Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 26: Catechesis, Part 4: Penance Inspired By Love

A catechesis on penance, therefore, and one that is as complete and adequate as possible, is absolutely essential at a time like ours when dominant attitudes in psychology and social behavior are in such contrast with the threefold value just illustrated. Contemporary (people) seem to find it harder than ever to recognize (their) own mistakes and to decide to retrace (their) steps and begin again after changing course.

This is why I find myself skeptical on part of this line of thinking. On one hand, it is part of the human condition to be blind to one’s own sins. On the other, I doubt that modern people are any better or worse that previous generations. On occasion, religious people are blind to their own sins. For Catholics, are religious leaders open to being confronted by their own sins, or do they resist, hire lawyers, stonewall victims, accuse lay people of lacking catechesis?

He (or she) seems very reluctant to say “I repent” or “I am sorry.” He (or she) seems to refuse instinctively and often irresistibly anything that is penance in the sense of a sacrifice accepted and carried out for the correction of sin.

The proper pronoun here is “we.”

In this regard I would like to emphasize that the church’s penitential discipline, even though it has been mitigated for some time, cannot be abandoned without grave harm both to the interior life of individual Christians and of the ecclesial community and also to their capacity for missionary influence. It is not uncommon for non-Christians to be surprised at the negligible witness of true penance on the part of Christ’s followers. It is clear, however, that Christian penance will only be authentic if it is inspired by love and not by mere fear; if it consists in a serious effort to crucify the “old man ” so that the “new” can be born by the power of Christ; if it takes as its model Christ, who though he was innocent chose the path of poverty, patience, austerity and, one can say, the penitential life.

This last sentence is clear. Jesus gave example. When the Christian witness is sullied, it is because our words are more prominent than our example. Words can be anything: good, true, manipulative, lies–anything. Others see this.

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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