The History of Paulist Reconciliation Ministries
Reconciliation as an essential element of the Paulist Mission Direction Statement and was reaffirmed at the 2002 Paulist General Assembly held in Washington, D.C.
Promoting justice and healing, Reconciliation makes tangible the compassionate, forgiving embrace that is the Church. Paulists enter into God's action of seeking out the lost, the alienated, the hurt and the broken. We minister especially in welcoming people back to the Church. In broader terms, the Spirit impels us to find common ground, working for cross-cultural understanding, peace, justice and human liberation. We recognize that action on behalf of justice is constitutive of the preaching of the Gospel.
The General Assembly expressed interest in establishing a North American Office for Reconciliation. However, those gathered believed that there needed to be more discussion before such an office would be established. The establishment of the office was deferred to the Paulist General Council which in turn established a Reconciliation Task Force to address the concerns of the General Assembly.
The Task Force reported back to the General Council in June, 2004 and recommended that a North American Office for Reconciliation be established. The Board of Directors was inaugurated in May, 2006 and the Office for Reconciliation was established in June, 2006 at the North American Paulist Center in Washington, D.C. and Fr. John Hurley, C.S.P. was appointed founding Director. In December 2007, the Rev. Dr. Thomas A. Kane was appointed the new director.
The report of the Paulist Reconciliation Task Force follows.
A Paulist Reconciliation Initiative
". . . making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
Ephesians 4:3 (NRSV)
The Sources of Reconciliation
A God of overflowing love has called us into existence, "grace following upon grace" (Jn.1:16). This divine initiative of love acts upon our human lives again and again. When God's grace addresses our brokenness, our pain, our sinfulness and our isolation, we call this initiative reconciliation. As the word indicates, it brings us together––together in love into the community which God wills for the Kingdom.
Jesus Christ embodies this divine initiative, "light from light," taking on our human experience and bringing it into God. His call to conversion, rooted in the absolute priority of God's mercy, is at the heart of the Good News that Jesus announces and brings. In his death and resurrection, Jesus enacts the ultimate human drama of renewal and hope. His dying and rising result in the sending of the Holy Spirit, the very bond of divine love and the agent of reconciliation.
Jesus, in the Spirit, has called his disciples into a communion of divine love, thereby forming the Church. As mercy is the foundation of Christ's Good News, so mercy must be the grounding element throughout the life of the Church. It is mercy which brings us through the saving bath of baptism, and mercy which allows us to gather around the sacred table which Jesus sets (Cf. Mt. 9:9 ff.). It is mercy which distinguishes the disciples of Jesus, for those who follow must be children of God, must "be compassionate as the heavenly Father is compassionate"(Luke 6:36). Mercy forms the horizon of all human experience; the community of Jesus reveals this horizon as sacrament to the world.
God's unconditional love, revealed in the ministry and call of Jesus, itself invites a response––a conversion whereby we accept a new relationship of love with God and, as a result, with all creation. Our failure to live out this conversion brings about the need for reconciliation––for a process whereby grace and love can be experienced once again and restored. It is the particular mission of Christ's community to work for reconciliation in fulfilling the demands of the Kingdom of love.
Reconciliation, therefore, carries forward the overall mission of evangelization and specifies this mission particularly to those who are isolated from the communion of Jesus Christ. If the Good News is first announced in evangelization, it must also be announced, and accepted, again and again in reconciliation.
The Paulist Community is now undertaking a new initiative of reconciliation. This intensifies its historic commitment to reconciliation exercised over decades in its preaching apostolate, its parish and campus ministries, Landings, and its special initiatives to Separated and Divorced Catholics. It also furthers the commitments Paulists made in 1986 and 2002 when it made reconciliation one of its principal mission directions.
The need for reconciliation, however, seems greater now in these recent years of our experience. Millions of Catholics, many of them young adults, do not practice their faith and abstain from the table of Jesus Christ. Behind this, among many factors, the difference in generational perspectives looms quite large. The church in the United States has also experienced a major crisis of moral authority through the scandal of abusive clergy. This crisis has further eroded a lack of confidence people once had in the church––an erosion which began shortly after the Second Vatican Council. The divisions within the Church, only partially addressed by the Common Ground Initiative, seem to grow wider every day, with extremes on all sides dismissing large numbers of their Catholic sisters and brothers as somehow less than truly Catholic. Gender and sexual issues, perhaps revealed best in the areas concerning abortion and homosexuality, are not easily pastorally addressed.
It might well be claimed that the Church has gotten out of touch with the culture around it, as the impulse toward secularity drives popular culture into forms and laws which seem ever more distant from some church teachings. If so, further isolation can only worsen the gap between the Church and wider culture. Even more, some of these issues have most recently crossed with political tensions in the wider society, leading to confusion about who is or is not qualified to participate in the Lord's sacred meal.
The use, or disuse, of the sacrament of Reconciliation might symbolize the disarray that the Church is experiencing at this time. While the Church speaks of compassion and mercy, it focuses primarily on one celebration of a sacramental process which has become difficult for many believers and which seems not to incorporate an awareness of the long and complex process of finding reconciliation today. The sacrament, rather than being a ready point of access, appears to many as a roadblock.
If, indeed, there are problems with the moral and public behavior of members of the Church, there are also problems with the way the Church itself sometimes appears to behave.
A pastoral approach would be more helpful in the many different situations in which modern people find themselves, rather than arrogance, smugness or self-righteousness which many perceive and is not helpful. So it is not only people who need to be reconciled to the Church; the Church must also, through a variety of ways, become reconciled to both its own population as well as the larger society. Doing this, while retrieving the integrity and depth of its doctrine, will require an openness to the Spirit speaking through to many people. When Jesus taught us to pray, he insisted that we offer forgiveness even as we have experienced it. Might it be that the crisis in experiencing forgiveness in the modern Church is also a crisis of its own need for repentance and forgiveness, particularly in some of its legalistic and institutional approaches to people?
The Paulists undertake this new Reconciliation Initiative because we believe this is an opportune time, a chairos, in which to develop a wide pastoral process to address the needs of reconciliation in the Church today. The process will be multi-threaded, with invitations to wider society, to the wider Church, to parish communities, and to individual Catholics whatever their pastoral situation. We must all be about the business of reconciliation. We will particularly invite Paulist parishes, campus ministries, agencies and offices to commit themselves to a renewed focus on reconciliation.
The process will primarily be one of dialogue, listening, sharing, opening up and renewing contacts across all levels of Catholic life. It will demand energy from the grass-roots on up, even as initiatives must come from the top-down. It will be grounded in the primal experience of Jesus as Good Shepherd, as one who comes to care for those who recognize their woundedness (Mt. 9:12), as one who takes on burdens rather than adds to them (cf. Mt. 23:4). The process will unfold in dependence on the Holy Spirit, the very love of God communicated to us by Jesus from the Father. The Spirit, whose love seals the union of Father and Son, is the bond by which all recognize themselves as brothers and sisters, united and connected, healed and still in need of healing.
This Paulist initiative is undertaken in the spirit expressed in Go and Make Disciples (nos. 38-41) which upholds the ideal of welcoming our brothers and sisters who may be alienated from the practice of their faith. "As a community of faith, we want to welcome these people to become alive in the Good News of Jesus, to make their lives more fully part of the ongoing story of salvation, and to let Christ touch, heal and reconcile them through the Holy Spirit" (#40).
If such an initiative can help the Church articulate itself primarily in Gospel terms, calling people to conversion and seeking conversion itself, as a harbinger of God's mercy and a gatherer of the broken into God's wholeness, then some of the dream of our Paulist founder, Isaac Hecker, might be realized when he foresaw, for the Church, "a future brighter than any past."
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 2 Cor. 5: 18-20 (NRSV)