success stories

Posted October 29, 2003

A Papal Document That Needs Revisiting Especially During Our Complex and Terrifying Times

Document: Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation: Reconciliatio et Paenitentia
Author: Pope John Paul II, pp. 184

Excerpts from Document:

"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 division of which they are the fruit, and demonstrate its seriousness in an inescapable concrete way. Among the many other painful social phenomena of our times one can note:

— 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 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. The overwhelming power of this division makes the world in which we live a world shattered 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. 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. 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."

"The term and the very concept of penance are very complex. If we link penance with the metanoia which the Synoptics refer to, it means the inmost change of heart under the influence of the word of God and in the perspective of the Kingdom. 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: it is one’s whole existence that becomes penitential, that is to say, directed towards 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, tha is to say the concrete daily effort of a person, supported by God’s grace, to lose his or her own life for Christ, as the only means of gaining it; an effort to put off the old man and put on the new; an effort to overcome in oneself what is of the flesh in order that what is spiritual ma prevail; a continual effort to rise from the things of here below to the things of above, where Christ is. Penance is therefore a conversion that passes from the heart to deeds, and then to the Christian’s whole life."