reconciliation and penance
of john paul ii
to the bishops
clergy and faithful
on** reconciliation and penance
in the mission of the church today**
- In order to understand sin we have had to direct our attention to its nature as made known to us by the revelation of the economy of salvation: This is the mysterium iniquitatis. But in this economy sin is not the main principle, still less the victor. Sin fights against another active principle which-to use a beautiful and evocative expression of st. Paul-we can call the mysterium or sacramentum pietatis. Man’s sin would be the winner and in the end destructive, god’s salvific plan would remain incomplete or even totally defeated, if this mysterium pietatis were not made part of the dynamism of history in order to conquer man’s sin.
We find this expression in one of st. Paul’s pastoral letters, the first letter to timothy. It appears unexpectedly, as if by an exuberant inspiration. The apostle had previously devoted long paragraphs of his message to his beloved disciple to an explanation of the meaning of the ordering of the community (the liturgical order and the related hierarchical one). Next he had spoken of the role of the heads of the community, before turning to the conduct of timothy himself in the church of the living god, the pillar and bulwark of the truth." then at the end of the passage suddenly, but with a profound purpose, he evokes the element which gives meaning to everything that he has written:** “great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion.**”(104)
without in the least betraying the literal sense of the text, we can broaden this magnificent theological insight of st. Paul into a more complete vision of the role which the truth proclaimed by him plays in the economy of salvation: “great indeed,” we repeat with him, “is the mystery of our religion,” because it conquers sin.
but what is the meaning of this expression, in paul’s mind?
It is christ himself
- It is profoundly significant that when paul presents this mysterium pietatis he simply transcribes, without making a grammatical link with what he has just written,(105) three lines of a christological hymn which-in the opinion of authoritative scholars- has used in the greek-speaking christian communities.
In the words of that hymn, full of theological content and rich in noble beauty, those first-century believers professed their faith in the mystery of christ, whereby:
-he was made manifest in the reality of human flesh and was constituted by the holy spirit as the just one who offers himself for the unjust.
-he appeared to the angels, having been made greater than them, and he was preached to the nations as the bearer of salvation.
-he was believed in, in the world, as the one sent by the father, and by the same father assumed into heaven as lord.(106)
** The mystery or sacrament of pietas, therefore, is the very mystery of christ**.** it is, in a striking summary, the mystery of the incarnation and redemption, of the full passover of jesus, the son of god and son of mary: The mystery of his passion and death, of his resurrection and glorification.** what st. Paul in quoting the phrases of the hymn wished to** emphasize was that this mystery is the hidden vital principle which makes the church the house of god, the pillar and bulwark of the truth**. Following the pauline teaching, we can affirm that this same mystery of god’s infinite loving kindness toward us is capable of penetrating to the hidden roots of our iniquity! In order to evoke in the soul a movement of conversion, in order to redeem it and set it on course toward reconciliation.