8 January 2000
Extracts from the Encyclical "Paenitentiam Agere" of Pope John XXIII July 1, 1962
Calls to Penance in the Bible
... 5. Now we have only to open the sacred books of the Old and New Testament to be assured of one thing: it was never God's will to reveal Himself in any solemn encounter with mortal mento speak in human termswithout first calling them to prayer and penance. Indeed, Moses refused to give the Hebrews the tables of the Law until they had expiated their crime of idolatry and ingratitude.(5)
6. So too the Prophets; they never wearied of exhorting the Israelites to make their prayers acceptable to God, their supreme Overlord, by offering them in a penitential spirit. Otherwise they would bring about their own exclusion from the plan of divine Providence, according to which God Himself was to be the King of His chosen people.
7. The most deeply impressive of these prophetic utterances is surely that warning of Joel which is constantly ringing in our ears in the course of the Lenten liturgy: "Now therefore, says the Lord, Be converted to me with all your heart, in fasting and in weeping and in mourning. And rend your hearts and not your garments. . . Between the porch and the altar the priests, the Lord's ministers, shall weep and say: Spare, O Lord, spare thy people, and give not thy inheritance to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them."(6)
8. Nor did these calls to penance cease when the Son of God became incarnate. On the contrary, they became even more insistent. At the very outset of his preaching, John the Baptist proclaimed: "Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."(7) And Jesus inaugurated His saving mission in the same way. He did not begin by revealing the principal truths of the faith. First He insisted that the soul must repent of every trace of sin that could render it impervious to the message of eternal salvation: "From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."(8)
9. He was even more vehement than were the Prophets in His demands that those who listened to Him should undergo a complete change of heart and submit in perfect sincerity to all the laws of the Supreme God. "For behold," He said "the kingdom of God is within you."(9)
10. Indeed, penance is that counter-force which keeps the forces of concupiscence in check and repels them. In the words of Christ Himself, "the kingdom of heaven has been enduring violent assault, and the violent have been seizing it by force.''(l0)
11. The Apostles held undeviatingly to the principles of their divine Master. When the Holy Spirit had descended on them in the form of fiery tongues, Peter expressed his invitation to the multitudes to seek rebirth in Christ and to accept the gifts of the most holy Paraclete in these words: "Do penance and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."(11) Paul too, the teacher of the Gentiles, announced to the Romans in no uncertain terms that the kingdom of God did not consist in an attitude of intellectual superiority or in indulging the pleasures of sense. It consisted in the triumph of justice and in peace of mind. "For the kingdom of God does not consist in food and drink, but in justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit."(12) ....
Her Forgetful Children
16. But of her children there are some who nevertheless forget the greatness of their calling and election. They mar their God-given beauty, and fail to mirror in themselves the image of Jesus Christ. We cannot find it in Us to threaten or abuse them, for the love We bear them is a father's love. Instead We appeal to them in the words of the Council of Trentthe best restorative for Catholic discipline. "When we put on Christ in baptism (Gal. 3.27), we become in Him an entirely new creature and obtain the full and complete remission of every sin. It is only with great effort and with great compunction on our part that we can obtain the same newness and sinless-ness in the sacrament of penance, for such is the stipulation of divine justice. That is why the holy Fathers called penance 'a laborious kind of baptism'."(16)
LATIN TEXT: Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 54 (1962), 481-91.ENGLISH TRANSLATION: The Pope Speaks, 8 (October, 1962), 111-19.
REFERENCES: (5) Cf. Exod. 32.6-35; and 1 Cor. 10.7 (6) Joel 2.12-13, 17. (7) Matt. 3.2. (8) Ibid. 4.17. (9) Luke 17.21. (10) Matt. 11.12. (11) Acts 2.38. (12) Rom. 14.17. (16) Council of Trent, Sess. XIV, doctrina de Sacramento Paenitentiae, ch.
You who came into the world on Bethlehem night, remain with us! You who are the Way, and the Truth, and the Life, guide us! You who came from the Father, lead us to him in the Holy Spirit, along the path which you alone know and which you have revealed to us, that we might have life and have it in abundance. You O Christ, the Son of the living God, be for us the Door! Be for us the true Door, symbolized by the door which on this Night we have solemnly opened! Be for us the Door which leads us into the mystery of the Father. Grant that no one may remain outside his embrace of mercy and peace!
[From the homily of John Paul II, Midnight Mass, 24/12/1999]