Mission of Mercy | Reflections Post-Rome 2023

August 15, 2023
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Our visit to the Apostolic Penitentiary, which came about spontaneously during the program, brought a relieving pastoral application to much of the curial visits we made. While no less inscrutable than the other Dicasteries — the Penitentiary deals exclusively in the internal forum, especially with the content of the Sacrament of Reconciliation — Msgr. Commentz, the Officer of the Penitentiary with whom we spoke, was very open about the kinds of requests that are made to the Penitentiary. Work in the Penitentiary, he said, is a joyful experience because by this work he is able to help reconcile repentant sinners to the Church.

The visit causes me to reconsider the place of mercy in the Universal Church. Often when we think of God’s mercy we imagine the confessional, while we associate God’s judgement with the Tribunals in Rome. However, the mission of the entire Church is one of mercy. Some sins are more serious than others, incurring the automatic penalty of excommunication, and cannot be simply absolved by a parish priest. Even in the case of these serious sins, however, which are not at all light, it is easy for God to forgive, so great is His mercy. His mercy permeates everything the Church does, from the regular time of the Sacrament of Reconciliation at the local parish to the highest levels of the hierarchy even to the Holy Father himself. While this truth is more difficult to see in the work of a body like the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which we visited, it is laid plain in the work of the Apostolic Penitentiary, the instrument of God’s greatest displays of His mercy. It is encouraging to me as a future pastor to see that there is such an arm of mercy even in the Roman Curia, to support the work of reconciliation in my own future ministry and in parishes across the world.

James Grossheim
Diocese of Nashville