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. Why would not the same apply to spiritual pursuits? 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.
As a bonus, waaaaay back in 2006 my good friend Fr. Tim Finigan had a clear explanation of being detached from sin and the disposition you need to gain indulgences. HERE