Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 31: Some Fundamental Convictions, Part 8: Alone In Sin, Yet Not Alone

In this section on Some Fundamental Convictions, we’ve covered each of the essential elements of the Rite of Penance. But John Paul II commented significantly on some other matters …

There remains to be made a brief mention of other important convictions about the sacrament of penance.

First of all, it must be emphasized that nothing is more personal and intimate that (sic?) this sacrament, in which the sinner stands alone before God with (their) sin, repentance and trust. No one can repent in (their) place or ask forgiveness in (their) name. There is a certain solitude of the sinner in (her or) his sin, and this can be seen dramatically represented in Cain with sin “crouching at his door,” as the Book of Genesis says so effectively, and with the distinctive mark on his forehead; (Cf Genesis 4:7, 15) in David, admonished by the prophet Nathan; (Cf 2 Samuel 12) or in the prodigal son when he realizes the condition to which he has reduced himself by staying away from his father and decides to return to him. (Cf Luke 15:17-21)

Any pastor would likely comment in a similar vein. Pope Francis today could have said the same as this. There is no passing the buck, no scapegoat. There is often a moment of truth–what the addict would call an experience of hitting bottom. The innermost corners of our personhood are touched by sin and by the realization of our own fault. Maybe we try to cover it up with blaming others or making excuses, but deep within, we know.

Karol Woytyla’s ministry as a pastor and shepherd (before going to Rome) was marked by a fruitful personalism. We are getting the words of an effective and sought-out priest and mentor here. Nothing less.

Look more closely, and support is available:

Everything takes place between the individual alone and God. But at the same time one cannot deny the social nature of this sacrament, in which the whole church-militant, suffering and glorious in heaven- comes to the aid of the penitent and welcomes him again into her bosom, especially as it was the whole church which had been offended and wounded by his sin. As the minister of penance, the priest by virtue of his sacred office appears as the witness and representative of this ecclesial nature of the sacrament. The individual nature and ecclesial nature are two complementary aspects of the sacrament which the progressive reform of the Rite of Penance, especially that contained in the Ordo Paenitentiae promulgated by Paul VI, has sought to emphasize and to make more meaningful in its celebration.

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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