Reconciliation, Ministry of
RECONCILIATION, MINISTRY OF
The ministry of reconciliation is a phrase that summarizes the economy of salvation. God's design is a "coming from" and a "return" to him. The "let the world be" of creation is at the same time the "let God be all in all" of the eschaton. Salvation history is the story of God committing himself more and more deeply to his creation that it might achieve perfect reconciliation with him. At the center of this plan is the Incarnation. Jesus Christ is the completely comprehensive reality that embraces all of creation. All things achieve their purpose, their right ordering, by being ordered to the Incarnate Word who has become not simply part of creation, but its center (Eph 1.9–10). The "already" of the reconciliation accomplished by Christ must be balanced off by the "not yet" of his second coming. In the time between, the ministry of reconciliation continues and the Church exists as the Sacrament and agent of this redemptive work.
Objectives. The objective of this ministry is more than the juxtaposition of created realities in peaceful coexistence. Rather it is a radical and definitive reordering that can be accomplished only in Christ, the ontological principle of unity. Creatures are reconciled with one another because they are reconciled with God. Paul is clear on this point when writing to the quarrelsome Corinthians. In seeking their reconciliation with one another and with him, he asked that they participate more deeply in the profound reconciliation achieved by Christ (2 Cor 5.16–21).
Vatican Council II speaks of reconciliation in a variety of contexts (unity among Christians, peace among nations, sacrament of reconciliation) but the primary referent is always the fundamental reconciliation achieved by Christ. While it is fully achieved only in relationship to God, this cannot excuse Christians from dealing directly with one another in seeking unity. The commandments to love God and love neighbor are in fact one (Mt 22.34–40). The ministry of reconciliation, then, involves not only an individual's relationship to God, not only bringing others to him, but also the personal relationship with others.
Exercise of Reconciliation. God has taken the decisive initiative in exercising the ministry of reconciliation, and human efforts must always be seen as a participation in this. This means not only passive openness but a positive initiative toward reconciliation. In saying that we should leave our gift at the altar and first become reconciled, the Lord is talking about reconciliation with a person who has something against us (Mt 5.23–24). Christians are called upon to take the initiative in reaching out as salt, light, leaven, ministers of Christ's reconciliation to the world.
Full reconciliation will be achieved only in the Kingdom, but the call is to achieve partial realizations during this time between the Lord's first and second coming. Results may be incomplete and transitory, but they serve as anticipations of the Kingdom. The incomplete and imperfect nature of reconciliation during this present journeying raises a major difficulty. Reconciliation very often seems illogical, premature, prophetic. The logical inclination would be to wait until perfect at-one-ment is achieved, when all things will fit together as they should. Christ, however, called upon his followers to engage in this ministry now, to be forgiving, to build peace and unity even in this imperfect state (contrast the attitude of the brother of the prodigal son). The first Eucharistic Prayer for Masses of Reconciliation carries the reminder that now is the time of reconciliation.
Ministry of the Community. Christian communities, as communities, exercise a ministry of reconciliation partly by being a sign and foreshadowing of the unity of the Kingdom. That is why the current disunity among Christians presents such a monumental problem. Called to be a sign of reconciliation, Christianity has made the world spectator to its own divisions for nearly the last millennium. Given the central place of the ministry of reconciliation, the unity of Christians has to count as one of the highest priorities. Ecumenical developments hold promise. Yet, while interdenominational unity appears to be increasing, intradenominational unity is becoming a serious concern. Disunity is not to be confused with healthy diversity and plurality which actually serve to enhance unity; Christian communities are experiencing fragmentation and polarization at various levels.
These problems have to be taken as seriously as Paul took them at Corinth. The Christian community exercises its ministry of reconciliation most forcefully when its unity has no apparent reason other than Christ, when people worship together celebrating bonds of oneness that go deeper than the differences that normally keep people at odds—differing political views, race, culture, prejudice.
The Ordained Ministry. The ministry of reconciliation exercised by public ministers in the Church brings with it additional considerations. The public minister is called upon to forego certain rights as an individual Christian in order to serve the wider community. The attitude of the Apostle Paul must prevail—the attempt to be all things to all people. This is not to be taken in the sense of having all the answers or holding all the resources, but precisely in the sense of serving the cause of unity. "I became like a Jew to the Jews…. To those bound by the law I became like one who is bound…. To those not subject to the law I became like one not subject to it….To the weak I became a weak person …" (1 Cor 9.20–22).
In its Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests Vatican Council II says that, in the interest of building the Christian community, priests are never to put themselves at the service of any ideology or human faction (Presbyterorum ordinis 6). The 1971 Synod of Bishops, in its document on the Ministerial Priesthood makes a similar point in reference to political involvement: "But since political options are by nature contingent and never in an entirely adequate and perennial way interpret the Gospel, the priest, who is the witness of things to come, must keep a certain distance from any political office or involvement" (Synod Min Pr p. 21).
This "certain distance" from causes that can interfere with the ministry of reconciliation presents various problems. On the one hand, true peace requires justice and development (Paul VI PopProgr 87) and the Church cannot remain silent or removed from all issues. On the other hand the Church cannot claim competence in all secular affairs and specific solutions should not be confused with the Gospel message (Gaudium et spes 54, cf. Synod Just World pp. 42–43). In this matter one has but to recall how the Church, at the time of the Reformation, was closely allied with national and political interests, and the effects that this had.
The Church must be conscious of her distinctive role as a reconciler, i.e. ministering a gift that goes much deeper than practical solutions. It is often when the Church is least of the world that it can do most for the world. This must always be motivated not by the self-interest of the Church, but rather in the interests of placing itself more fully at the service of the world in the ministry of reconciliation.
Bibliography: j.-f. collange, "Appel à la réconciliation," Énigmes de la deuxième Epître aux Corinthiens (Cambridge 1972) 18:226–80. y. m.-j. congar, Sainte Église (Paris 1964). r. coste, "Le prêtre et la politique," Nouvelle revue théologique 94 (1972) 912–32. Pro Mundi Vita. New Forms of Ministries in Christian Communities Bulletin 50, (Brussels 1974). paul vi, On Reconciliation. Apostolic Exhortation, Paterna cum benevolentia, Dec. 8, 1974 (USCC Publ. Office, Washington, D.C. n.d.).