Friday, October 19, 2012

Forgiveness is the ministry of all Christians

I apologize up-front for once again imposing what I am currently reading on both of my readers, but it's not possible for me to refrain from so doing when reading a really good book, like Fr. Radcliffe's new one (mentioned in my previous post). I teach about and encourage people to go to confession quite often. Of all the things Catholics do, going to confession is the most fascinating and probably the most scary. But going to confession is not scary, not in the least.

A few years ago, while preparing to teach on confession, it struck me that we don't go to confession to find whether or not God will forgive us. We go to confession in the confidence that, in and through Jesus Christ, we are always already forgiven. The natural response to this is, "If I'm already forgiven, then why go?" You go to realize, that is, make real that fact, to have an objective, first-hand experience of God's forgiveness. An -ology is "the study of" something (i.e., theology is the study of God, has God as its object), whereas an -urgy is something you do. As with all the sacraments, the sacrament of penance, or reconciliation (i.e., confession) is a simple liturgy. It's how we not only enact, but experience not what we believe, but Who we put our trust in.

I was very struck by how Friar Timothy describes forgiveness and how we experience it in confession. After describing how it "works," he writes that "It belongs to the priesthood of every Christian to forgive."

Forgiveness is not the scrubbing out of our sins, pretending that they never happened. Forgiveness is a blessing through which even our failures are taken up into God's grace and become part of our way to God
He also notes, "The priest offers this blessing on behalf of the whole community" because "[w]e cannot all crowd into the room, and so someone is ordained to represent the whole Body of Christ."

It is important also to note that someone is not only ordained to "represent" the rest of the Church, but to serve everybody else "re-presenting" Christ. The word "minister" means one who serves. Just as we Catholics tend to fixate on the priest acting in persona Christi and "confecting" the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the bread and wine to the exclusion of the other two ways that Christ is equally really and truly present in each Mass (i.e., in the gathering of the baptized and in the proclamation of the Word), we tend to forget what Fr. Radcliffe wonderfully notes here, something equally important, namely that the priest also acts in persona ecclesiae (i.e., in the person of the Church, the ekklesia). The Prayer of Absolution shows us this quite clearly:

God, the Father of mercies,
through the death and resurrection of His Son
has reconciled the world to Himself
and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins;
through the ministry of the Church
may God give you pardon and peace,
and I absolve you from your sins
in the name of the Father, and of the Son, +
and of the Holy Spirit.

(underlining and emboldening emphasis mine)

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