I remember when the news came out. It was the turn of the century, a new millennium, a jubilee year for the church. To celebrate, Pope John Paul II declared that Catholics could earn an indulgence by taking a pilgrimage to a [long] short list of churches or holy sites. Conveniently for me, one of those churches was the Diocese of Denver.
It was just a few years earlier that JP2 (as we affectionately called him) visited Denver for World Youth Day- the same event Pope Francis I is currently celebrating in Brazil. Yesterday's headline was how his convoy made a wrong turn and got caught in a throng of pilgrims and revelers. If you're not Catholic, it is hard to describe the celebrity status of the Pontiff- but seeing all those people crowding themselves closer to the non-popemobile is worth more than my words.
I was one of them nearly two decades ago. I remember being shooed away by Secret Service as my friends and I got a little too close to the helicopter landing site at Mile High Stadium and later allowing some nuns a better view (right next to a barricade) of the Pope's convoy on his way to mass at Cherry Creek Park.
All that to say, I get it. But back to 2000 I was faced with a dilemma. I had stopped attending the Catholic church, so I wasn't technically in the "good graces" required to receive the indulgence- a remission of the "temporal penalty" of my sin. At the same time, I had spent the previous two to three months studying the Bible and coming to my own convictions regarding the forgiveness of sins. So I had a choice to make, take a short convenient drive to downtown for a temporary fix to my sinful nature without changing my lifestyle, or actually repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of my sins (Acts 2:38).
I'll leave you guessing which I chose.
At home I have an old Catholic Bible. In the inside cover are a list of indulgences from Pope Pius XII based on the frequency with which one read it. When I open that Bible and look at those I scratch my head, wondering how that doctrine survived the Protestant Reformation. I figure many others felt the same way when they saw last week's headline "Pope forgives Twitter followers". The news resonated, even if it got the theology all mixed up.
I'll leave it to others to recap the subject and correct the doctrine. Meanwhile, maybe you should follow Pope Francis on Twitter to cover all your bases. (or just trust the atoning blood of Jesus instead)