From its very origins the Church has been conscious of the transformation brought about by Christ’s redemptive work, and has joyfully proclaimed it. Through her, the world has become a radically new reality (cf. 2 Cor 5:17), in which people have rediscovered God and hope (cf. Eph 2:12), and have since become sharers in God’s glory “through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation” (Rom 5:11).
This newness is due exclusively to God’s merciful initiative (cf. 2 Cor 5:18-20; Col 1:20-22), which comes to meet man who, having culpably turned away from Him, could not find peace with His Creator. God’s initiative came about, moreover, by His own divine intervention. Indeed, He did not limit Himself to pardoning us, nor did He wish to make use of any man as an intermediary between Himself and us, but constituted His “Only-begotten Son as the intercessor of peace”1: “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). In fact, by dying for us, Christ “cancelled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this He set aside, nailing it to the Cross” (Col 2:14); and by the Cross, He reconciled us to God, “thereby bringing the hostility to an end” (Eph 2:16).
The Church is the sacrament of reconciliation
The reconciliation effected by God in Christ crucified is inscribed in the history of the world, which since then lists among its irreversible components this fact: God became man and died to save it. But it finds permanent historical expression in the Body of Christ, that is, the Church, in which the Son of God summons “His brothers, called together from all nations”2 and, as its Head (cf. Col 1:18), is the principle of authority and action which constitutes her on earth as the “reconciled world”.3
Because the Church is the Body of Christ, and Christ “is Himself its Saviour” (Eph 5:23), all, in order to be worthy members of this Body and out of fidelity to their commitment as Christians, must contribute to upholding its original nature as a community of reconciled people, derived from Christ our peace (cf. Eph 2:14) who “has established us in peace.”4 […]
And since reconciliation finds a privileged expression and a denser concentration in the Church, the Church is “like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race”;5 in other words, she is the radiating centre of the union of men with God and of unity among them, a centre which, progressively affirmed in time, will be completed at the consummation of the ages. […]
Fraternal correction: stimulus to sanctity
This openness to others, supported by the will to understand and the capacity to renounce, will make the operation of that act of charity prescribed by the Lord, which is fraternal correction (cf. Mt 18:15), stable and orderly. Since this can be done by any member of the faithful to any brother in the Faith, it can be the normal means of remedying many dissensions or even preventing their emergence.6 In its turn, it urges the one making it to remove the plank from his own eye (cf. Mt 7:5), so that the order of correction may not be undermined.7
Therefore, the practice of fraternal correction is a principle of the journey towards holiness, which alone can give fullness to reconciliation. This does not consist in an opportunistic pacification which would camouflage the worst of enmities,8 but in the interior conversion and unifying love in Christ which derive from it, and which are effected above all in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Penance, by which the faithful “obtain pardon from the mercy of God for the offence committed against Him and are at the same time reconciled with the Church, which they have wounded by their sins,”9 as long as “this […] Sacrament of salvation […] is rooted in their whole life and spurs them on to more ardent service of God and their brethren.”10
Ecclesial cohesion in the diversity of vocations
Nevertheless, “in the building up of Christ’s Body various members and functions have their part to play,”11 and this diversity provokes inevitable tensions. They are seen even among the Saints, but “not those that eliminate harmony, or suppress charity.”12 How can we prevent them from degenerating into division? It is from this very diversity of persons and functions that the firm principle of ecclesial cohesion derives. Indeed, a primary and irreplaceable component of this diversity is the Church’s pastors, sent by Christ as His ambassadors to the other faithful, endowed for this purpose with an authority which, transcending the positions and choices of individuals, unifies them all in the integrity of the Gospel, which is precisely the “message of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:19). […]
May the sacred pastors, just as they visibly and eminently represent Christ himself and act in His stead,13 so imitate Him and instil in God’s people the love with which He sacrificed himself: “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). May this renewed love serve as an effective example to the faithful, especially priests and religious who have failed in the demands of their ministry and vocation, so that all in the Church, of “one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32), may again strive to spread “the Gospel of peace” (Eph 6:15).
The Church, our mother, is saddened by the desertion of certain of her sons raised to the ministerial priesthood or, in some other capacity, consecrated to the service of God and their brethren. Nevertheless, she feels relief and joy for the generous perseverance of all those who have remained faithful to their commitment to Christ and to herself. And, sustained and comforted by the merits of this multitude, she wishes to transform the pain inflicted on her into a love that can understand all and, in Christ, forgive all. ◊
Excerpts from: ST. PAUL VI.
Paterna cum benevolentia, 8/12/1974 –
Translation: Heralds of the Gospel
1 THEODORET OF CYRUS. Interpret. Epist. II ad Cor.: PG 82, 411.
2 SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL II. Lumen gentium, n.7.
3 ST. AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO. Sermo 96, 7, 8: PL 38, 588.
4 ST. JEROME. In Epistolam ad Ephesios, 1, 2: PL 26, 504.
5 SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, op. cit., n.1.
6 Cf. ST. THOMAS AQUINAS. Summa Theologiæ. II-II, q.33, a.4.
7 Cf. ST. BONAVENTURE. In IV Sent., dist.19, dub.4.
8 Cf. ST. JEROME. Contra pelagianos, 2, 11: PL 23, 546.
9 SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, op. cit., n.11.
10 ORDO PENITENTIÆ. Prænotanda, n.7.
11 SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, op. cit., n.7.
12 ST. AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO. Enarrationes in Psalmos, 33, 19: PL 36, 318.
13 Cf. SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, op. cit., n.21.