Loss of Sense of Sin Needs Urgent Attention, Says Pope

Appeals to U.S. Bishops to Promote Sacrament of Penance

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 14, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II lamented the loss of the sense of sin in the world as he urged a group of U.S. bishops to promote the sacrament of penance.



Addressing the bishops of California, Nevada and Hawaii, who are on their five-yearly visit to Rome, the Pope said that the "courage to face the crisis of the loss of the sense of sin, to which I alerted the whole Church early in my pontificate, must be addressed today with particular urgency."

In his 1984 apostolic exhortation "Reconciliatio et Paenitentia," the Holy Father warned that "the loss of the sense of sin is a form or fruit of the negation of God: not only of the atheist, but also of the secularist."

This phenomenon implies a paradox. "While the effects of sin abound -- greed, dishonesty and corruption, broken relationships and exploitation of persons, pornography and violence -- the recognition of individual sinfulness has waned," he said.

"In its place a disturbing culture of blame and litigiousness has arisen which speaks more of revenge than justice and fails to acknowledge that in every man and woman there is a wound which, in the light of faith, we call original sin," John Paul II lamented.

"Sin is an integral part of the truth about the human person. To recognize oneself as a sinner is the first and essential step in returning to the healing love of God," he said.

"Given this reality, the bishop's duty to indicate the sad and destructive presence of sin, both in individuals and in communities, is in fact a service of hope," the Pope said.

"Far from being something negative, it strengthens believers to abandon evil and embrace the perfection of love and the fullness of Christian life," he added.

"Let us boldly announce that indeed we are not the sum total of our weaknesses and failures! We are the sum of the Father's love for us, and capable of becoming the image of his Son!" he told the U.S. bishops.

"The lasting peace and harmony so longed for by individuals, families and society can only be won through that conversion which is a fruit of mercy and constituent of genuine reconciliation," the Holy Father said. "As bishops you have the difficult yet satisfying duty of promoting the true Christian understanding of reconciliation."

"Indeed mercy constitutes the fundamental content of the messianic message of Christ and the constitutive power of his mission and thus can never be set aside in the name of pragmatism," he continued.

"As pastors of your flock it is with this merciful love -- never a mere sense of favor -- that you too must reach down to every prodigal son, to every human misery, and above all to every form of moral misery, to sin," John Paul II said.

The Holy Father concluded by encouraging the bishops to promote the sacrament of penance, "the only ordinary way for the faithful to reconcile themselves with God and the Church."

"Though it cannot be denied that the profound power of this sacrament is often considered today with indifference, it is also the case that young people in particular readily give testimony to the graces and transforming benefits it bestows," he said.

"I again appeal directly to you and to your priests: Arm yourselves with more confidence, creativity and perseverance in presenting it and leading people to appreciate it," he exhorted. "Time spent in the confessional is time spent in service of the spiritual patrimony of the Church and the salvation of souls."