19 November, 2010

Reconciliation - A broad theological sweep

A seminar/presentation on the subject of Reconciliation. I have examined the topic broadly, not merely in relationship to the Sacrament of Reconciliation/Penance. Comments are always valued!

A definition of Reconciliation is the “re-establishment of friendly relationships
Reconciliation for the secular environment can be seen in the Reconciliation Act of the US Senate and the House of Representatives in order to debate on contentious issues. I.e. a debating time of up to twenty hours is set aside in order to test whether or not the House can reach an agreement or a common ground.
This idea of fixed, limited time is one main characteristic which differentiates secular Reconciliation and the one proposed by the Kingdom of God.
In the letter to the Colossians, Paul affirms that God “was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of [Jesus’] cross” (Col 1:19-20). This signifies that the process of reconciliation has already begun – indeed, it is to some extent completed, (Τετέλεσται) – and it is carried forward by the ministry of the Church as she proclaims the death and the resurrection of her Lord “until he comes again” (1 Cor 11:26) and as she incorporates humanity in the body of Christ, through discipleship and baptism.
The Letter to the Hebrews talks about the reconciliatory effect of Jesus’ sacrifice describing Christ as the “great high priest” (Heb 4:14), who has passed through the veil of the heavenly temple (cf. Heb 4:14) once for all taking (cf. Heb 7:27) with him all the created order. Moreover, the Church is united in with Jesus through the offering of “acceptable worship” (Heb 12:28) and sacrifices of praise (cf. Heb 13:15). So, the Church, the reconciled and reconciling community of believers, is “looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2) as she journeys on towards the heavenly Jerusalem.
Thus, we ought to understand the Church as the new creation (cf. 2 Cor 5:17) reconciled with God, bringing light to all – The call of Israel is also the common vocation of the New Israel: to be a blessing and a light for all the nations (cf. Gen 22:18). Moreover, the Church, as the body of Christ, perpetuates the sacrifice made by Jesus in re-establishing friendly relationships between God and creation. Thus, the task of Reconciliation should have particular emphasis for the vocation of the priest, who stands between the altar and the people.
Today, Christian Reconciliation is broadly understood in three different – but complementing – categories:
i. reconciliation of all humanity with God
ii. reconciliation among Christians
iii. reconciliation between humans and between humanity and creation
The first of these subsections is inherently connected with the theology expressed earlier. It is the mission of the Church to make “disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19) and thus reconcile humanity to God, in the new creation, one person at a time. However, in doing so, her call is not only to minister to God’s people, but also to be an example of reconciled community – the city built of the hill top (cf. Mt 5:14) – and intercede for the rest of humanity following the example of Jesus. Thus, Gerald O’Collins affirms that
all baptised Christians are called to intercede for the whole world. Through their prayers the salvation of ‘others’ can be promoted. Christians have received the astonishing gift of faith in Jesus, a gift that creates a fundamental responsibility to be fulfilled towards ‘others’ – not only through action but also through persevering prayer for them. [O’Collins (2nd ed., 2009) 332]
From this follow the issues about the Reconciliation among Christians (ii). The never-ending fragmentation of the body of Christ into different groups of denominations is a problem which affected the Church since her earliest days (e.g. cf. 1 Cor 1:12). Nonetheless, as Christians throughout the globe have recognised this sad – often merely political – disintegration, is not conformed to the will of God. Moreover, since the second half of the Twentieth Century, Christians have come to realise that their divisions do not allow them to speak powerfully against the powers of evil. E.g. there were disagreements between several denominations in expressing a firm rejection of Nazi-Fascism as well as of the retaliation of the Truman administration in Japan.
Mindful of this problem, Vatican II issued the Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Renditegratio. The encyclical letter Ut Unum Sint (1995) was also a call for Christian unity on the eve of the Third Millennium. Other denominations and national churches – including many in the Anglican Communion – gathered together to form the World Council of Churches. (1964).
More recently, the Church has been involved in various issues which affect the entire planet (iii) such as climate change, global poverty, human rights movements etc... Some of the ethical questions raised by these campaigns match the aspirations of a new world order heralded by the Kingdom of God; however, it seems to me that a unity of intents – if not of spirit – is an essential part for an effective involvement of the Church in global matters.
This involvement – often alongside secular organisations – is crucial to the mission of the Church to be light for the nations (cf. Mt 5:16). However, it is precisely because of global, interdenominational projects that Christians are free to recognise the “signs of the times[Unitatis Renditegratio, 4] and overcome
long-standing misgivings inherited from the past, and of mutual misunderstandings and prejudices; complacency, indifference and insufficient knowledge of one another [which] often make this situation worse [Ut Unum Sint, 2].
This model of work should be true for parish work as well. In doing the business of the Kingdom we (a) promote the life of a creation Reconciled with God (b) draw closer to one another – reconciling the gaps form by indifference and lack of knowledge – (c) incorporates in the body of Christ those who by glorifying God for our good deeds becomes themselves disciples. Thus, our ministry should be one of Reconciliation and Healing.

Gerald O'Collins SJ, Christology, OUP (New York) 2000
Image: Reconciliation Statue - Coventry (old) Cathedral

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