You don’t need a shovel to find this treasure

By | February 2, 2012

No, it’s not located at the Vatican. It’s not made up of gems or gold or even treasury bonds.


It’s definitely not hidden or buried anywhere. And “no moth or decay can destroy it.”

Got it now?

Yes, the treasury of the church is centered in Christ.

The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” explains this treasury as “the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ’s merits have before God. They were offered so that the whole of mankind could be set free from sin and attain communion with the Father.”

The treasury of the church is the love with which Christ suffered for us in order to be able to open for us an infinite supply of God’s mercy. This treasury is administered by the church.

As Pope Clement VI wrote in the 14th century: “This treasure (Christ himself) neither wrapped up in a napkin nor hid in a field, but entrusted to Blessed Peter, the key-bearer, and his successors, that they might … distribute it to the faithful in full or in partial remission for the temporal punishment due to sin.”

The pope (Peter’s successor) generally makes distributions from the treasury by means of indulgences. Indulgences are sometimes confusing because we ask why we would need anything beyond absolution. And we have the sacrament of reconciliation for that. Right?

Yes, we have absolution. We have the forgiveness of sins. However, in ways we cannot begin to understand, the effects of sin still remain even after our sins are forgiven.

This is because God is a just God, as well as a forgiving God. As “The Catholic Encyclopedia” explains, after reconciliation “there still remains the temporal punishment required by divine justice, and this requirement must be fulfilled either in the present life or in the world to come… An indulgence offers the penitent sinner the means of discharging this debt during his life on earth.” We have to, as Pope Paul VI explained, make amends for our offense: “the universal order itself … diminished or destroyed by sin (must) be fully integrated.”

Now it is too complicated to go into how this is done, or what “temporal punishment” entails or what “fully integrated” means. Just think about how life works on earth — if you break a window with a baseball and ask for and receive forgiveness, the window is still broken. It has to be repaired. The idea of indulgences, God’s justice and “temporal punishment” all fit into the same type of reasoning. Something still needs to be fixed.

The main point to remember is that the treasury is always there to fix things. It is never going to run empty, no matter how many windows we break. Christ’s self-giving love did everything ever needed to make everything eternally right.

However, even though the treasury of the church will never run out, God gave us a chance to add to it. This is what St. Paul meant when he wrote to the Colossians, “I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (1:24).

Now, we just said the treasury of the church could never, ever run out. Christ’s contribution to it was more than enough; it was perfect. So how could Paul be “filling up what was lacking” in the treasury?

He wasn’t. Instead, by the grace of God, Paul — through his sufferings, ministry and prayers — was able to add to the treasury. It’s a mystery, but Christ allows us to share in what he perfectly did.

“The Catholic Encyclopedia” explains this as “a secondary deposit, not independent of, but rather acquired through, the merits of Christ.”

These secondary deposits — whether they be prayers for others, good deeds or self-denials — become part of the treasury. They belong to the miracle that we call the “Communion of Saints.” In that communion, we are all — living here or living after life on earth — present to one another and able to help one another through Christ.

God so wants to share in God’s divine life and love for us that he allows our small offerings to become as precious as Christ’s. As St. Athanasius wrote in the fourth century, “God became man that we might become like God.” God is love and, through the treasury of the church, God allows us not only to profit from that merciful love but to become an active part of it.

If I were to look at it from a child’s eyes, I would say that we didn’t make the treasure; we didn’t make the gems; we didn’t mine them; we didn’t even bring them anywhere in a chest. But, like a gem cutter or a merchant, we can use our own efforts to take that treasure and cut it, polish it or display it in such a way as to reveal the shining and glorious fire that lies at its heart.

And that heart is the love of God revealed in Christ.

Sources: “The Catholic Encyclopedia”; Paul VI’s “Apostolic Constitution on Indulgences” and John Paul II’s “Apostolic Letter on Human Suffering” at the Vatican website at; and “The Catechism of the Catholic Church.”

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