Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. Continuing our reflection on the sacrament of Penance, today
let us explore a dimension which is one of its essential
features: reconciliation. This aspect of the sacrament serves as
an antidote or remedy to the destructive nature of sin. By
sinning, man not only distances himself from God, but sows the
seed of division in himself and in his relations with others.
The process of returning to God therefore implies restoration of
the unity jeopardized by sin.
2. Reconciliation is the Father's gift: he alone can achieve it.
This is why it is primarily an appeal which comes from on high:
"In Christ's name: be reconciled to God" (2 Cor 5: 20). As Jesus
explains in the parable of the prodigal son (cf. Lk 15: 11-32),
forgiving and reconciling people to himself is a celebration for
him. In this as in other Gospel passages, the Father not only
offers his forgiveness and reconciliation, but at the same time
shows how these gifts are a source of joy for everyone.
In the New Testament there is a significant link between the
divine fatherhood and the festive joy of a banquet. The kingdom
of God is compared to a joyful feast at which the host is
actually the Father (cf. Mt 8: 11; 22: 4; 26: 29). The
fulfilment of all salvation history is again expressed in the
image of a banquet prepared by God the Father for the wedding
feast of the Lamb (cf. Rv 19: 6-9).
3. The reconciliation that comes from the Father is concentrated
in Christ himself, the Lamb without blemish offered for our sins
(1 Pt 1: 19; Rv 5: 6; 12: 11). Jesus Christ is not only the
Reconciler, but Reconciliation itself. As St Paul teaches, our
becoming new creatures, renewed by the Spirit, "is from God, who
through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry
of reconciliation; that is, God was in Christ reconciling the
world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them,
and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation" (2 Cor 5:
It is precisely through the mystery of the Cross that our Lord
Jesus Christ overcomes the tragedy of the division between man
and God. Indeed, with Easter the mystery of the Father's
infinite mercy penetrates the darkest roots of human iniquity.
There a movement of grace begins which, if accepted with free
consent, leads us to taste the sweetness of full reconciliation.
The abyss of Christ's pain and abandonment is thus turned into
an inexhaustible source of compassionate and reconciling love.
The Redeemer retraces a path leading back to the Father, making
it possible to experience again the filial relationship that was
lost and to confer on human beings the necessary strength to
preserve this deep communion with God.
4. Unfortunately, even in redeemed existence there is the
possibility of sinning again and this calls for constant
vigilance. Furthermore, even after forgiveness, the "residue of
sin" remains and must be removed and combatted by a programme of
penance involving a greater commitment to doing good. This
requires first of all the reparation of physical or moral wrongs
done to groups or individuals. Conversion thus becomes a
continual journey, in which the mystery of reconciliation made
present in the sacrament is the point of arrival and departure.
The encounter with the forgiving Christ increases in our hearts
that dynamism of Trinitarian love which the Ordo Paenitentiae
describes in the following way: "In the sacrament of Penance the
Father receives the repentant children who come back to him,
Christ places the lost sheep on his shoulders and brings them
back to the sheepfold, and the Holy Spirit resanctifies those
who are the temple of God or dwells more fully in them. The
expression of all this is the sharing in the Lord's table, begun
again or made more ardent; such a return of children from afar
brings great rejoicing at the banquet of God's Church" (n. 6;
cf. also nn. 5 and 19).
5. In the formula of absolution, the "Rite of Penance" expresses
the relationship between forgiveness and peace, offered by God
the Father in the Death and Resurrection of his Son, and the
mediation of "the ministry of the Church" (Ordo Paenitentiae, n.
46). While the sacrament signifies and brings about the gift of
reconciliation, it also highlights the fact that reconciliation
concerns our relationship not only with God the Father, but also
with our brothers and sisters.
These two aspects of reconciliation are closely correlated.
Christ's reconciling work occurs in the Church. She cannot
reconcile on her own but only as a living instrument of Christ's
pardon, on the basis of the Lord's precise mandate (cf. Jn 20:
23, Mt 18: 18). This reconciliation in Christ is achieved in a
pre-eminent way in the celebration of the sacrament of Penance.
But the Church's whole inner being in its community dimension is
characterized by a permanent disposition to reconciliation.
It is necessary to overcome a certain individualism in the way
one thinks of reconciliation: the entire Church cooperates in
the conversion of sinners through prayer, exhortation, fraternal
correction and charitable support. Without reconciliation with
our brothers and sisters, love would not take flesh in the
individual. Just as sin damages the tissue of the Body of
Christ, so reconciliation restores solidarity among the People
6. Ancient penitential practice highlighted the
community-ecclesial aspect of reconciliation, particularly at
the final moment of absolution by the Bishop with full
readmission of the penitents into the community. The Church's
teaching and the penitential discipline promulgated after the
Second Vatican Council urge the faithful to rediscover and
restore to honour this community-ecclesial dimension of
Reconciliation (cf. Lumen gentium, n. 11 and also Sacrosanctum
Concilium, n. 27), while maintaining the doctrine on the need
for individual confession.
In the context of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, it will be
important to offer effective and updated paths of reconciliation
which will lead to rediscovering the community dimension not
only of penance, but of the Father's entire plan of salvation
for humanity. Thus the teaching of the Constitution Lumen
gentium will be put into practice: "God has willed to make men
holy and save them, not as individuals without any bond or link
between them, but rather to make them into a people who might
acknowledge him and serve him in holiness" (n. 9).
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father
I extend a warm welcome to the new students of the Pontifical
Beda College, and I encourage them to grow each day in their
love of the Church, built on the foundation of the Apostles.
Upon all the English-speaking pilgims and visitors, especially
those from Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Trinidad and
Tobago, Australia and the United States of America, I invoke the
abundant blessings of almighty God.
Today it is our joy to have among us three young people from the
Middle East representing the Israeli and Palestinian peoples,
and belonging to the three monotheistic religions of the region.
To this representative group I will present a personal written
message which, I hope, will encourage the efforts being made by
young people in the Middle East to build a society where peace
and harmony among peoples and the followers of different
religions will reign supreme. This is our prayer for the entire
region, so dear to all the children of Abraham.