Indeed, “because of the bond which unites us to one another in the Mystical Body, all of us, though not personally responsible and without encroaching on the judgement of God who alone knows every heart, bear the burden of the errors and faults of those who have gone before us” (Incarnationis mysterium, n. 11). The recognition of past wrongs serves to reawaken our consciences to the compromises of the present, opening the way to conversion for everyone.
Let us forgive and ask forgiveness! While we praise God who, in his merciful love, has produced in the Church a wonderful harvest of holiness, missionary zeal, total dedication to Christ and neighbour, we cannot fail to recognize the infidelities to the Gospel committed by some of our brethren, especially during the second millennium. Let us ask pardon for the divisions which have occurred among Christians, for the violence some have used in the service of the truth and for the distrustful and hostile attitudes sometimes taken towards the followers of other religions.
– Pope John Paul II, Homily for the “Day of Pardon,” 12 March 2000
From the Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute
From the Past to the Future: Forgiveness (Matthew 18: 22).
Jonah 3, The repentance of the great city of Nineveh.
Psalm 51, A plea for mercy.
Colossians 3: 12-17, Above all, clothe yourselves with love.
John 8: 1-11, Neither do I condemn you.
Acknowledgment of the sins of the past, the grace of forgiveness and reconciliation are the recurrent themes in these readings. In their mutual relations, our Christian communities still carry the traces of a past marked by human frailty and sin. Some wounds are healing, others are still the source of pain and division. Facing up to the past can be difficult and require sincere soul searching, both for individuals and communities. Yet this is what God asks of us if we are truly to live as his chosen people and to allow the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts and among us. Jonah challenges the people of Nineveh to be honest in confessing their self-centeredness, their disregard for goodness and their acts of violence. He addresses this call to the whole city and all its inhabitants. All must turn away from their evil ways and from the violence that is still part of them. The psalmist pleads for God’s forgiveness as he, too, is deeply troubled by his past. He recognizes his failings and implores God not to abandon him. He also feels responsible for the people of Nineveh and wishes to show them the way of truth and an upright life so that they also might be reconciled with God. The scribes and Pharisees see only failure and sin in the adulterous woman. They identify her with her past. At the same time, they refuse to recognize their own past and their own sins. Jesus invites us not to cast the first stone, not to condemn, and finally, to sin no more. Our search for unity is founded on this call. Pardon cannot be measured. It is as inexhaustible as the love of God: as much as seventy times seven times. In their ecumenical journey our communities are called to witness to God’s mercy in its infinity.
Reconciling God, help us to overcome the grievances and bitterness which the failings and sins of the past have built up in us. Teach us your forgiveness so that we may, in humility, seek reconciliation with you and with our neighbor. Strengthen in us the love of Christ, source and guarantee of the unity of your church. Amen.