Reflecting on 2 Corinthians for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

From Second Corinthians, by Thomas D. Stegman, SJ, commenting on II Corinthians 5:18-21:

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The Sacrament of Reconciliation. For Catholics, the ministry of reconciliation is enacted in a privileged and unsurpassed manner in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In fact, the opening words of the prayer of absolution make the connection explicit: “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself ” (employing words from 2 Cor 5:18–19). Because sin damages our relationship with God and others, it is necessary to seek reconciliation with God and the Church. Penitents confess their sins to a priest or bishop, who is an instrument of God’s merciful love and forgiveness.

The priest or bishop also represents the community, whose witness to Christ and fraternal bonds are weakened by the sin of its members. The words of absolution—which are prayed by the priest or bishop after the penitent’s confession of sins, act of contrition, and resolution to do penance—are extremely powerful, for by means of them God brings about what he intended through the sacrificial death of Christ.

Priests and bishops thus have the awesome privilege and responsibility of continuing the work of Jesus the Good Shepherd. Their demeanor and comportment in the confessional, especially when marked by patience and compassion, can have life-changing consequences. I have found that intimacy with Jesus’ Sacred Heart and recognition of my own sinfulness are essential aids to celebrating this beautiful sacrament.

Ambassadors of Messiah Jesus. Because Christ conferred the power to forgive sins on his apostles (Matt 16:19; John 20:21–23), bishops and priests represent and speak for him in a unique manner, as when celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Nevertheless, by virtue of their baptism and confirmation all Christians participate in the priesthood of Jesus (e.g., Lumen Gentium 30–31) and thereby in his mission. That is, every one of us is called to be an ambassador of Jesus, a person who bears witness to him by living out gospel values, by building up the community of faith, by advocating for justice, and by working for peace.

Christ “willed that . . . his whole Church should be the sign and instrument of the forgiveness and reconciliation that he acquired for us at the price of his blood” (Catechism, 1442). One way that Catholics can participate in the ministry of reconciliation is to frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is only when we appropriate God’s mercy and love in our own lives that we are able to be conduits of that mercy and love for others. Like all his gifts, God’s gift of reconciliation is bestowed on us in order to be shared.

© 2009 Thomas D. Stegman SJ, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.