Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 23: Promoting Penance and Reconciliation, Part 3: Two Points

We continue with Promoting Penance and Reconciliation. I’ll be honest. I don’t think “promotion” is the best idea to utilize. I get what JPS’s hopes were for some kind of a return to a sense of the past with higher virtues in play. And also that the Church’s ministers have a role to play in guiding, shepherding people to a stronger sense of leaning, relying on God. It’s about every effort of ministry, keeping reconciliation in mind:

To speak of the pastoral activity of penance and reconciliation, then, is to refer to all the tasks incumbent on the church, at all levels, for their promotion. More concretely, to speak of this pastoral-activity is to evoke all the activities whereby the church, through each and every one of her members-pastors and faithful, at all levels and in all spheres, and with all the means at her disposal, words and actions, teaching and prayer-leads people individually or as groups to true penance and thus sets them on the path to full reconciliation.

John Paul II refers again to the recently completed synod (1983):

The fathers of the synod, as representatives of their brother bishops and as leaders of the people entrusted to them, concerned themselves with the most practical and concrete elements of this pastoral activity. And I am happy to echo their concerns by associating myself with their anxieties and hopes, by receiving the results of their research and experiences, and by encouraging them in their plans and achievements. May they find in this part of the present apostolic exhortation the contribution which they themselves made to the synod, a contribution the usefulness of which I wish to extend, through these pages, to the whole church.

I therefore propose to call attention to the essentials of the pastoral activity of penance and reconciliation by emphasizing, with the synod assembly, the following two points:

1. The means used and the paths followed by the church in order to promote penance and reconciliation.

2. The sacrament par excellence of penance and reconciliation.

These two points will occupy the remainder of the discussion on this document. I want to get back to “promotion” and my criticism of the term. Penance can’t be promoted like a product hawked by corporations or sold by the 1% to the 99. A stance, attitude, life of reconciliation must be lived, and shared in such a way that its practitioners are undeniably “sold” on it. That means not just as another religious initiative, but a way of life. Unlike four decades ago, the pope’s “brother bishops” have less credibility. To the vast majority of Catholics, bishops are unseen and irrelevant to their lives, even their spiritual lives. To the small minorities who do know bishops, some just want them to be political and mirror their own conservative/libertarian stances. And some see them as obstacles to a more open presentation of the Gospel in the Church and to the world. It’s a tough spot. In the weeks ahead, we’ll see how a document penned more than a third of a century ago stacks up in the modern situation.

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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