By Caroline Smith
Reconciliation has the capacity to transform both the lives of the victim and wrongdoer, and to reveal the mercy and grace of God, visiting theologian Dr Laurie Brink op has told attendees at a recent seminar.
Dr Brink, who is Associate Professor of New Testament Studies at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago as well as a Dominican Sister, was the keynote speaker at the seminar, which was hosted by Catholic Religious Western Australia (CRWA), as part of a national tour.
The seminar, which was held on Thursday 3 August at the Pastoral Centre in Highgate, attracted around 50 people for a presentation and group discussion on what Christian Reconciliation means, its presence in the bible and how we can learn to use it in our personal lives and to approach issues of global conflict and national reconciliation.
Following an Acknowledgement to Country by Sister Anna Warlow sgs and an introduction by Dr Margaret Scharf op, Dr Brink began by talking about Pope Francis’ reflections on reconciliation and God’s mercy, which began in the early days of his Papacy.
“Cardinal Bergoglio accepted his election to the papacy with these words: ‘I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of Our Lord Jesus Christ.’ We should not be surprised then that he declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2016,” she said.
“I recall the Jubilee Year of Mercy because quite frankly, we cannot speak of reconciliation without clinging to mercy.
“I take great encouragement from Pope Francis who said reconciliation is God’s free gift. “As a result of this gift, each person, forgiven and loved, is called in turn to proclaim the Gospel of reconciliation in word and deed, to live and bear witness to a reconciled life.”
She added that approaching reconciliation from a Christian perspective was more than just seeking retribution for wrongdoing – it was a process in which all parties could see the grace of God in their lives.
“As Pope Francis says, mercy is not opposed to justice, but it’s God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him or her a new chance to look at themselves, convert and believe,” Dr Brink said.
“Reconciliation in the Christian context is rooted in our very faith: it is a response to our having been reconciled with God. It is not a process that we initiate or achieve – we discover it, already active in God through Christ.
“In reconciliation, what is broken and the one who broke it, are made new again. Only in the process of reconciliation can a victim come to forgive and the oppressor be moved to repentance.”
Dr Brink also addressed stories of reconciliation in the Old and New Testaments, beginning with Esau, who was cheated out of his inheritance by his brother Jacob, but ultimately forgave him. Also mentioned was the story of Saint Peter, who denied Jesus three times but was still forgiven and then entrusted with leading the Church.
“Jesus’ death and resurrection could also be useful examples of the transformation that is mirrored in Christian Reconciliation,” she said.
“Symbols of the passion: body, blood and cross are the symbols that re-occur over and over in that story, symbols that can bear the paradox of transformation of suffering and death into a new story of deliverance and life,” Dr Brink said.
“It’s this narrative that Paul proclaims as the message of reconciliation.”