On December 21, 2009, Pope Benedict, reflecting back on the Synod for Africa, made these noteworthy remarks about reconciliation, which seem to have as much, even perhaps more, pertinence to today's situation in the Church:"Today Saint Paul's appeal to the Corinthians has again proved most timely. "We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (2 Cor 5: 20). If man is not reconciled with God, he is also in conflict with creation. He is not reconciled with himself, he would like to be something other than what he is and consequently he is not reconciled with his neighbour either."Part of reconciliation is also the ability to acknowledge guilt and to ask forgiveness from God and from others. Lastly, part of the process of reconciliation is also the readiness to do penance, the willingness to suffer deeply for one's sin and to allow oneself to be transformed. Part of this is the gratuitousness of which the Encyclical Caritas in Veritate speaks repeatedly: the readiness to do more than what is necessary, not to tally costs, but to go beyond merely legal requirements. Part of this is the generosity which God himself has shown us. We think of Jesus' words: "If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Mt 5: 23ff.). God, knowing that we were unreconciled and seeing that we have something against him, rose up and came to meet us, even though he alone was in the right. He came to meet us even to the Cross, in order to reconcile us. This is what it means to give freely: a willingness to take the first step; to be the first to reach out to the other, to offer reconciliation, to accept the suffering entailed in giving up being in the right. To persevere in the desire for reconciliation: God gave us an example, and this is the way for us to become like him; it is an attitude constantly needed in our world."Today we must learn once more how to acknowledge guilt, we must shake off the illusion of being innocent. We must learn how to do penance, to let ourselves be transformed; to reach out to the other and to let God give us the courage and strength for this renewal."Today, in this world of ours, we need to rediscover the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. The fact that it has largely disappeared from the daily life and habits of Christians is a symptom of a loss of truthfulness with regard both to ourselves and to God; a loss that endangers our humanity and diminishes our capacity for peace. Saint Bonaventure was of the opinion that the Sacrament of Penance was a sacrament of humanity as such, a sacrament that God had instituted in its essence immediately after original sin through the penance he imposed on Adam, even though it could only take on its full shape in Christ, who is the reconciling power of God in person and who took our penance upon himself. In fact, the unity of sin, repentance and forgiveness is one of the fundamental conditions for being truly human: these conditions find complete expression in the sacrament, yet in their deepest roots they are part of the experience of being human persons as such."Thus the Synod of Bishops for Africa was right to reflect also on the rites of reconciliation found in the African tradition, as places of learning and preparation for the great reconciliation which God gives in the Sacrament of Penance. This reconciliation, however, demands the broad "forecourt" of the acknowledgement of sin and humble repentance. Reconciliation is a pre-political concept and a pre-political reality, and for this very reason it is of the greatest importance for the task of politics itself. Unless the power of reconciliation is created in people's hearts, political commitment to peace lacks its inner premise. At the Synod, the Pastors of the Church strove for that inner purification of man which is the essential prior condition for building justice and peace. But this purification and inner development towards true humanity cannot exist without God.'
Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.