16. Jesus reconciled humanity to the Father through His life, sacrificial death on the cross, and resurrection. So too the Church, in "intimate connection with Christ's mission, [has as her central task that of] reconciling people: with God, with themselves, with neighbor, with the whole of creation" (RP, 8). Moreover, to "evoke conversion and penance in man's heart and to offer him the gift of reconciliation is the specific mission of the Church as she continues the work of her divine Founder" (RP, 23).
17. The Church carries out her mission of reconciliation in various ways, but first among them in the life of the Catholic faithful is the sacrament which Jesus instituted exactly for this purpose: the Sacrament of Reconciliation, also known as Penance. Since the Second Vatican Council, many Catholics have unfortunately neglected the practice of personal confession to a priest. In doing so, they've robbed themselves of a tremendous source of consolation. I strongly encourage all Catholics of the archdiocese to return to personal confession on a regular basis as a vital part of their preparation for the Great Jubilee. I ask parents to draw their children into this sacrament by word and example. I ask my brother priests, where the demands of their ministry allow, to extend the hours of confession in their parishes and to make available more communal celebrations of the sacrament, with private confession included, as part of their planning for the Jubilee. Finally, I ask parish and Catholic school catechists to emphasize the Sacrament of Penance as an experience of pardon and peace; cleansing and healing; honesty and restoration; weakness and strength; guidance and correction; judgment and penance; conversion and joy. In a very real sense, Penance is the sacrament of conscience, because the sins we confess are those disclosed by a careful examination of the secret sanctuary of the heart.
18. The Sacrament of Penance can be intensely fruitful because it is intensely intimate and private: The penitent admits his sins with a contrite heart, confessing them to Christ in the person of the priest, who is bound to absolute secrecy by the sacramental seal. Yet it is also expansive in its scope. Not only is the sinner reconciled to God; he is reconciled to the Church and all her members. In this, we better understand the banquet given by the father of the Prodigal Son: Not only do the father and son rejoice, but all those invited to the banquet share their joy. Moreover, Penance, the sacrament of mercy, enables us to become more merciful ourselves, and disposes us to more deeply celebrate the Eucharist as a foretaste of Heaven.
19. The question sometimes arises: Why do we need to confess our sins to a priest? Why not seek forgiveness in private prayer before the Lord? The answer is that, while private contrition before God is always a crucial first step, Jesus Himself established Penance as the ordinary means of a sinner's forgiveness. As we've already seen, the rupture caused by sin is not just vertical, between child and Father, but also horizontal, among brothers and sisters. All sin has a social dimension. In Penance, the priest not only acts in persona Christi ("in the person of Christ"), forgiving sins through the unique authority Jesus Himself invested in the priesthood through His apostles (Jn 20:22; Mt 18:18), but he also takes part in the reconciliation as a representative of the ecclesial community. Finally, on a very satisfying human level, the things we speak out loud to another person have a finality and personal commitment which thoughts rarely do.
20. Another question involves the spirit best suited to receiving this sacrament. Here we can return to the example of Advent. Properly lived, Advent involves emptying ourselves precisely of our selves - removing our selves from the altars of our own hearts, the better to prepare our hearts as mangers to receive the poverty of Jesus. In like manner, Penance involves emptying ourselves of our sins, which are an expression of our selfishness, in order to be filled with new life in Christ. A good confession should therefore be honest and thorough; it should follow some period of mature self-examination where we ask God for an accurate knowledge of our sins; it should seek God's grace in humility; it should be clear, concise and to the point; it should trust in God's forgiveness; and it should bear fruit in conversion and tangible acts of charity.
21. Regarding the examination of conscience, the Holy Father reminds us that it "must never be one of anxious psychological introspection, but a sincere and calm comparison with the moral law, with the evangelical norms proposed by the Church, with Jesus Christ Himself who is our teacher and model of life, and with the heavenly Father, who calls us to goodness and life" (RP, 31:III). Penance will often involve elements of spiritual direction and personal counseling, but it is a substitute for neither. The Sacrament of Penance exists as a tribunal of mercy and a place of spiritual healing; its purpose is to restore the sinner to freedom from his or her sins, and to set the sinner on a new path of conversion. In that light, scrupulosity and a mechanical resort to the sacrament are not signs of grace, but rather the opposite. They imply a fear of a wrathful God, distrust of His forgiveness and even a kind of narcissism. They are simply the negative image of the other primary sin against the sacrament, which is laxity.
22. The healthy conscience neither withholds indictment where real sin exists, nor indicts where there is no sin. What brings balance to our lives in Christ, is love. The key to right conscience, to repentance, to conversion and to reconciliation — in fact, the key to understanding and celebrating the Great Jubilee — is an overriding trust in God and His love for us, which is greater than the greatest sin and stronger than death.
24. In his 1994 apostolic letter, "As the Third Millennium Draws Near" (Tertio Millennio Adveniente), John Paul II defines "the joy of every Jubilee" — but especially the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 — as "above all a joy based upon the forgiveness of sins, the joy of conversion" (32). And elsewhere in the same document, he notes that "preparing for the Year 2000 has become . . . a key of my pontificate" (23).
25. The importance of the Great Jubilee is this: It is a countersign to the sinfulness of our age. We live at a pivotal moment in history, a time of unsurpassed achievement and unsurpassed inhumanity. We're closing a century which has served as a great battleground between the "culture of life" and the "culture of death." Around the world, humanity struggles for freedom and dignity. At the same time, it methodically creates the instruments of its own destruction. In contrast to this culture of death, the Great Jubilee calls us to turn again to God's Son; and it lifts up His cross so that we might see and believe in our salvation — "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"
26. Our role in this drama is simple, but crucial. The future is not determined; we co-author it with God. As John Paul II observes, ". . . sin, in the proper sense, is always a personal act, since it is an act of freedom on the part of an individual person, and not properly of a group or community" (RP, 16.). In a similar way, the choice to be virtuous is also a personal act. Each of us has free will. We are each a seed planted by the Sower to bring forth justice and reconciliation, through the power of the cross of Christ, by our personal actions and the witness of our lives. We are each — and especially together — the Gospel leaven which can begin to change the "culture of death" from within.
27. In the light of the Great Jubilee, says the Holy Father, "the whole of Christian history appears to us as a single river into which many tributaries pour their waters. The Year 2000 invites us to gather with renewed fidelity and ever deeper communion along the banks of this great river: the river of Revelation, of Christianity and the Church, a river which flows through human history starting from the event which took place at Nazareth and then at Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. This is truly the 'river' with which its 'streams,' in the expression of the Psalm, 'makes glad the city of God' (46:4)" (TMA, 25).
28. I began these pastoral reflections by asking: How do we lay claim to an "Advent joy" that seems so often contradicted by the sorrows and confusions of daily life? We know the answer now: by drinking from that river of mercy which is God's free gift of love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ; and bringing that same love, that same forgiveness, to others. In the desert of our sometimes sinful hearts, in the desert of our often sinful world, this river of God's mercy is the river which brings life.
The "True Love" is God the Father. The Partridge in a pear tree is the Holy Trinity - in particular the Holy Spirit (the Dove) and Jesus Christ Who is known as the "Second Adam". We all know that the fall of man derived around an apple tree. A pear tree ties into this analogy and elevates the redemption.
In each issue we describe each day of Christmas and the hidden Catholic meaning to the song. Many do not realize that the Twelve Days of Christmas are after Christmas - not before, and cover the time between Christmas Day and the Feast of Epiphany which had traditionally been celebrated on January 6th.