On Penance

Blessed John Paul II must surely rank among the greatest pastors in the history of the Church; for his travels, for his influence on events, for his witness of mercy and charity, and most of all for his firmness in truth. Blessed John Paul II has blazed the trail out of post-Vatican 2 confusions and set an agenda for centuries. That agenda is the building of a civilization of love on the ruined promises of the modern era. It is this combination of the doctrinal with the pastoral that so marks his approach to ministry. It is given to Blessed John Paul II to find that balance of the old and the new, like the good householder spoken of in the gospel. He is our sure guide to authentic renewal in the Church and thereby to authentic renewal in the world: send forth thy spirit and they shall be created, and thy shall renew the face of the earth. Penance may well be the best way to appreciate his mission and message. For Penance is one area where the Church has been subject to confusion and the practice of the sacrament of penance has declined, although there are sings of its growing renewal in the Church. Blessed John Paul II describes the lack of balance in our approach to the subject of sin and the need for penance:

some are inclined to replace exaggerated attitudes of the past with other exaggerations — From seeing sin everywhere they pass to not recognizing it anywhere; from too much emphasis on the fear of eternal punishment they pass to preaching a love of God that excludes any punishment deserved by sin; from severity in trying to correct erroneous consciences they pass to a kind of respect for conscience which excludes the duty of telling the truth.

We need to attain the balance based on the truth of the gospel. Other post Vatican distortions are the separation of the pastoral from the doctrinal, and along with it the despair over the ability
Penance, Blessed John Paul II says, is the only path to reconciliation; so he ends his apostolic exhortation with a prayer that Mary may assist us to “discover and travel he path of penance, the only path that can lead to full reconciliation.” Penance is the path of the Church because it is the path of Christ, that is the path of the cross. So penance must be ed with the great mystery of piety, Christ himself. And the basic message of Christ is penance, conversion, metanoia. Or a turning from sin. To understand this great opportunity for grace we should stop and reflect on these three aspects of – sin, piety, and penance. Blessed John Paul IIexplanation of penance turns on a fascinating juxtaposition of the mystery if sin, mysterium iniquitatis, and the mystery of piety, the mysterium pietatis. In the very center of the work Blessed John Paul II discusses “the love that is greater than sin.”

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