Reconciliation: An Open Door
The motto of the Confraternity of Penitents is love of God and love of neighbor.
"You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with all your mind, (and) you shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Jesus's words as recorded in Matthew 22:37-38)
It is impossible to love God if one does not love one's neighbor as well.
"Those who say, 'I love God,' and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from Him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.' (1 John 4:20-21).
Love is so important that it brings about union with God.
"Beloved, if God has loves us so, we must have the same love for one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet if we love one another God dwells in us, and His love is brought to perfection in us." (1 John 4:11-12)
Why is this union possible only if we love?
"God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God in him." (1 John 4:16)
THE CORE OF THE CFP RULE
Section 26 of our Rule and Constitutions is the core of the Rule for the Confraternity of Penitents. This is because the love of God and of neighbor meet in the living of this part of the Rule. What does this section say?
RULE, SECTION 26
26. As regards making peace among the brothers and sisters or non-members at odds, let what the ministers find proper be done; even, if it be expedient, upon consultation with the Lord Bishop.
CONSTITUTIONS, SECTION 26
a. All are to make peace with members of the Confraternity and all others, seeking, if necessary, the consultation of the Church.
b. The penitent must daily pray for all those who refuse to make peace with the penitent and must forgive such people all wrongs done to the penitent.
c. The brothers and sisters are always to take the first steps toward reconciliation. Under no circumstances are penitents to hold grudges or wish ill to anyone.
THE PROOF OF LOVE
The living of Section 26 of the Rule and Constitutions is a proof of love of God and of neighbor. All the other sections of the Rule and Constitutions are intended to foster love of God and of neighbor. It is obvious that a penitent who nurses resentments toward others or who refuses to forgive and reconcile does not understand the meaning of penance (conversion).
Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:7b-10).
The power to love and the power to forgive and reconcile come from God Who loved us first, Who forgave us, and Who, by His sacrifice, reconciled us to Himself. By God's grace alone is it possible for us to reconcile with others.
TAKE NO OFFENSE
The first step toward reconciliation is to precipitate no situation that would require reconciliation. This means not taking offense where none may be intended.
Here's a true story. A mom of two preschoolers was grocery shopping, trying to watch one child in the cart and the other exploring the store, while trying to select the necessary groceries. Several weeks later, the mom met a friend who asked, "Are you angry with me?"
Dumbfounded, the mom replied, "No. Whatever made you think that?"
The friend responded, "When I saw you in the grocery store last month, you didn't even say hello."
The mom had not even seen her friend in the grocery store! Her total attention had been on the kids, the grocery list, and the grocery shelves.
Another example involves emails. Sometimes when we don't hear back from someone to whom we sent an email, we assume that the person is angry with us or doesn't want to reply. The truth is, more likely, that the person has either been too busy to look at emails for a few days, is having computer problems, is away, or perhaps never received our email. As penitents, we ought always look for the best in others and make excuses for them. After all, isn't this what Jesus does for us?
If we don't take offense, we will have no need to reconcile.
AN OPEN HEART
For the penitent, reconciliation means having a heart that is open to all who wish to enter and to allow them as much space as is safe. Jesus told us to be wise as serpents but guileless as doves. He meant that we are to be gentle as a dove yet as cautious as well, for doves fly at the sight of danger. We are to be wise as serpents which means that we quietly slip away from danger when we can, yet, if we cannot, we face it courageously as we defend our very spiritual lives.
Let's take a few examples.
If a penitent is at odds with a neighbor because of a boundary dispute, the penitent could safely speak to the neighbor and apologize for any wrongs done. This might mend the fences in more ways than one.
However, if a penitent was driven, as a teen, from her home by an alcoholic and abusive parent, she may find reconciliation more difficult. It may be safe to contact the parent, perhaps by phone or by letter, without listing a return address, to tell the parent that she is praying for him or her and stating the penitent's forgiveness for any wrong done.
In the one case, it is safe for the penitent to confront the one at odds and to let the other fully know the whereabouts of the penitent. In the other case, wisdom and safety may demand more caution. But in both cases reconciliation can be attempted and, hopefully, achieved to some degree. In all cases, love should be given, for the love of God.
THE FIRST STEP
Penitents are to take the first steps toward reconciliation. This reconciliation must exist within morally sound parameters. We do not ever reconcile with evil, even if it comes to us in persons who appear to be good. We are called to resist evil in all its forms, even if temptation tells us that, if we accept the evil, good will result. Such a statement is always a lie for, although God can and does bring good out of evil, He does not ever want us to do evil so that good may result. To resist evil is to bring about a greater good, the good of obedience to God's moral law. We are always to do what is right in itself.
For example, we may have upset a friend by condemning an adulterous affair which the friend insists was unavoidable and not harmful to anyone. The price which our friend demands for reconciliation is that the penitent agree
that the affair was not sinful or avoidable. The penitent cannot make this concession as it involves agreeing to what is morally evil. In this case, the penitent ought to tell the friend that he or she still loves and prays for the friend and wishes to communicate with him or her.
But in no way ought the penitent state that what was evil was good or necessary. The good of reconciling a damaged or broken friendship is overshadowed by the greater good of witnessing to what is morally right. In this case, the refusal to reconcile is coming from a friend who demands an immoral solution to bring about the reconciliation.
The open door to reconciliation is not a toll gate. We demand no apologies, tokens of love, or out pouring of guilt as a price to enter that open door to our hearts or to anyone else's. We are open to all those who come sincerely, wanting to reconcile with us. And we walk through that open door to the doors of others, knocking at them first to see if they will reconcile with us.
We may go to doors that are closed and barred against us. Pleading, logic, and the witness of others have failed to crack those doors open even a little bit. The sole weapons left to us are prayer and sacrifice, so we ought to wield those weapons daily, asking God to bring about reconciliation in His time and way.
We may come to toll gates in the hearts of others who demand apologies or some other tokens from us before they will reconcile. If what is demanded is morally acceptable, then we, by all means, need to give it. But if what is asked is morally wrong, if we are asked to acknowledge wrongs we never committed or confess thoughts we never had, we cannot lie. We must always follow the laws of God Who asks the truth of us in all things. Reconciliation is to be done in truth and in love, for if it is not done in truth, it can never be done in love. Love demands truth.
THE SONG OF "SAINT FRANCIS"
The following prayer is attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi. While it was not actually written by him, it does express well his philosophy of life and the tone of the CFP Rule and Constitutions:
(Text adapted by Sebastian Temple)
Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow your love,
where there is injury, your pardon, Lord,
and where there's doubt, new faith in you.
Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there's despair in life, let me bring hope,
where there is darkness, only light,
and where there's sadness, ever joy.
O Master, grant that I may never seek
so much to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love with all my soul.
Make me a channel of your peace.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
in giving to all men that we receive,
and in dying that we are born to eternal life.
AN INCLUSIVE LOVE
The motto of the Confraternity of Penitents is "You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, with all your mind, (and) you shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love means a heart that is an open door to God and to all others. God's love is not selective nor should ours be. The core of the CFP Rule is Section 26. Only when we are willing to show our love for God by our love for all others, only when we are willing to be at peace with all and to take the first steps toward that, does our Rule have meaning. If we give up food, clothing, possessions, and time to follow God, but do not give up bitterness, anger, resentments, or hatred, then our other penances are
meaningless. If we spend long hours in prayer but won't spend a few moments trying to make peace with another, our prayers are empty. Penance is a sham if it is not done in love.
God is a God of peace, and to love God means to embrace Him with a heart that is at peace with all. Pray for that peace. Ask God to grant the graces necessary for reconciliation and to foster in you a heart that truly desires it. If you resist reconciliation, give God your resistant spirit and ask Him to soften you in His Love. Reconciliation can only be attempted and achieved by the grace of God so let us pray for that grace. Only if one truly desires and seeks reconciliation with all can one be truly united with God Whose name is Love and Who calls us to love as He loves.
May God grant us hearts that are open doors to others so that peace and love will reign in us and between us and all.
Madeline Pecora Nugent