Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 1: Origin and Meaning of the Document

Here we go: another church document.


To speak of reconciliation and penance is for the men and women of our time an invitation to rediscover, translated into their own way of speaking, the very words with which our savior and teacher Jesus Christ began his preaching: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel,”(Mark 1:15) that is to say, accept the good news of love, of adoption as children of God and hence of brotherhood.

Why does the church put forward once more this subject and this invitation?

Because this is the basic call for people. I think one of the poverties in the Church today is how we conduct formation in reconciliation. Many prelates have a one-track mind: the laity have no sense; here is our list of sins. An examination of conscience is far, far deeper than that. Clergy and bishops fails as often as anyone else. Why?

First, we are all deeply tainted by sin. Our personal discernment on it is always clouded. The saints were most aware of this in their testimony when the closer they approached sanctity (our assessment) the more self-aware the holy person was in concern with their faults.

Second, our catechetical plan is deeply flawed. We catechize as fourth or fifth graders until the 80s, cranked it back to age 7 or 6 afterward, and many people have that second-grade learnin’ to carry them through life.

Why does the Church need to preach on it? We all need it. Here we read Pope John Paul II’s reasoning:

The concern to know better and to understand modern (people) and the contemporary world, to solve their puzzle and reveal their mystery, to discern the ferments of good and evil within them, has long caused many people to direct at (people) and the world a questioning gaze. It is the gaze of the historian and sociologist, philosopher and theologian, psychologist and humanist, poet and mystic: Above all, it is the gaze, anxious yet full of hope, of the pastor.

What can we expect from this document. The sainted pope tells us he will bring to bear all the human sciences: history, sociology, philosophy, theology, psychology as well as the arts and the mystical tradition. It’s all needed, so don’t be dismissive of any of it.

Praise for Vatican II:

In an exemplary fashion this is shown on every page of the important pastoral constitution of the Second Vatican Council Gaudium et Spes on the church in the modern world, particularly in its wide-ranging and penetrating introduction. It is likewise shown in certain documents issued through the wisdom and charity of my esteemed predecessors, whose admirable pontificates were marked by the historic and prophetic event of that ecumenical council.

The role of the shepherd:

In common with others, the pastor too can discern among the various unfortunate characteristics of the world and of humanity in our time the existence of many deep and painful divisions.

While he saw himself primarily as a pastor, we know John Paul II was prepared to draw on all his training and abilities to bring a penetrating gaze into the human heart. This is a good start to the document.

This document is Copyright © 1984 – Libreria Editrice Vatican. The link on the Vatican site is here.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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