Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. Continuing our reflection on the Sacrament of Penance, today we want to
delve into a dimension that intrinsically characterizes it: reconciliation.
This aspect of the sacrament works as an antidote and medicine against the
lacerating character proper to sin. In fact, by sinning man not only
distances himself from God, but sows seeds of division within himself and
in his relationships with his brothers and sisters. The return to God
implies therefore a reintegration of the unity jeopardized by sin.
2. Reconciliation is a gift of the Father: He alone can bring it about.
Therefore it represents first of all an appeal that comes from on high: "In
the name of Christ, be reconciled to God" (2 Cor 5:20). As Jesus explains
to us in the parable of the Merciful Father (cf Lk 15:11-32), forgiveness
and reconciliation to Himself are a celebration for Him. The Father, here
as in other Gospel passages, not only offers forgiveness and reconciliation
but at the same time shows how these gifts are sources of joy for everyone.
The link between divine paternity and the hearty joy of the banquet is
significant in the New Testament. The reign of God is compared to a joyous
banquet where it is the Father who does the inviting (cf Mt 8:11; 22:4;
26:29). The fulfillment of salvation history is again expressed with images
of the feast prepared by God the Father for the marriage of the Lamb (cf Ap
3. It is precisely in Christ, the spotless Lamb, offered for our sins (cf 1
Pt 1:19; Ap 5:6; 12:11) that the reconciliation that comes from the Father
is concentrated. Jesus Christ is not only the One who reconciles, but
Reconciliation itself. As St. Paul teaches, our becoming a new creature,
renewed by the Spirit, "comes from God, who reconciled us to Himself
through Christ and entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation. In other
words, God in Christ was reconciling the world to Himself, not holding
men's faults against them, and he has entrusted to us the news that they
are reconciled" (2 Cor 5:18-19).
Precisely through the mystery of the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ the
drama of the division existing between man and God is overcome. With
Easter, in fact , the mystery of the infinite mercy of the Father
penetrates the darkest roots of the iniquity of human beings. There it
effects a movement of grace which, if we accept it freely, causes us to
relish the sweetness of full reconciliation.
Christ's abyss of pain and abandonment is in this way transformed into an
inextinguishable source of compassionate and peacemaking love. The Redeemer
redesigns a way of return to the Father that permits us to experience again
the filial relationship that had been lost and confers on human beings the
strength necessary to maintain this profound communion with God.
4. Unfortunately, there also exists in redeemed life the possibility of
sinning again, and this requires a continual vigilance. Furthermore, even
after being forgiven, the "residues of sin" remain, which can be removed
and combated by a penitential program of stronger striving for good. It
requires in the first place reparation of physical or moral wrongs done to
groups or individuals. Thus conversion becomes a permanent way in which the
mystery of reconciliation effected in the sacrament acts as both a point of
arrival and point of departure.
The encounter with Christ Who forgives fosters in our hearts the dynamism
of trinitarian love that the "Ordo Penitentiae" (Rite of Penance) describes
as follows: "Through the sacrament of Penance the Father accepts the
penitent son that returns to Him; Christ puts the lost sheep on His
shoulders to bring him back to the fold, and the Holy Spirit re-sanctifies
His temple or intensifies His presence in it; it signals the renewed and
more fervent participation at the Table of the Lord, in the great joy of
the banquet that the Church of God prepares to celebrate the return of the
prodigal son." (N. 6; cf also NN. 5 and 19).
5. The "Rite of Penance" explains in the formula of absolution the link
between pardon and peace, offered by God the Father in the Passover of his
Son, and with the "mediation of the minister of the Church" (OP, 46). The
Sacrament, while signifying and realizing the gift of reconciliation, makes
evident that she does not only look to our relationship with God the
Father, but also the relationship with our brothers. These two aspects of
reconciliation are intimately connected. The reconciling action of Christ
happens in the Church. She is not able to reconcile by herself but as a
living instrument of the pardon of Christ, according to the precise mandate
of the Lord (cf Jn 20:23; Mt 18:18). This reconciliation in Christ is
realized in an outstanding way in the celebration of the sacrament of
Penance. However, all of the intimate being of the Church in its
communitarian dimension is characterized by the permanent habit of
A certain individualism in understanding reconciliation must be overcome:
the entire Church cooperates in the conversion of sinners, through prayer,
exhortation, fraternal correction, and the support of love. Without
reconciliation among brothers, love does not take flesh in the individual.
As sin tears the fabric of the Body of Christ, so reconciliation recreates
solidarity between the members of the People of God.
6. The ancient practice of penance highlighted the
communitarian-ecclesiastical aspect of reconciliation, in particular in the
final moment of absolution by the Bishop with the readmission of the
penitent to the community. The teaching of the Church and penitential
discipline promulgated after the Second Vatican Council exhort us to
rediscover and again honor the communitarian-ecclesiastical dimension of
Reconciliation (cf LG, 11 and also SC, 27), while conserving the doctrine
on the need for individual confession.
In the context of the Grand Jubilee of the Year 2000 it will be important
to offer the people of God valid and up-to-date programs of reconciliation
which bring about the rediscovery of the communitarian nature, not only of
penance, but also of the Father's entire project of salvation for humanity.
In this way the teaching of the Constitution "Lumen Gentium" will be
realized: "God wanted to sanctify men, not individually and without any
connection between them, but by making of them a people that would
recognize Him in truth and piously serve Him" (N. 9). (Translation by ZENIT