Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 12: Other Means of Reconciliation, Part 2, Preaching and Pastoral Action

There is yet another means: that of preaching. The church, since she is the disciple of the one teacher Jesus Christ, in her own turn as mother and teacher untiringly exhorts people to reconciliation.

This reminds me of Pope Paul VI’s important thought from Evangelii Nuntiandi that people today are more receptive to witness than to teachers. And if they do listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses. The problem for the Church as mother and teacher is that the institutional witness has been so poor. This is not primarily because of sex abuse by the clergy. Wayward predators might operate under the umbrella of the institution, but lay people are preceptive enough to separate individual offenders from their leadership. The problem is that the reconciliation witness of bishops as a whole has been so poor.

For the Right, there is a deep lack of respect for anyone perceived to be of the Left. For many others, a deep discouragement with those who have bumbled their authority. Take a look at these next words:

And she does not hesitate to condemn the evil of sin, to proclaim the need for conversion, to invite and ask people to “let themselves be reconciled.” In fact, this is her prophetic mission in today’s world, just as it was in the world of yesterday. It is the same mission as that of her teacher and head, Jesus. Like him, the church will always carry out this mission with sentiments of merciful love and will bring to all people those words of forgiveness and that invitation to hope which come from the cross.

The sad truth is that the Church has indeed hesitated to condemn sin, mostly from those in power. Condemnations have been easily given and routinely ignored. Sometimes the criticism is unfair and unwarranted. And sometimes those criticized see little value in the critique.

And then there is the difficult path of hands-on ministry:

There is also the often so difficult and demanding means of pastoral action aimed at bringing back every individual-whoever and wherever he or she may be-to the path, at times a long one, leading back to the Father in the communion of all the (sisters and brothers).

“Pastoral action” seems a rather sterile term. I think I’d prefer pastoral accompaniment, or friendship, or even ministry. Sometimes the path isn’t really too long, but it does mean taking a risk to put oneself on the line with inactive believers, or those who have found the Church’s way lacking in some serious way. We must be prepared for serious, and even unfair criticism for taking “action” along these lines.

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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