I do not have a lot of time for the arguments of many of the ‘Born Again’ Churches as they choose the Scriptures they want to take literally and ignore many others, especially those that support the many Catholic practices they love to preach against like the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Today’s Gospel to my mind does not allow too many logical interpretations other than the one the Catholic Church gives it as the basis of the power to forgive sins that priests and bishops have been given by God.

 

The reality is that without institutionalizing the gifts of the Spirit there is no way to retain order in the life of Church. The Montanist heresy demonstrated this very clearly when it rejected the authority of the bishops and allowed everyone to live ‘as the Spirit led them.’ This does not work as there is sin at work in our lives that leads people astray. There has to be some rules in order to keep the peace and make organized communities a reality. Chaos is the inevitable result if there is no real authority structure and that is precisely the witness of the Protestant and Born Again style Churches who simply split and make a new Church when two people disagree strongly enough over a point of doctrine or practice. This is why they are sometimes referred to as the ‘split p’s (peas)!’

 

The description in today’s Gospel allows for an ordered process of reconciliation within the Church and the lives of its people. Yes, we can ask God’s forgiveness directly for our sins and I am sure he will forgive us, but what about the damage we have done to the Church and other peoples’ lives by sinning? The Sacrament as celebrated in the Catholic Church allows for the human dimension of forgiveness to be ministered as well as the priest stands in for both God and the Church to minister forgiveness in the Sacrament. I fail to see how the practice in the Catholic Church can be seen to be in conflict with the commission given by Jesus in today’s Gospel.

 

Jesus, you have given the ministers of the Church authority to forgive sins. Help them to be attentive in the Sacrament so that the advice they give will help the penitent to grow in his or her experience of God’s mercy, love and forgiveness.