It was reported earlier this week that the Vatican had approved an iPhone app that would help guide Roman Catholic worshippers through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, sometimes better known as ‘confession’. Two days later a disclaimer was issued by Vatican officials when it was revealed that those U.S. users could download an application for the Apple gadget that would help the faithful gain absolution.
That story reminded me of an article I submitted to the Catholic New Times in 2003 about the Sacrament of Reconciliation . I argued that when our Canadian bishops disallowed the celebration of general confession and absolution, we lost the all-important community aspect of this rite. (Think of what the electronic gadget might have done).
Perhaps this is a good time to consider the deeper spiritual and wholistic implications reconciliation can have when we are open to God’s input. As children many of us may have been reminded of God’s wrath whenever we were caught in wrongdoing. Maybe this is the reason why we find it difficult to believe that God does not keep a record of our wrongs (1 Corinthians 13). At the same time it is important to realize that God also keeps no record of our right actions either. He does not bless us because of the good things we do. He blesses us because He loves us. He does not save us because of the good things that we do, but because He loves us UNCONDITIONALLY.
Scripture does remind us to ask for forgiveness from our neighbours for any wrongs or pain we may inflicted upon them and visa versa (Matthew 18:15-18). When we have hurt others reconciliation with that person is paramount for our spiritual health. In some instances more for ourselves. Confessing our ‘sin’ privately to a priest is only the beginning of this sacramental process. Forgiving, or asking for forgiveness from the other person(s) completes the cycle and thereby brings forth God’s communal healing. We do not need to ask God for forgiveness. God does not condemn the sinner (Romans 8:1) but we condemn ourselves.
There are many modern stories about the impact of communal reconciliation. One of these was provided by celebrated author Paul Theroux in his book ‘Dark Star Safari’ (2003) about such an event that took place during the South African Truth and Reconciliation process.
Amy Elizabeth Biehl (April 26, 1967 – August 25, 1993) was a white American graduate of Stanford University and an Anti-Apartheid activist in South Africa. She studied at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town as a scholar in the Fulbright Program.
When 26-year-old Biehl drove a friend home to the township of Guguletu, outside Cape Town, on August 25, 1993, a black mob pelted her car with stones and smashed its windows while shouting racial epithets. Biehl was struck in the head with a brick, then dragged from her car. She was surrounded as she tried to escape and was stoned and stabbed to death. Four of the men complicit in Biehl's murder were convicted for it; however, in 1998, several years after the end of Apartheid, all four were pardoned by South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Biehl's family supported release of the killers, and her father shook the murderers' hands, stating that:
“The most important vehicle of reconciliation is open and honest dialogue...we are here to reconcile a human life which was taken without an opportunity for dialogue. When we are finished with this process we must move forward with linked arms.”
In 1994, Biehl's parents, Linda and Peter, founded the Amy Biehl Foundation Trust to develop and empower youth in the townships, in order to discourage further violence. In 1999, Biehl's parents were honored with the Aline and Norman Felton Humanitarian Award.
In his speech accepting the Congressional Gold Medal on 23 September 1998, Nelson Mandela said:
“Among those we remember today is young Amy Biehl. She made our aspirations her own and lost her life in the turmoil of our transition, as the new South Africa struggled to be born in the dying moments of apartheid. Through her, our peoples have also shared the pain of confronting a terrible past, as we take the path towards the reconciliation and healing of our nation.”