Section 8 of this apostolif exhortation is devoted to a brief study of The Reconciling Church. Pope John Paul II first looks to the teaching of one of the great Doctors of the Church, his fifth century predecessor in the Chair of Peter:
But, as Pope St. Leo said, speaking of Christ’s passion, “Everything that the Son of God did and taught for the reconciliation of the world we know not only from the history of his past actions, but we experience it also in the effectiveness of what he accomplishes in the present.”(St. Leo the Great, Tractatus 63 (De Passione Domini, 12), 6: CCL 138/A, 386)
What is this effectiveness? We are discussing the sacramental life of the Church, not just the Sacrament of Penance, but also Baptism and the Eucharist:
We experience the reconciliation which he accomplished in his humanity in the efficacy of the sacred mysteries which are celebrated by his church, for which he gave his life and which he established as the sign and also the means of salvation.
How do Popes from Leo the Great to John Paul II judge this efficacy? Certainly in the witness of conversion in the lives of so many–a whole range of believers and disciples from converts to Christianity to already-committed Christians who are able, with God’s grace, to witness to great heroism through the sacrifice of their own lives. I think we’d include martyrs as well as those who make significant commitments as lay people, religious, and clergy. Those stories still inspire as they accumulate a privileged witness today.
This is stated by St. Paul when he writes that God has given to Christ’s apostles a share in his work of reconciliation. He says: “God…gave us the ministry of reconciliation…and the message of reconciliation.”(Cf 2 Cor 5:18f)
This Scripture is part of the Biblical witness on the Lenten Sunday in cycle C when the parable of the lost son is proclaimed. The father in Jesus’ tale is a figure not only for Christian clergy, but a counsel for the attitude of every believer toward every penitent who returns to the fold.
More to come tomorrow and the following day.
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