Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Monday, April 10, 2006

Forgiven, that we may Forgive Others

Station at Saint Praxedes

The Station today was originally held at Saints Nereus and Achillaeus, but was transferred to this church in the 13th century because the former Stational church was felt to be no longer structurally sound. St Praxedes was built in the 4th century and as the titulus Praxedis was one of Rome's twenty five parish churches in the 5th century. A Benedictine monastery adjoins this church since it was given to the Vallambrosian Benedictines in the 11th century and St Charles Borromeo was titular of this church.

Apart from the church's beautiful apsidal mosaics, in this church are preserved the relics of many martyrs that Pope St Paschal I caused to be collected from the suburban catacombs, as well as relics of the Lord's Passion. There is the Pillar of the Scourging, brought back from the Holy Land by (the aptly named) Cardinal Colonna at the time of the Fifth Crusade and three thorns from the Crown of Thorns given by King Louis of France in exchange for an iron ring attached to the pillar. On account of these relics, it is a fitting Stational church for this Holy Week of the Lord's Passion.

For the next two days, this web-log will focus on the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the grace of Forgiveness, which are an integral part of the Lenten and Holy Week observances. Many of us may have been to confession already or may be going to a 'Penitential Service' this week; either way, it is good to consider, with the help of two Dominican writers, the meaning and depths of this beautiful sacrament.

Fr Geoffrey Preston, OP in his book 'God's Way to be Man' offers the following reflection on the sacrament of penance, which may also help us with our examination of conscience as we prepare to receive God's forgiveness:

"When we think of the sacraments we should always think of their celebration in its fullness. When we are thinking of the sacrament of second return, the sacrament of the forgiveness of post-baptismal failure, we should think not so much of the one-to-one encounter in the box, through a grille darkly, as of the enactment of God's love for sinners which can be found in the Roman Pontifical. On Maundy Thursday in that rite the bishop is to preside at a moving ceremony that culminates in a dance of the newly-restored penitents (illustrated below from a 19th-century Pontificale Romanum) into the church from which they were debarred on Ash Wednesday. Or we can think of what used to happen in Spain on Good Friday, when as the story of the penitent thief was read out, the whole congregation began to shout out to the bishop to re-admit the public penitents to communion with the church. The sacrament as celebrated in such full ways is tremendously fruitful for meditation on what it means to sin after baptism and to be restored to the communion of the love of God which we call the Church.

From such celebration we should be able to see that the Church is the locus of forgiveness for even its own lapsed members. Forgiveness is part of the significance of Jesus of Nazareth for our world. Indeed in one perspective it could be said to be the significance of Jesus... The purpose of the coming of Jesus, Jesus' taking man upon him to deliver man, Jesus' living amongst us with all grace and truth, Jesus' sharing our joys and crying when his friends died, Jesus being betrayed with the kiss of friendship, the trial and condemnation, the death and three days in the darkness, and then the empty grave, [the purpose] was nothing other than the Holy Spirit. The first thing that the risen Jesus says of the Holy Spirit is that he comes for the forgiveness of sin [cf Jn 20:20-3]... the Holy Spirit is given to those who belong to Jesus so that they can, indeed must, forgive sins...

Somewhere, no matter how small a place it is, where the Holy Spirit has begun to be our spirit and has begun in some small measure to make us tick, there is a space where we are not determined by our past. That space is the locus where we can experience forgiveness, that experience of not being altogether creatures of our own making. If we do not communicate that experience to other people - if we do not absolve them - they remain bound. The forgiveness in question cannot be unmediated, though it is always unmerited...

'For-give' is the strengthened form of 'give', as 'par-donner' of 'donner' and 'ver-geben' of 'geben'. Christian forgiveness is a celebration of the sheer undeservedness of God's grace, which breaks the chain of purely causal connexions, of tit for tat and one good turn deserves another. 'If you do good to those who do good to you, of what profit is that to you? Do not the heathen do as much?' (Mt 5:46a, 47b). The pure grace of the Holy Spirit, translating into our here and now the pure grace of the story of Jesus, is given to create a life-style which is not about doing good to those who are good, but of loving the unlovable, of forgiving the unrepentant, of not living with other people on the basis of their past, of being ourselves gift and grace for them...

That is what allows the sacramental celebration of forgiveness in the Church to make sense. If we do not give people some experience of what it is to be forgiven, and forgiven again and again, it is unlikely that they will make make much of that privileged celebration of the forgiveness of God which is the sacrament of second repentance. One of the ways in which the life of Jesus comes to expression amongst us is as one baptised sinner forgiving another. This is ritually expressed in that gesture of solidarity which is the traditional centre of the rite: in the eastern tradition the two people - the one who will forgive and the one who will be forgiven - stand side by side before the representation of their common Lord in cross or ikon; and in the western tradition in the laying on of hands which is the old gesture of forgiveness. That was indicated in the old Roman rite by the raising of the priest's hands over the penitent. In the renewed liturgy of the sacrament the full gesture has been restored...

What we do in going to confession is to say something like, 'Look, God, this is the kind of person I am; I recognise that this is not the kind of person I ought to be and in my heart of hearts want to be. I know that there is the possibility of not continuing to be this kind of person.' But how do I know the kind of person I ought to be? There is no harm from time to time in looking at the Ten Commandments. If you are doing the kind of things that they rule out, you can scarcely claim to be acting very lovingly. Still, they are no more than a boundary line. More important is the failure to be the kind of person you are called to be. The Jewish tradition behind our faith insists not that all men are created equal but that all men are created unique... I get to know what it would mean to be myself from any number of hints and suggestions. I can look at the Beatitudes and see whether I belong with those to whom the Kingdom of God belongs, the poor in spirit, the meek, the peace-makers and the rest. I can look at Paul's description of the normal development of the Christian character in the list of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, and ask myself whether, for example, I am joyful. I can look at the character-sketch of Jesus the universal man which is implicitly contained in Paul's Hymn to Love, and ask myself whether I am patient and kind, whether I seek not my own, whether I rejoice with all good men when truth prevails and the rest. I can reflect on my life with the help of those numerous ways in which people reflect on the human condition: read a good novel, or go and see a good film. But however we find out the truth about ourselves - and, just now and again, why not go and ask your best friend to tell you? - that is what we bring to confession, to another Christian who is a failure like ourselves. In telling our story we are praising God, for we are confessing the mercy and love of God which is there even for such a person as me. We must tell the story the way it is, with compassion for ourselves and not masochistically, not pretending that we have been heart and soul in an unfortunate act into which it would be truer to say we have fallen. Yet in telling it we need not pretend either that the only things that we need to regret are those we have done with full deliberation. In either case we bring them to God and hear another sinner speak for God, telling us that we are forgiven, that we are not bound by what we have done, for there is a future for us beyond our right to expect, we live in the good news that Jesus of Nazareth has been raised from the dead."

(pp 42 - 47)

With such hope in God's mercy let us approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation and prepare our hearts and minds to celebrate the Easter Mysteries!


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