The Year of Mercy has been in full force for well over three months. I’ve seen various articles across numerous social-media platforms, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. I’m not sure if I wasn’t paying attention during 2015 or just didn’t care, but I didn’t realize that one could gain a plenary indulgence by walking through the doors of a Cathedral during this Year of Mercy. In fact, it wasn’t until I heard someone refer to these holy doors as “Mercy Doors” that I had thought how familiar this sounded. Then it hit me. It’s part of the plot from the blasphemous movie Dogma!
For those of you who have never seen Dogma, or don’t remember, it is a comedy in which Ben Affleck and Matt Damon play two fallen angels who disobeyed God and were banished and sent to Wisconsin. But, it gets better. Because the Catholic Church is considered “old and stale” the fictitious Cardinal Glick, reveals a new image of Jesus, called “the Buddy Christ,” in which we see an updated Jesus who is smiling, winking and pointing at you. During this campaign to update the Church’s image along with his Cathedral’s rededication, Cardinal Glick announces that anyone who goes through the Cathedral’s doors during this time will gain a plenary indulgence and will receive pardon from all sin, allowing for direct entry into Heaven. Seeing this as an opportunity to prove God wrong, Affleck and Damon drive across America to New Jersey so that they can pass through this “Door of Mercy” so that they can go to Heaven and cause all life as we know it to cease to exist.
Yes, I know how awful this movie is, but before my conversion to Catholicism ten years ago, I really enjoyed this movie. It was my favorite movie, but no longer is.
Needless to say, has no one else thought of this comparison? Not only is the plot line similar, but the logo looks an awful lot like Buddy Christ.
My knee-jerk reaction was to wonder if anybody in the Vatican’s PR department didn’t stop to see if something was a bit off with the Year of Mercy. After all, Dogma came out in 1999 and drew the attention of a lot of Catholics as being quite anti-Catholic. And while the Vatican can’t keep track of every movie released, you would think that one of the American Cardinals would have at least thought “hey, this sounds familiar?” I mean, it isn’t like Pope Francis just dropped this into their laps with only a couple of months to prepare, right?
Many Popes have granted indulgences throughout the history of the Church as a sign of God’s love and mercy. Indulgences are a beautiful gift which remits the temporal punishment due to sin which already has been forgiven in full or in part. It is up to the reigning Pontiff to determine if he should impart a plenary indulgence to the Church for a particular event, but he should use this power responsibly, as one of the biggest complaints during the Protestant Reformation was the abuse of such indulgences.
The plenary indulgence for a pilgrim who walks through the Holy Doors of a Basilica or Cathedral has occurred throughout the majority of the history of the Catholic Church. This practice is nothing novel. What is novel about this particular devotion with the Year of Mercy is that originally a pilgrim was required to go to Rome and walk through the doors of one of the major basilicas or St. Peter’s to receive the indulgence. It was work to gain the indulgence. It was an indulgence given as a reward for making the long pilgrimage.
With the Year of Mercy, the indulgence has been extended to all Cathedrals or Basilicas across the world.
Perhaps instead of looking at Dogma as a movie that was predicting the future, maybe we should view it as a movie parodying the Church for some of the silly things it was already doing? The movie clearly mocks the Catholic practice of receiving a plenary indulgence from walking through the Holy Doors.
This misunderstanding derives from the fact that the average Catholic would not have known about this practice because your average Catholic before the Second Vatican Council would likely not travel to Rome to participate in these Jubilee years. But the Popes had begun loosening the tradition of pilgrims being required to travel to Rome to receive the plenary indulgence, thus this practice would seem novel to your average Catholic, who had not known about it.
Dogma was controversial for it’s heretical theology and jokes profaning much of what the Catholic Church considers holy. It was absurd to think that the Church would remove the crucifixes because they were too negative and replaced them with sappy images of Jesus Christ trying to portray Himself as “hip” and “cool” to appeal to the modern man. Fast-forward seventeen years and what do we see?
We see the Catholic Church trying to whimsy it’s way into relevance by asserting herself to be “hip” and “cool.” Gone are the days in which your average Catholic in the pew submitted himself to God. Today, the average Catholic forces God to submit to him. We no longer see the crucifix as being the primary image of Our Lord to remind us of our redemption, but because the crucifixion isn’t happy, we see the images of Our Lord replaced with happy hippy versions who “don’t judge” and are cool with whatever you do, man.
If anything, the Year of Mercy demonstrates how far the Catholic Church has fallen into a parody of herself. We can see the Year of Mercy, if anything, as a parallel to Dogma. We now witness the “Oprahfication” of indulgences, in which everybody gets an indulgence, every church gets a Holy Door, everyone gets mercy, whether they like it or not.
Don’t get me wrong, mercy is beautiful, but it is something that can only be given by God if the individual requests it. Throughout this Year of Mercy, everyone has been suffocated by the term that it no longer means what is intended. It leads numerous people to believe that they do not need to amend their lives but instead leads them to think they can continue to live the lives they lead and that mercy will forgive them regardless. This attitude does no favor to these people, but only reaffirms them in their sin.
The “Church” as we see from her visible witness is no longer acting as if she is in the business of saving souls, but rather, is attempting to be in the business of entertainment. But the Church fails because her job isn’t to entertain, but to bring souls into the graces provided by Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.
Those who adhere to Christ and His Church’s rules know that the Church’s mission hasn’t changed one iota, but the clergy who are running the show have. And while these men pervert the image of the Church as well as her message, Christ’s sending message still rings true even to this day.
“Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” Matthew 28:19-20