The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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April 14, 2000 Issue
Bishop Banks'
Renew 2000 Column

Bishop Robert J. Banks
Bishop Robert J. Banks

A Jubilee Year centerpiece

Forgiveness is possible because we are all one family in Christ

By Bishop Robert Banks

Forgiveness has been for our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, a major theme of this Jubilee Year. He has managed to present it in varied ways so that almost everyone in the Church can find some aspect of the forgiveness theme that appeals.

For those concerned with social justice, the Pope's insistent call for the forgiveness of the international debt that oppresses the poorest nations of the world has won their enthusiastic support. The Pope, more than any other individual, has called the world's attention to this incredibly unjust situation and has pointed to the Jubilee Year for action by the richest nations of the world. The United States tends to be stingy in the aid that we give to the poorest nations of the world, but fortunately Pres. Clinton and the Congress have taken some positive steps in addressing this particular problem. More needs to be done.

Another form of forgiveness that has been emphasized by the Pope during this Jubilee Year has been the indulgence. An indulgence is not, in the strict sense, forgiveness and certainly not the forgiveness of sin. But, once sin has been forgiven, an indulgence is the "remission of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.1471).

The indulgence was more easily understood or at least accepted and valued in the Church when I was growing up. With the general disappearance of sin from modern culture and a greater emphasis on the compassionate love of God, our people have been less concerned with the effects of sin or punishment for sin. For many Catholics, purgatory, for instance, has just about disappeared from the radar map and, with it, indulgences.

When a teacher or preacher begins to explain indulgences with the vocabulary of "temporal punishment," "the treasury of the Church," and "the communion of saints," the eyes of Generations Y, X and Z immediately begin to glaze over.

The Holy Father had enough experience with young people when he was a priest and bishop to know how the doctrine of indulgences is received in the Church today. He also has had enough experience with the horrible effects of sinful tyrannies and the more subtle destruction of today's "sinless" culture to know that we desperately need to call on the salvation won for us by Jesus. Indulgences do that.

The Pope apparently was not satisfied with shaking up people with his revival of indulgences; he had some even more shocking acts of forgiveness in his Jubilee plans.

On the first Sunday of Lent, he went to St. Peter's Basilica and led a service of Confession of Sins and Asking for Forgiveness which served as a "purification of memory and a commitment to the path of true conversion." Going back over the past millennium, he prayed for forgiveness, listing sins committed by members of the Church against the truth, against the unity of the Church, against the people of Israel, against the rights of people, against the dignity of women, and against the rights of the individual.

This confession and plea for forgiveness was a first for any Pope in the history of the Church. It is no wonder that the International Theological Commission had to issue an explanation of how someone could ask for forgiveness for actions of members of the Church without implying that the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church itself had sinned.

Despite the opposition of many counselors, the Holy Father insisted that this purification of memories had to take place so that we could make a new start as we head into the third millennium. Only someone who was utterly confident that the Church of Jesus does have the message of saving truth could make such a public and wide-ranging confession of the sins and errors of the past.

Common to all these actions of forgiveness is the overwhelming awareness of the unity of the human race and the unity of the Church.

It is because the Holy Father sees all humanity as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of our one heavenly Father, that he speaks out against the international debt that has the rich nations of the world driving the poor of the world into deeper poverty.

It is because the Holy Father sees the Church as family bound together and to Christ by the power and love of the Holy Spirit that he speaks of indulgences. As brothers and sisters in the Lord, we can call upon Jesus' love to heal the wounds of sin in one another. We do not work out our salvation as individuals, but as members of the Church, the body of Christ, the family of the Lord. Our unity embraces not only those in this world, but all the members of Christ, living and dead, saints above and saints in the making, here and in purgatory.

It is because the Holy Father is so conscious of the unity of the whole Church that he can embrace the past glories of the Church and also ask pardon for the shameful actions of those who have gone before us. He is also well aware, as can be told from the text of the prayers said that Sunday in St. Peter's, that we who live and lead in the Church today need God's patience and forgiveness.

I think it is because of the Holy Father's desire to see all Christians united and to see all peoples living in peaceful solidarity that he has made forgiveness a centerpiece of this Jubilee Year. Of course, forgiveness is also at the center of Jesus' life and of the Eucharist.

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