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Chapter 4: Repentance, the Sacrament of Penance, and the Struggle against Sin

Prologue to the Chapter

In revealing himself, God calls a fallen human race to intimate friendship. Humankind is not a community living uprightly and at peace. Enslaved by sin and suffering its consequences, men and women are alienated from God, at odds with one another, and inwardly divided by the conflicting passions flowing from the inescapable anxiety of persons who live in the shadow of death (see CMP, 14.G–H). Revelation therefore comes to sinful humankind as an offer of salvation and a promise of reconciliation, while the call to faith also is a call to change one’s life radically: “The kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mk 1.15). And since the prospect of death is bleak without the hope of salvation, the alternative to repentance is horrible: “Unless you repent, you will all perish” (Lk 13.3, 5).

Jesus came to save humankind from sin and all its consequences. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he challenged evil and caused it to defeat itself (see Jn 3.16–21, 9.39–41), promised to send the Spirit to complete this process (see Jn 16.7–11), and manifested God’s will to overcome evil decisively by re-creation (see CMP, 20.F, 22.G, 30.A). When Jesus rose from the dead—with his humanity, which had borne the full brunt of evil, re-created—he breathed the Holy Spirit on the apostles. Then he sent them, as the Father had sent him, to carry on his redemptive mission by healing evil at its very root: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20.23).

Thus, just as the Church is the community of faith (which receives and hands on God’s revelation of his own truth and love), of hope (which builds up God’s kingdom on earth for the sake of its perfection in heaven), and of love (which celebrates in Jesus’ Eucharist the divine-human communion established by his redemptive sacrifice and resurrection), so the Church is the community of repentance and reconciliation: the minister of the Holy Spirit’s renewal of the face of the earth, a renewal he accomplishes by overcoming sin and preparing for Jesus’ return in glory.