Our heavenly Father is always waiting for His prodigal children and always willing to forgive them

From Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Pænitentia (1984):

At the beginning of this apostolic exhortation there comes into my mind that extraordinary passage in St. Luke, the deeply religious as well as human substance of which I have already sought to illustrate in a previous document.19 I refer to the parable of the prodigal son.20

“There was a man who had two sons; the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that falls to me,'” says Jesus as he begins the dramatic story of that young man: the adventurous departure from his father’s house, the squandering of all his property in a loose and empty life, the dark days of exile and hunger, but even more of lost dignity, humiliation and shame and then nostalgia for his own home, the courage to go back, the father’s welcome. The father had certainly not forgotten his son, indeed he had kept unchanged his affection and esteem for him. So he had always waited for him, and now he embraces him and he gives orders for a great feast to celebrate the return of him who “was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”

This prodigal son is man every human being: bewitched by the temptation to separate himself from his Father in order to lead his own independent existence; disappointed by the emptiness of the mirage which had fascinated him; alone, dishonored, exploited when he tries to build a world all for himself sorely tried, even in the depths of his own misery, by the desire to return to communion with his Father. Like the father in the parable, God looks out for the return of his child, embraces him when he arrives and orders the banquet of the new meeting with which the reconciliation is celebrated.

The most striking element of the parable is the father’s festive and loving welcome of the returning son: It is a sign of the mercy of God, who is always willing to forgive. Let us say at once: Reconciliation is principally a gift of the heavenly Father.

19 Cf Pope John Paul II, encyclical Dives in Misericordia, 5-6: Acta Apostolicæ Sedis 72 (1980), 1193-1199.
20 Cf Lk 15:11-32.

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Reconciliation promotes peace and brotherhood in difficult times

From Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Pænitentia (1984):

The synod at the same time spoke about the reconciliation of the whole human family and of the conversion of the heart of every individual, of his or her return to God: It did so because it wished to recognize and proclaim the fact that there can be no union among people without an internal change in each individual. Personal conversion is the necessary path to harmony between individuals.17 When the church proclaims the good news of reconciliation or proposes achieving it through the sacraments, she is exercising a truly prophetic role, condemning the evils of man in their infected source, showing the root of divisions and bringing hope in the possibility of overcoming tensions and conflict and reaching brotherhood, concord and peace at all levels and in all sections of human society. She is changing a historical condition of hatred and violence into a civilization of love. She is offering to everyone the evangelical and sacramental principle of that reconciliation at the source, from which comes every other gesture or act of reconciliation, also at the social level.

It is this reconciliation, the result of conversion, which is dealt with in the present apostolic exhortation. For, as happened at the end of the three previous assemblies of the synod, this time too the fathers who had taken part presented the conclusions of the synod’s work to the bishop of Rome, the universal pastor of the church and the head of the College of Bishops, in his capacity as president of the synod. I accepted as a serious and welcome duty of my ministry the task of drawing from the enormous abundance of the synod in order to offer to the people of God, as the fruit of the same synod, a doctrinal and pastoral message on the subject of penance and reconciliation. In the first part I shall speak of the church in the carrying out of her mission of reconciliation, in the work of the conversion of hearts in order to bring about a renewed embrace between man and God, man and his brother, man and the whole of creation. In the second part there will be indicated the radical cause of all wounds and divisions between people, and in the first place between people and God: namely sin. Afterward I shall indicate the means that enable the church to promote and encourage full reconciliation between people and God and, as a consequence, of people with one another.

The document which I now entrust to the sons and daughters of the church and also to all those who, whether they are believers or not, look to the church with interest and sincerity, is meant to be a fitting response to what the synod asked of me. But it is also—and I wish to say this dearly as a duty to truth and justice—something produced by the synod itself. For the contents of these pages come from the synod: from its remote and immediate preparation, from the instrumentum laboris, from the interventions in the Synod Hall and the circuli minores, and especially from the sixty-three propositions. Here we have the result of the joint work of the fathers, who included the representatives of the Eastern churches, whose theological, spiritual and liturgical heritage is so rich and venerable, also with regard to the subject that concerns us here. Furthermore, it was the Council of the Synod Secretariat which evaluated, in two important sessions, the results and orientations of the synod assembly just after it had ended, which highlighted the dynamics of the already mentioned propositions and which then indicated the lines considered most suitable for the preparation of the present document. I am grateful to all those who did this work and, in fidelity to my mission, I wish here to pass on the elements from the doctrinal and pastoral treasure of the synod which seem to me providential for people’s lives at this magnificent yet difficult moment in history.

It is appropriate—and very significant—to do this while there remains fresh in people’s minds the memory of the Holy Year, which was lived in the spirit of penance, conversion and reconciliation. May this exhortation, entrusted to my brothers in the episcopate and to their collaborators, the priests and deacons, to men and women religious, and to all men and women of upright conscience, be a means of purification, enrichment and deepening in personal faith. May it also be a leaven capable of encouraging the growth in the midst of the world of peace and brotherhood, hope and joy—values which spring from the Gospel as it is accepted, meditated upon and lived day by day after the example of Mary, mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom it pleased God to reconcile all things to himself.18

17 The Second Vatican Council noted: “The dichotomy affecting the modern world is, in fact, a symptom of the deeper dichotomy that is in man himself. He is the meeting point of many conflicting forces. In his condition as a created being he is subject to a thousand shortcomings, but feels untrammeled in his inclinations and destined for a higher form of life. Torn by a welter of anxieties he is compelled to choose between them and repudiate some among them. Worse still, feeble and sinful as he is, he often does the very thing he hates and does not do what he wants (cf Rom 7:14ff). And so he feels himself divided, and the result is a host of discords in social life.” Gaudium et Spes, 10.
18 Cf Col 1:19f.

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The gift of reconciliation always deals with the wounds of personal sin

From Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Pænitentia (1984):

The basic document of the synod (also called the lineamenta), which was prepared with the sole purpose of presenting the theme while stressing certain fundamental aspects of it, enabled the ecclesial communities throughout the world to reflect for almost two years on these aspects of a question—that of conversion and reconciliation—which concerns everyone. It also enabled them to draw from it a fresh impulse for the Christian life and apostolate. That reflection was further deepened in the more immediate preparation for the work of the synod, thanks to the instrumentum laboris which was sent in due course to the bishops and their collaborators. After that, the synod fathers, assisted by all those called to attend the actual sessions, spent a whole month assiduously dealing with the theme itself and with the numerous and varied questions connected with it. There emerged from the discussions, from the common study and from the diligent and accurate work done, a large and precious treasure which the final propositions sum up in their essence.

The synod’s view does not ignore the acts of reconciliation (some of which pass almost unobserved in their daily ordinariness) which, though in differing degrees, serve to resolve the many tensions, to overcome the many conflicts and to conquer the divisions both large and small by restoring unity. But the synod’s main concern was to discover in the depth of these scattered acts the hidden root—reconciliation, so to speak, “at the source,” which takes place in people’s hearts and minds.

The church’s charism and likewise her unique nature vis-à-vis reconciliation, at whatever level it needs to be achieved, lie in the fact that she always goes back to that reconciliation at the source. For by reason of her essential mission, the church feels an obligation to go to the roots of that original wound of sin in order to bring healing and to re-establish, so to speak, an equally original reconciliation which will be the effective principle of all true reconciliation. This is the reconciliation which the church had in mind and which she put forward through the synod.

Sacred Scripture speaks to us of this reconciliation, inviting us to make every effort to attain it.15 But Scripture also tells us that it is above all a merciful gift of God to humanity.16 The history of salvation—the salvation of the whole of humanity as well as of every human being of whatever period—is the wonderful history of a reconciliation: the reconciliation whereby God, as Father, in the blood and the cross of his Son made man, reconciles the world to himself and thus brings into being a new family of those who have been reconciled.

Reconciliation becomes necessary because there has been the break of sin from which derive all the other forms of break within man and about him. Reconciliation, therefore, in order to be complete necessarily requires liberation from sin, which is to be rejected in its deepest roots. Thus a close internal link unites conversion and reconciliation. It is impossible to split these two realities or to speak of one and say nothing of the other.

15 “We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God”: 2 Cor 5:20.
16 “We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation”: Rom 5:11; cf Col 1:20.

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Penance is not merely a change of heart but an ascetical change of life

From Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Pænitentia (1984):

The term and the very concept of penance are very complex. If we link penance with the metanoia which the synoptic[ Gospel]s refer to, it means the inmost change of heart under the influence of the word of God and in the perspective of the kingdom.9 But penance also means changing one’s life in harmony with the change of heart, and in this sense doing penance is completed by bringing forth fruits worthy of penance:10 It is one’s whole existence that becomes penitential, that is to say, directed toward a continuous striving for what is better. But doing penance is something authentic and effective only if it is translated into deeds and acts of penance. In this sense penance means, in the Christian theological and spiritual vocabulary, asceticism, that is to say, the concrete daily effort of a person, supported by God, to lose his or her own life for Christ as the only means of gaining it;11 an effort to put off the old man and put on the new;12 an effort to overcome in oneself what is of the flesh in order that what is spiritual13 may prevail; a continual effort to rise from the things of here below to the things of above, where Christ is.14 Penance is therefore a conversion that passes from the heart to deeds and then to the Christian’s whole life.

In each of these meanings penance is closely connected with reconciliation, for reconciliation with God, with oneself and with others implies overcoming that radical break which is sin. And this is achieved only through the interior transformation or conversion which bears fruit in a person’s life through acts of penance.

9 Cf Mt 4:17; Mk 1:15.
10 Cf Lk 3:8.
11 Cf Mt 16:24-26; Mk 8:34-36; Lk 9:23-25.
12 Eph 4:23f.
13 Cf 1 Cor 3:1-20.
14 Cf Col 3:1f.

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Fr. Langevin to offer Dominican Rite Missa Cantata on Sunday at Silver Spring

A Missa Cantata with schola in the Traditional Dominican Rite is scheduled on Sunday, November 27, at the Traditional Latin Mass Congregation of Silver Spring, Maryland. The celebrant of the Mass of the First Sunday of Advent will be Reverend Father Dominic Langevin op, Instructor in Systematic Theology at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington.

Holy Mass will begin at 8:00 am. Confessions will be heard from 7:10 to 7:50 am. All are invited to share coffee and pastry after Mass in the downstairs community room of the rectory. Also, forms will be available in the Church vestibule for attendees to indicate their participation in the traditional Christmas contribution of money and prayers to the priests who celebrate the Congregation’s Masses.

Silver Spring TLM Congregation meets at the Historic Church of St. John the Evangelist, 9700 Rosensteel Avenue, Forest Glen.

The quest for reconciliation addresses society’s desires for unity and peace

From Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Pænitentia (1984):

Therefore every institution or organization concerned with serving people and saving them in their fundamental dimensions must closely study reconciliation in order to grasp more fully its meaning and significance and in order to draw the necessary practical conclusions.

The church of Jesus Christ could not fail to make this study. With the devotion of a mother and the understanding of a teacher, she earnestly and carefully applies herself to detecting in society not only the signs of division but also the no less eloquent and significant signs of the quest for reconciliation. For she knows that she especially has been given the ability and assigned the mission to make known the true and profoundly religious meaning of reconciliation and its full scope. She is thereby already helping to clarify the essential terms of the question of unity and peace.

My predecessors constantly preached reconciliation and invited to reconciliation the whole of humanity and every section and portion of the human community that they saw wounded and divided.6 And I myself, by an interior impulse which—I am certain—was obeying both an inspiration from on high and the appeals of humanity, decided to emphasize the subject of reconciliation and to do this in two ways, each of them solemn and exacting. In the first place, by convoking the Sixth General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops; in the second place, by making reconciliation the center of the jubilee year called to celebrate the 1,950th anniversary of the redemption.7 Having to assign a theme to the synod, I found myself fully in accord with the one suggested by many of my brothers in the episcopate, namely, the fruitful theme of reconciliation in close connection with the theme of penance.8

6 The encyclical Pacem in Terris, John XXIII’s spiritual testament, is often considered a “social document” and even a “political message,” and in fact it is if these terms are understood in their broadest sense. As is evident more than twenty years after its publication, the document is in fact more than a strategy for the peaceful coexistence of people and nations; it is a pressing reminder of the higher values without which peace on earth becomes a mere dream. One of these values is precisely that of reconciliation among people, and John XXIII often referred to this subject. With regard to Paul VI, it will suffice to recall that in calling the church and the world to celebrate the Holy Year of 1975, he wished “renewal and reconciliation” to be the central idea of that important event. Nor can one forget the catechesis which he devoted to this key theme, also in explaining the jubilee itself.
7 As I wrote in the bull of indiction of the Jubilee Year of the Redemption: “This special time, when all Christians are called upon to realize more profoundly their vocation to reconciliation with the Father in the Son, will only reach its full achievement if it leads to a fresh commitment by each and every person to the service of reconciliation, not only among all the disciples of Christ but also among all men and women”: bull Aperite Portas Redemptori, 3: Acta Apostolicæ Sedis 75 (1983), 93.
8 The theme of the synod was, more precisely, “Reconciliation and Penance in the Mission of the Church.”

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Reconciliation is ineffective until it heals the wound of sin

From Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Pænitentia (1984):

Nevertheless, that same inquiring gaze, if it is discerning enough, detects in the very midst of division an unmistakable desire among people of good will and true Christians to mend the divisions, to heal the wounds and to re-establish at all levels an essential unity. This desire arouses in many people a real longing for reconciliation even in cases where there is no actual use of this word.

Some consider reconciliation as an impossible dream which ideally might become the lever for a true transformation of society. For others it is to be gained by arduous efforts and therefore a goal to be reached through serious reflection and action. Whatever the case, the longing for sincere and consistent reconciliation is without a shadow of doubt a fundamental driving force in our society, reflecting an irrepressible desire for peace. And it is as strongly so as the factors of division, even though this is a paradox.

But reconciliation cannot be less profound than the division itself. The longing for reconciliation and reconciliation itself will be complete and effective only to the extent that they reach—in order to heal it—that original wound which is the root of all other wounds: namely sin.

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Sin is at the root of all humankind’s divisions and conflicts

From Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Pænitentia (1984):

These divisions are seen in the relationships between individuals and groups, and also at the level of larger groups: nations against nations and blocs of opposing countries in a headlong quest for domination. At the root of this alienation it is not hard to discern conflicts which, instead of being resolved through dialogue, grow more acute in confrontation and opposition.

Careful observers, studying the elements that cause division, discover reasons of the most widely differing kinds: from the growing disproportion between groups, social classes and countries, to ideological rivalries that are far from dead; from the opposition between economic interests to political polarization; from tribal differences to discrimination for social and religious reasons. Moreover, certain facts that are obvious to all constitute as it were the pitiful face of the division of which they are the fruit and demonstrate its seriousness in an inescapably concrete way. Among the many other painful social phenomena of our times one can noted.

  • The trampling upon the basic rights of the human person, the first of these being the right to life and to a worthy quality of life, which is all the more scandalous in that it coexists with a rhetoric never before known on these same rights.
  • Hidden attacks and pressures against the freedom of individuals and groups, not excluding the freedom which is most offended against and threatened: the freedom to have, profess and practice one’s own faith.
  • The various forms of discrimination: racial, cultural, religious, etc.
  • Violence and terrorism.
  • The use of torture and unjust and unlawful methods of repression.
  • The stockpiling of conventional or atomic weapons, the arms race with the spending on military purposes of sums which could be used to alleviate the undeserved misery of peoples that are socially and economically depressed.
  • An unfair distribution of the world’s resources and of the assets of civilization, which reaches its highest point in a type of social organization whereby the distance between the human conditions of the rich and the poor becomes ever greater.2 The overwhelming power of this division makes the world in which we live a world shattered3 to its very foundations.

Moreover, the church—without identifying herself with the world or being of the world—is in the world and is engaged in dialogue with the world.4 It is therefore not surprising if one notices in the structure of the church herself repercussions and signs of the division affecting human society. Over and above the divisions between the Christian communions that have afflicted her for centuries, the church today is experiencing within herself sporadic divisions among her own members, divisions caused by differing views or options in the doctrinal and pastoral field.5 These divisions too can at times seem incurable.

However disturbing these divisions may seem at first sight, it is only by a careful examination that one can detect their root: It is to be found in a wound in man’s inmost self. In the light of faith we call it sin: beginning with original sin, which all of us bear from birth as an inheritance from our first parents, to the sin which each one of us commits when we abuse our own freedom.

2 Cf Pope John Paul II, opening speech at the Third General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate: Acta Apostolicæ Sedis [AAS] 71 (1979), 198-204.
3 The idea of a “shattered world” is seen in the works of numerous contemporary writers, both Christian and non-Christian, witnesses of man’s condition in this tormented period of history.
4 Cf. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 3, 43 and 44; Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests Presbyterorum Ordinis, 12; Pope Paul VI, encyclical Ecclesiam Suam: AAS 56 (1964), 609-659.
5 At the very beginning of the church, the apostle Paul wrote with words of fire about division in the body of the church, in the famous passage 1 Cor 1:10-16. Years later, St. Clement of Rome was also to write to the Corinthians, to condemn the wounds inside that community: cf. Letter to the Corinthians, III-VI; LVII: Patres Apostolici, ed. Funk, I, 103-109; 171-173. We know that from the earliest fathers onward Christ’s seamless robe, which the soldiers did not divide, became an image of the church’s unity: cf. St. Cyprian, De Ecclesiæ Catholicæ Unitate, 7: Corpus Christianorum, Latin series [CCL] 3/1, 254f; St. Augustine, In Ioannis Evangelium Tractatus, 118, 4: CCL 36, 656f; St. Bede the Venerable, In Marci Evangelium Expositio, IV, 15: CCL 120, 630i; In Lucæ Evangelium Expositio, VI, 23: CCL 120, 403; In S. Ioannis Evangelium Expositio, 19: Patrologiæ Cursus completus, Series Latina 92, 911f.

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We examine reconciliation and penance to better understand the modern world

Part of the present confusion about the Church’s teachings on the permanence of marriage has focused on apparent contradictions between the 2016 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Lætitia of Pope Francis and the 1984 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Pænitentia of Pope St. John Paul II. We today begin a series in which Pope John Paul’s document will be presented in hopes that our readers may benefit from the instruction, patiently delivered with fidelity to the Gospel and the Magisterium, of its saintly author.

To speak of reconciliation and penance is for the men and women of our time an invitation to rediscover, translated into their own way of speaking, the very words with which our savior and teacher Jesus Christ began his preaching: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel,”1 that is to say, accept the good news of love, of adoption as children of God and hence of brotherhood.

Why does the church put forward once more this subject and this invitation?

The concern to know better and to understand modern man and the contemporary world, to solve their puzzle and reveal their mystery, to discern the ferments of good and evil within them, has long caused many people to direct at man and the world a questioning gaze. It is the gaze of the historian and sociologist, philosopher and theologian, psychologist and humanist, poet and mystic: Above all, it is the gaze, anxious yet full of hope, of the pastor.

In an exemplary fashion this is shown on every page of the important pastoral constitution of the Second Vatican Council Gaudium et Spes on the church in the modern world, particularly in its wide-ranging and penetrating introduction. It is likewise shown in certain documents issued through the wisdom and charity of my esteemed predecessors, whose admirable pontificates were marked by the historic and prophetic event of that ecumenical council.

In common with others, the pastor too can discern among the various unfortunate characteristics of the world and of humanity in our time the existence of many deep and painful divisions.

1 Mk 1:15.

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