In The Sacraments, John Paul II sees a doorway into the Father’s grace and forgiveness. Before we get to the obvious sacrament of forgiveness, we’ll take a tour of the others.
27. The second divinely instituted means which the church offers for the pastoral activity of penance and reconciliation is constituted by the sacraments.
In the mysterious dynamism of the sacraments, so rich in symbolism and content, one can discern one aspect which is not always emphasized: Each sacrament, over and above its own proper grace, is also a sign of penance and reconciliation. Therefore in each of them it is possible to relive these dimensions of the spirit.
Focusing exclusively on Penance might mean closing ourselves off to other experiences of grace. God isn’t limited to Catholic categories where sacraments are concerned. Baptism is certainly a sacrament of forgiveness and healing. The tradition of infant initiation might obscure that, especially in the West. But a look at the catechumenate rites, as well as some of the modern formation materials in RCIA make it more clear. The New Testament also gives witness to it:
Baptism is of course a salvific washing which, as St Peter says, is effective “not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience.”(1 Peter 3:21) It is death, burial and resurrection with the dead, buried and risen Christ.(Cf Romans 6:3f; Colossians 2:12) It is a gift of the Holy Spirit through Christ.(Cf Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11:16) But this essential and original constituent of Christian baptism, far from eliminating the penitential element already present in the baptism which Jesus himself received from John “to fulfill all righteousness,”(Cf Matthew 3:15) in fact enriches it. In other words, it is a fact of conversion and of reintegration into the right order of relationships with God, of reconciliation with God, with the elimination of the original stain and the consequent introduction into the great family of the reconciled.
Baptism, therefore, isn’t just a religious action for an individual, but a reflection of an ideal community–a family, really–of sisters and brothers united in God’s original intention of harmony and mutual love and support.
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