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Family: The Arena of Reconciliation

In the intricate tapestry of human relationships, perhaps none carries as much weight, complexity, and profound potentials as the family. It is within this intimate arena that we confront some of life’s most profound challenges and find opportunities for deep reconciliation.

In the Gospel of John, there is a passionate call to “love one another” (Jn 13:34). Inspired by the teachings of Jesus, the Chavarul, written by St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara, admonishes the family members to forgive each other’s mistakes and shortcomings, emphasizing that peace on earth and eternal reward in heaven stem from such forgiveness. Chavara laments homes where discord and hostility between siblings prevail, asserting that families torn by strife will inevitably suffer. [1] Through these teachings, Chavarul invites family members to embrace a peaceful heavenly life by fostering love and reconciliation with God, each other, and oneself.

The Church believes in the universal call to holiness for all individuals, while it also recognize the reality of sin among its members. Despite the presence of sin, the Church offers the sacrament of penance and reconciliation as a means for sanctification. This sacrament allows individuals to personally reconcile with God and the others, acknowledging their sins and seeking forgiveness. [2] Chavarul underscores reconciliation and Christian forgiveness as pathways to sanctification within families.  The teachings on confession and mutual forgiveness emphasizes his deep concern for the spiritual growth and welfare of families. These teachings also allude to the eschatological aspect of faith—the belief in the ultimate destiny of humanity. [3] Sin involves personal choice and the abuse of freedom, causing moral evil. This concept aligns with Pope John Pual’s reflections on personal and social sin, emphasizing the need for repentance and reconciliation.

First and foremost, sin is a choice that shapes our moral identity. In essence, our actions affect who we become. [4] In many ways, the root cause of much suffering in the world can be traced back to the misuse of our freedom—a phenomenon termed moral evil or sin. This theme is central in Pope John Paul II’s post-synodal document on penance and reconciliation, where he addresses both personal and social dimensions of sin. [5] According to the Pope, sin is a complex reality that inflicts dual wounds: one within oneself and another in relationships with others. Consequently, every sin can be understood as personal, yet it also carries broader social consequences. [6]

The biblical narrative of the Fall (Gen 3:1–24) vividly illustrates the nature and consequences of sin. Throughout the Old Testament, the chosen people’s history is marked by a recurring theme of sin’s profound impact. At the heart of their story is God’s covenant with them on Mount Sinai (Exodus 20–24) and His continual efforts to guide and bless them, met often with their failure to respond faithfully. The first sin in Eden was a breach of this covenant, a defiant assertion of independence and disobedience to God. Despite this, the penitential Psalms reveal a path to restoration through confession before Yahweh, acknowledging sins and seeking His forgiveness to restore the right relationship with Him.

In Augustine’s renowned definition, sin is articulated as “anything said, done, or desired contrary to the eternal law.” [7] Another perspective defines sin as “a turning away from God and a turning toward the creature.” [8] These definitions underscore sin’s nature as a rebellious defiance against God. At its core, sin represents a deliberate choice by which the individual assumes the moral identity of a sinner. Our Lord elucidates that sin originates from the depths of one’s heart, the inner core of a person as a free and responsible being: “For from the heart come evil intentions: murder, adultery, fornication, theft, perjury, slander. These are the things that make a man unclean” (Mt 15:18–19). Sin, therefore, is inherently an evil act requiring the engagement of both intellect and will. Absent these faculties, human actions lack moral agency and cannot be deemed virtuous or genuinely human. Sin is fundamentally a conscious and voluntary choice, even in instances of omission, where the decision not to act must stem from a deliberate intention incompatible with an obligation. [9]

In response to this understanding of sin, the journey towards reconciliation often begins with the recognition of differences. Each member of a family brings their unique perspective shaped by personal experiences, values, and ambitions. These differences, while a source of strength and diversity, can also lead to friction. However, through open communication, empathy, and a willingness to listen, family members can start to bridge these gaps. This process requires humility—to acknowledge one’s own faults and shortcomings—and courage—to embrace vulnerability and seek forgiveness.

Moreover, reconciliation in the family necessitates a commitment to healing. This involves not only addressing immediate conflicts but also addressing deep-rooted issues that may have simmered beneath the surface for years. It requires a concerted effort to understand each other’s needs and emotions, and a shared dedication to fostering an environment of mutual respect and support. Yet, reconciliation is not just about addressing past wounds; it is also about forging a path forward based on renewed understanding and strengthened bonds. It involves envisioning a future where conflicts are approached with patience and maturity, where differences are celebrated rather than feared, and where love and empathy prevail over discord.

In the context of family, reconciliation often extends beyond individual relationships to encompass the collective well-being of the unit as a whole. It involves creating a safe space where each member feels valued, heard, and understood. This collective healing process can be both challenging and immensely rewarding, as it lays the groundwork for a resilient and harmonious family dynamic. Moreover, the impact of familial reconciliation extends far beyond the immediate family circle. It sets a powerful example for future generations, demonstrating the importance of forgiveness, compassion, and resilience in navigating life’s challenges. By embracing reconciliation within the family, individuals not only strengthen their own bonds but also contribute to the broader fabric of societal harmony and understanding.

Indeed, the journey of reconciliation within the family is not without its setbacks and complexities. It requires patience, perseverance, and a commitment to continuous growth and learning. Yet, the rewards—closer relationships, deeper understanding, and a sense of shared purpose—are invaluable. As we navigate the complexities of modern life, the family remains a steadfast anchor—a sanctuary where we learn, grow, and evolve together. By embracing reconciliation as a guiding principle within this sacred arena, we honour the richness of our differences, celebrate our shared humanity, and pave the way for a more compassionate and interconnected world.

At its essence, reconciliation within the family transcends not mere resolution of conflicts; it embodies the healing of wounds, the restoration of trust, and the renewal of bonds. In every family, there exists a dynamic interplay of personalities, histories, and aspirations. These dynamics inevitably give rise to disagreements, misunderstandings, and occasionally, rifts that seem insurmountable. Yet, it is precisely within this crucible that the transformative power of reconciliation shines brightest.

References 

[1] Complete Works of Kuriakose Elias Chavara, Vol. 4, Letters, Translated by Augustine Keemattam, Bangalore: Dharmaram Publications, 2020, Chavarul, I:1, 185.

[2] Francis, Fratelli Tutti (04 October 2020). Mumbai: Pauls, 2020, 246.

[3] Chavara, Chavarul, I:19, 192–193; I:1, 185–186.

[4] John Paul II, Reconciliatio et Penitentia, 16 (AAS 77: 213–214); Russell Shaw, Why We Need Confession. Princeton, New Jersey: Scepter Publishers, 1985, 28–29.

[5] John Paul II, Reconciliatio et Penitentia, 16 (AAS 77: 213-214).

[6] Shaw, Why We Need Confession, 23.

[7] John Paul II, Reconciliatio et Penitentia, 15 (AAS 77: 212–13).

[8] Augustine, De Libero Arbitrio. The Problem of Free Choice, Translated by Dom Mark Pontifex, Westminster, Maryland: The Newman Press, 1955, 2.53.

[9] William E. May, An Introduction to Moral Theology, Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 1991, 147-148.