The Rite of Penance number 158 cites Ephesians 4:1-3, 17-32 as a choice for the sacrament. This is another super long reading that makes me wonder a bit about the formulators of the Rite.
I grant you Ephesians is a great letter–full of a strong sense of discipleship, of ministry, fabulous reflections on baptism, and the proper commitment of believers. It is peppered with memorable passages, many of which are as lyrical as any in the New Testament. It is probably my favorite of the Pauline corpus.
The Rite offers a shorter option with verses 23-32. Ten verses is not really that short, though. Shorter than nineteen, but that’s about it.
In this post, I’d like to peek at just the first three verses of Ephesians 4:
I, then, a prisoner for the Lord,
urge you to live in a manner
worthy of the call you have received,
with all humility and gentleness,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the spirit
through the bond of peace:
This is the first half of a brief reflection on unity that opens the chapter. Why might this be an ideal Scripture passage for reconciliation and penance? It seems to me that much sin tears at and breaks the unity in our lives. Our relationships with family become frayed. Friendships become strained. We cannot be sure others are with us–sometimes because of their sin, and sometimes because of ours.
Saint Paul is making a personal appeal. And if our affinity for the community at Ephesus has faded in the intervening two millennia, keep in mind that Christ’s desire for us to live worthily, and with all those virtues, is deeply personal. With every scrap of grace available that does not limit our free will, Christ beckons us to all of these virtues. And not just us individually, but our families, associations, communities, parishes, and friendships as well. Can we be humble, gentle, patient, and loving? And will peace bind us with others? How does the Sacrament of Penance help us achieve this?
My sense is that this brief section could be pulled out of the greater chunk of Ephesians 4 for a communal liturgy. But Paul’s intimate invitation here is also fitting for individual reconciliation.