THOMAS KANE, CSP, Ed., Healing God’s People: Theological and Pastoral Approaches. A Reconciliation Reader. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2013. pp.229. ISBN 978-0-8091-4822-6. Reviewed by Marc TUMEINSKI, Anna Maria College, Paxton, MA 01612
This volume provides a deep and broad invitation for readers to consider Christian practices of healing, forgiveness and reconciliation, primarily within a Catholic theological framework. Reconciliation is considered both within the Church and as a ministry of the Church to the world. The text organizes papers from two Boston College conferences into four sections: theologies of reconciliation, rituals of reconciliation, ecumenical and interfaith perspectives, and pastoral approaches. Overall, the content is relevant to the overarching topic, as well as informative and thought-provoking.
However, chapter seven, entitled ‘Expanding the rites of reconciliation,’ was a jarring exception. Not only did it contradict clear Church teaching, drawn from Scripture and Tradition, on the sacrament of Reconciliation (e.g., by advocating for lay people to hear confession), but it was also frankly unimaginative, and ignored existing valid possibilities for offering the gift of the sacrament of Reconciliation, including as part of penitential celebrations (e.g., Catechism of the Catholic Church #s 1434-1438; part three of John Paul II’s Reconciliatio et Paenitentia).
The opening and closing chapters set the stage for the book with an examination of, and reflection upon, the theological virtue of hope in light of the Church’s prophetic practice of forgiveness and reconciliation. Some of the threads which run throughout the book include forgiveness and reconciliation considered: vertically (with God) and horizontally (with one another), on the individual as well as communal level, in chronos and kairos, and in regard to personal as well as structural sin. Several of the papers look at the role of grace in forgiveness, mediated through the sacraments and sacramentals.
Chapter one grounds the topic of this book in a reading of the signs of the times, especially concerning violence and injustice, and calling the Church to live its prophetic ministry as a people of hope. The second chapter highlights the communal, ecclesial incarnation of reconciliation practices. Chapter three includes beautiful reflections on forgiveness and reconciliation in Scripture, especially in Paul’s letters. Chapter four is a historical and theological examination of the practice of forgiveness, while the sixth chapter provides a more sacramental and catechetical exploration. Chapter five reflects on restorative justice in terms of the criminal justice system, but also more deeply in terms of covenant solidarity, Christian forgiveness, mutual accountability, and the Eucharist. Chapters eight and nine offer overviews and initial considerations about reconciliation between Christian churches, and forgiveness practices among different religions, respectively. Given the timing of these conference papers (2009 and 2011), I expected but did not find references to the work of Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, given his interest in and writings on similar questions. The last section, on pastoral approaches, takes up such topics as a proposed five-step model of forgiveness, the key pastoral skill of listening with compassion, and strategies for the practice of hospitality, healing and (re)building of Christian unity within multi-ethnic and multi-cultural parishes in the US in the 21st century.
The structure of the book lends itself to being used in a university course, and would allow the professor to choose which chapters to read and discuss. (If I were to use this volume, I would assign all but chapter seven, as discussed above.) Each chapter concludes with bibliographic notes, which are fairly contemporary and could facilitate further study. The text includes a number of contemporary examples (relating to poverty, war, sexual abuse and violence, racism, and prison and the criminal justice system), and others could be discussed in light of individual chapters. Many of the authors’ frameworks could be tailored to the particular environment and concerns of the students in a specific course and locale.
The Christian practice of reconciliation is gift, witness and work of mercy; and many of these papers shine a welcome light on this truth.