Thursday, March 01, 2007

B16 on Confession

Another reflection by Pope Benedict as featured in "Co-Workers of the Truth", available from Ignatius Press. It's a bit long, but worth the read:

"Nowhere else do faith, sacrament, and pardon become so personal as in the Sacrament of Penance. It is as personal as conscience - and because it is only by conscience that we can be healed, we cannot surrender this place where Christianity is at its most personal without losing something vital. At a recent meeting of Catholics in Munich, the psychologist A. Görres, who had participated as expert in the synod, formulated the anthropological aspect of our subject most impressively:

'I am convinced that, at least psychologically, the relinquishing of personal confession is a great loss and a great harm. If for no other reason than that being consumed by guilt puts us in need of an impartial helper, the fact that someone else gives me pardon in the name of God and of the community is a personification of salvation, an authenticated experience, that it would be both unwise and unsalutary to renounce. We cannot accept without detriment a spirituality that involves the rejection of corporal signs.'

With these words we already have, in large measure, the answer to one aspect of a question that still remains to be answered: Is it not necessary for the communal dimension of sin to have some complementary dimension in the Sacrament of Penance? Without a doubt it is indispensable. This dimension is attained above all when we do not remain alone with our sin, but confess it. The priest to whom it is related is not a single, private individual; he represents the Church. Such a revelation of what is most interior and personal to us signifies a radical openness to the community and a more radical rejection of every form of self-centered love than a merely communal celebration of the sacrament could ever be.

But there is something else that must be said here: the Sacrament of Penance is not complete until we have performed the imposed penance. And that, unfortunately, has become shorter and shorter and is more and more frequently performed privately and interiorly. When Jonah came to Ninevah and called the people to penance, everyone knew what penance entailed; they clothed themselves penitential garments; they fasted; they prayed. When Muslims celebrate Ramadan, they know what they must do, and they know, too, that penance can be a concrete reality for people only when it has a common form and is performed at a specific time in the course of the year. It is regrettable that penance, for us, has lost most of its communal forms. When Christians are called upon to do penance, they no longer know what is expected of them. They may form a commission or perhaps leave the matter entirely to personal initiative.

The classic threesome - fasting, praying, almsgiving - must regain its former role, and Christians must discover anew their ability to find a communal expression by which to make known officially their distance from those things that the world takes for granted. It is in this direction that we must seek the proper balance between the personal and the social aspects of penance. If general absolution were to become the normal form of the sacrament, the significance of both concepts would be obscured. What should really be personal - confession and absolution - would become a collective procedure. What requires a communal form - one's way of life, the penance one is given, the transformation of one's life through conversion - would be a matter of individual opinion. But no Christian form of life can thrive and no Christian transformation of the world can take place if a return to social dimensions intrudes.

What we need today is exactly the opposite, namely, the radical personal responsibility that is the counterpart of personal confession. On the other hand, we need to have again public and common modes of life in which Christians accept the challenge of conversion and seek, in that way, to change the face of the earth."

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