Saturday, 23 January 2016

The Name of God is Mercy

When he edited Adrienne von Speyr's book Confession in 1960, Fr von Balthasar wrote at the end of his foreword:
It is fashionable today to speak of a "sacrament of penance" instead of "confession". In a certain superficial historical sense this may be correct to the extent that in the first centuries confession was present in Christian consciousness primarily under the aspect of penance. However, everyone knows that in reality this was only an initial seed and not the full-grown plant. Indeed, it was a seed that scarcely suggested the dogmatic basis just mentioned [ie the Trinitarian and Christological basis that is the subject of Adrienne's book], a basis whose centre is expressed by "confession" (Augustine's confessio, to admit or confess). Thus there is no real reason to dispense with the traditional word.
I suspect that Fr von Balthasar would all the more strongly speak against the use of the word "reconciliation", though he must have had to come to terms with the title of the sacrament as the Sacrament of Penance used in the 1983 Code of Canon Law. He might have found some consolation in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, where the title "confession" is included along with the other titles now used of the sacrament:
It is called the sacrament of confession, since the disclosure or confession of sins to a priest is an essential element of this sacrament. In a profound sense it is also a "confession" - acknowledgment and praise - of the holiness of God and of his mercy towards sinful man.
When Pope Francis' book The Name of God is Mercy arrived this week, it was therefore striking to see a chapter entitled "The Gift of Confession":
It is true that I can talk to the Lord and ask him for forgiveness, implore him. And the Lord will forgive me immediately. But it is important that I go to confession, that I sit in front of a priest who embodies Jesus, that I kneel before Mother Church called to dispense the mercy of Christ. There is objectivity in this gesture of genuflection before the priest; it becomes the vehicle through which grace reaches and heals me.  
And again, at the beginning of a short chapter devoted to how Catholics should live the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis identifies confession as the first of the important things that should be done to live the Year of Mercy:
[The believer] should open up to the mercy of God, open up his heart and himself, allow Jesus to come toward him by approaching the confessional with faith. And he should try and be merciful with others. 

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