Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim

2000-03-12 John Paul II - Day of Pardon Service

Day of Pardon Service

First Sunday of Lent, March 12, 2000

Homily

 


1. "We implore you, in Christ's name:  be reconciled to God! For our sake God made him who did not know sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5: 20-21).

These are words of St Paul which the Church rereads every year on Ash Wednesday, at the beginning of Lent. In the Lenten season, the Church desires to be particularly united to Christ, who, moved inwardly by the Holy Spirit, began his messianic mission by going into the wilderness and fasting there for 40 days and 40 nights (cf. Mk 1: 12-13).

At the end of that fast he was tempted by Satan, as we are told briefly by the Evangelist Mark in today's liturgy (cf. 1: 13). Matthew and Luke, on the other hand, deal more amply with Christ's struggle in the desert and with his definitive victory over the tempter:  "Begone, Satan! For it is written, "You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve'" (Mt 4: 10). The One speaking in this way is he "who did not know sin" (2 Cor 5: 21), Jesus, "the Holy One of God" (Mk 1: 24).

2. "He made him who did not know sin to be sin" (2 Cor 5: 21). A few moments ago, in the second reading, we heard this surprising assertion made by the Apostle. What do these words mean? They seem, and in effect are, a paradox. How could God, who is holiness itself, "make" his Only-begotten Son, sent into the world, "to be sin"? Yet this is exactly what we read in the passage from St Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians. We are in the presence of a mystery:  a mystery which at first sight is baffling, but is clearly written in divine Revelation.

Already in the Old Testament, the Book of Isaiah speaks of it with inspired foresight in the fourth song of the Servant of Yahweh:  "We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; but the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all" (Is 53: 6). Although Christ, the Holy One, was absolutely sinless, he agreed to take our sins upon himself. He agreed in order to redeem us; he agreed to bear our sins to fulfill the mission he had received from the Father, who - as the Evangelist John writes - "so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him ... may have eternal life" (Jn 3: 16).

 

The Church feels the need to purify her memory


3. Before Christ who, out of love, took our guilt upon himself, we are all invited to make a profound examination of conscience. One of the characteristic elements of the Great Jubilee is what I described as the "purification of memory" (Bull Incarnationis mysterium, n. 11). As the Successor of Peter, I asked that "in this year of mercy the Church, strong in the holiness which she receives from her Lord, should kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters" (ibid.). Today, the First Sunday of Lent, seemed to me the right occasion for the Church, gathered spiritually round the Successor of Peter, to implore divine forgiveness for the sins of all believers. Let us forgive and ask forgiveness!

This appeal has prompted a thorough and fruitful reflection, which led to the publication several days ago of a document of the International Theological Commission, entitled:  "Memory and Reconciliation:  The Church and the Faults of the Past". I thank everyone who helped to prepare this text. It is very useful for correctly understanding and carrying out the authentic request for pardon, based on the objective responsibility which Christians share as members of the Mystical Body, and which spurs today's faithful to recognize, along with their own sins, the sins of yesterday's Christians, in the light of careful historical and theological discernment. Indeed, "because of the bond which unites us to one another in the Mystical Body, all of us, though not personally responsible and without encroaching on the judgment of God who alone knows every heart, bear the burden of the errors and faults of those who have gone before us" (Incarnationis mysterium, n. 11). The recognition of past wrongs serves to reawaken our consciences to the compromises of the present, opening the way to conversion for everyone.

 

God welcomes every prodigal son who returns to him


4. Let us forgive and ask forgiveness! While we praise God who, in his merciful love, has produced in the Church a wonderful harvest of holiness, missionary zeal, total dedication to Christ and neighbor, we cannot fail to recognize the infidelities to the Gospel committed by some of our brethren, especially during the second millennium. Let us ask pardon for the divisions which have occurred among Christians, for the violence some have used in the service of the truth and for the distrustful and hostile attitudes sometimes taken towards the followers of other religions.

Let us confess, even more, our responsibilities as Christians for the evils of today. We must ask ourselves what our responsibilities are regarding atheism, religious indifference, secularism, ethical relativism, the violations of the right to life, disregard for the poor in many countries.

We humbly ask forgiveness for the part which each of us has had in these evils by our own actions, thus helping to disfigure the face of the Church.

At the same time, as we confess our sins, let us forgive the sins committed by others against us. Countless times in the course of history Christians have suffered hardship, oppression and persecution because of their faith. Just as the victims of such abuses forgave them, so let us forgive as well. The Church today feels and has always felt obliged to purify her memory of those sad events from every feeling of rancor or revenge. In this way the Jubilee becomes for everyone a favorable opportunity for a profound conversion to the Gospel. The acceptance of God's forgiveness leads to the commitment to forgive our brothers and sisters and to be reconciled with them.

 

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son


5. But what does the word "reconciliation" mean to us? To grasp its precise sense and value, we must first recognize the possibility of division, of separation. Yes, man is the only creature on earth who can have a relationship of communion with his Creator, but he is also the only one who can separate himself from him. Unfortunately, he has frequently turned away from God.

Fortunately many people, like the prodigal son spoken of in the Gospel of Luke (cf. Lk 15: 13), after leaving their father's house and squandering their inheritance, reach the very bottom and realize how much they have lost (cf. Lk 15: 13-17). Then they set out to return home:  "I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned...'" (Lk 15: 18).

God, clearly represented by the father in the parable, welcomes every prodigal child who returns to him. He welcomes him through Christ, in whom the sinner can once again become "righteous" with the righteousness of God. He welcomes him, because for our sake he made his eternal Son to be sin. Yes, only through Christ can we become the righteousness of God (cf. 2 Cor 5: 21).

6. "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son". Here, in synthesis, is what the mystery of the world's redemption means! We must fully understand the value of the great gift the Father has given us in Jesus. We must keep the eyes of our soul fixed on Christ - the Christ of Gethesmane, Christ scourged, crowned with thorns, carrying the cross and, finally, crucified. Christ took upon himself the burden of the sins of all people, the burden of our own sins, so that through his saving sacrifice we might be reconciled to God.

Today, Saul of Tarsus who became St Paul, stands before us as a witness:  he had an extraordinary experience of the power of the Cross on the way to Damascus. The risen Christ revealed himself to him in all his dazzling power:  ""Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'... "Who are you, Lord?' ... "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting'" (Acts 9: 4-5). Today Paul, who had such a powerful experience of the Cross of Christ, addresses a fervent prayer to us:  "We beg you not to receive the grace of God in vain". This grace is offered to us, St Paul insists, by God himself, who tells us today:  "In an acceptable time I have heard you; on a day of salvation I have helped you" (2 Cor 6: 1-2).

Mary, Mother of forgiveness, help us to accept the grace of forgiveness which the Jubilee generously offers us. Make the Lent of this extraordinary Holy Year an acceptable time, a time of reconciliation, a time of salvation for all believers and for everyone who is searching for God!


Solemn Prayer of the Faithful Confessing Sins and Requesting God's Pardon

Introduction

The Holy Father: Brothers and Sisters, let us turn with trust to God our Father, who is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger, great in love and fidelity, and ask him to accept the repentance of his people who humbly confess their sins, and to grant them mercy.

[All pray for a moment in silence.]

I. CONFESSION OF SINS IN GENERAL

Cardinal Bernardin Gantin: Let us pray that our confession and repentance will be inspired by the Holy Spirit, that our sorrow will be conscious and deep, and that, humbly viewing the sins of the past in an authentic "purification of memory", we will be committed to the path of true conversion. [Silent prayer.]

The Holy Father: Lord God, your pilgrim Church, which you ever sanctify in the blood of your Son, counts among her children in every age members whose holiness shines brightly forth and members whose disobedience to you contradicts the faith we profess and the Holy Gospel. You, who remain ever faithful, even when we are unfaithful, forgive our sins and grant that we may bear true witness to you before all men and women. We ask this through Christ our Lord. R. Amen.

Cantor: Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie eleison.

The assembly repeats: Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie eleison.

[A lamp is lit before the Crucifix.]

II. CONFESSION OF SINS COMMITTED IN THE SERVICE OF TRUTH

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger: Let us pray that each one of us, looking to the Lord Jesus, meek and humble of heart, will recognize that even men of the Church, in the name of faith and morals, have sometimes used methods not in keeping with the Gospel in the solemn duty of defending the truth. [Silent prayer.]

The Holy Father: Lord, God of all men and women, in certain periods of history Christians have at times given in to intolerance and have not been faithful to the great commandment of love, sullying in this way the face of the Church, your Spouse. Have mercy on your sinful children and accept our resolve to seek and promote truth in the gentleness of charity, in the firm knowledge that truth can prevail only in virtue of truth itself. We ask this through Christ our Lord. R. Amen. R. Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie eleison.

[A lamp is lit before the Crucifix.]

III. CONFESSION OF SINS WHICH HAVE HARMED THE UNITY OF THE BODY OF CHRIST

Cardinal Roger Etchegaray: Let us pray that our recognition of the sins which have rent the unity of the Body of Christ and wounded fraternal charity will facilitate the way to reconciliation and communion among all Christians. [Silent prayer.]

The Holy Father: Merciful Father, on the night before his Passion your Son prayed for the unity of those who believe in him: in disobedience to his will, however, believers have opposed one another, becoming divided, and have mutually condemned one another and fought against one another. We urgently implore your forgiveness and we beseech the gift of a repentant heart, so that all Christians, reconciled with you and with one another will be able, in one body and in one spirit, to experience anew the joy of full communion. We ask this through Christ our Lord. R. Amen. R. Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie eleison.

[A lamp is lit before the Crucifix.]

IV. CONFESSION OF SINS AGAINST THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL

Cardinal Edward Cassidy: Let us pray that, in recalling the sufferings endured by the people of Israel throughout history, Christians will acknowledge the sins committed by not a few of their number against the people of the Covenant and the blessings, and in this way will purify their hearts. [Silent prayer.]

The Holy Father: God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring your Name to the Nations: we are deeply saddened by the behaviour of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant. We ask this through Christ our Lord. R. Amen R. Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie eleison.

[A lamp is lit before the Crucifix.]

V. CONFESSION OF SINS COMMITTED IN ACTIONS AGAINST LOVE, PEACE, THE RIGHTS OF PEOPLES, AND RESPECT FOR CULTURES AND RELIGIONS

Archbishop Stephen Fumio Hamao: Let us pray that contemplating Jesus, our Lord and our Peace, Christians will be able to repent of the words and attitudes caused by pride, by hatred, by the desire to dominate others, by enmity towards members of other religions and towards the weakest groups in society, such as immigrants and itinerants. [Silent prayer.]

The Holy Father: Lord of the world, Father of all, through your Son you asked us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us and to pray for those who persecute us. Yet Christians have often denied the Gospel; yielding to a mentality of power, they have violated the rights of ethnic groups and peoples, and shown contempt for their cultures and religious traditions: be patient and merciful towards us, and grant us your forgiveness! We ask this through Christ our Lord. R. Amen. R. Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie, eleison.

[A lamp is lit before the Crucifix.]

VI. CONFESSION OF SINS AGAINST THE DIGNITY OF WOMEN AND THE UNITY OF THE HUMAN RACE

Cardinal Francis Arinze: Let us pray for all those who have suffered offences against their human dignity and whose rights have been trampled; let us pray for women, who are all too often humiliated and emarginated, and let us acknowledge the forms of acquiescence in these sins of which Christians too have been guilty. [Silent prayer.]

The Holy Father: Lord God, our Father, you created the human being, man and woman, in your image and likeness and you willed the diversity of peoples within the unity of the human family. At times, however, the equality of your sons and daughters has not been acknowledged, and Christians have been guilty of attitudes of rejection and exclusion, consenting to acts of discrimination on the basis of racial and ethnic differences. Forgive us and grant us the grace to heal the wounds still present in your community on account of sin, so that we will all feel ourselves to be your sons and daughters. We ask this through Christ our Lord. R. Amen. R. Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie, eleison.

[A lamp is lit before the Crucifix.]

VII. CONFESSION OF SINS IN RELATION TO THE FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS OF THE PERSON

Archbishop François Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân: Let us pray for all the men and women of the world, especially for minors who are victims of abuse, for the poor, the alienated, the disadvantaged; let us pray for those who are most defenceless, the unborn killed in their mother's womb or even exploited for experimental purposes by those who abuse the promise of biotechnology and distort the aims of science. [Silent prayer.]

The Holy Father: God, our Father, you always hear the cry of the poor. How many times have Christians themselves not recognized you in the hungry, the thirsty and the naked, in the persecuted, the imprisoned, and in those incapable of defending themselves, especially in the first stages of life. For all those who have committed acts of injustice by trusting in wealth and power and showing contempt for the "little ones" who are so dear to you, we ask your fogiveness: have mercy on us and accept our repentance. We ask this through Christ our Lord. R. Amen. R. Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie, eleison; Kyrie, eleison.

[A lamp is lit before the Crucifix.]

Concluding Prayer

The Holy Father: Most merciful Father, your Son, Jesus Christ, the judge of the living and the dead, in the humility of his first coming redeemed humanity from sin and in his glorious return he will demand an account of every sin. Grant that our forebears, our brothers and sisters, and we, your servants, who by the grace of the Holy Spirit turn back to you in whole-hearted repentance, may experience your mercy and receive the forgiveness of our sins. We ask this through Christ our Lord. R. Amen.

 

 

[As a sign of penance and veneration the Holy Father embraces and kisses the Crucifix.]

(Official Vatican Translation)

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