THE CATHOLIC REVIEW: The Bible and Reconciliation
Deacon Rick Bauer

THE CATHOLIC REVIEW: The Bible and Reconciliation

by Deacon Rick Bauer

Once in a while we encounter a book whose insight and teaching clarity demand a larger audience. Such is “The Bible and Reconciliation,” by Dr. James Prothro, a professor at the Augustine Institute Graduate School of Theology. In this new book, I have come to see the kindness of God’s mercy, forgiveness, and understanding radiate through Prothro’s words and writings, as well the need for reconciliation in our hearts, our souls, our churches, and our culture.

This book is the latest addition to the “Catholic Biblical Theology of the Sacraments” series published by Baker Academic Books. I have reviewed all of the volumes thus far published in this series; I am convinced that we witness tremendous promise and ambition in laying out the multiple living connections between the Scriptures and the sacramental life of the Church.

Another renowned theologian, Jennifer Grillo, Associate Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, observes that “these books could accomplish what Jean Daniélou’s ‘The Bible and the Liturgy’ accomplished for a previous generation of biblical and theological scholarship. And like that work, this series gives to students of the Bible a deeply enriched view of the mesh of relationships within and between biblical texts that are brought to light by the liturgy of the sacraments.”

 I find that these books create a roadmap reflective of Dei Verbum’s call to find in the Scripture the origin of all religious truth for a Catholic, the source of the Catholic tradition, and the foundation of all magisterial teaching. Again, this series provides readers with a deeper appreciation of God’s gifts and call in the sacraments through a renewed encounter with God’s Word.

Prothro offers a biblical theology of the sacrament of reconciliation — the restoration of the sinner through forgiveness and repentance. He fleshes out the patterns in which God’s people in the Old and New Testaments approach the merciful God, confess, and are forgiven and called to reengage their relationship with God by growing in faith and love through God’s ministry of grace. It is a careful and thorough study of sin and redemption — from the Fall in the Garden of Eden to the ways that the early Christian Church addressed sin and moral failure within its own membership.

After a series preface and introduction, Prothro takes us on a thorough examination of reconciliation through 11 chapters:

1. Confession and Reconciliation: An Encounter with Divine Mercy

2. Sin, Mercy, and Promise: Foundations in Genesis 1-11

3. Mercy, Penalty, and Mediation: The Patriarchs and the Exodus

4. Rebuke and Promise for Israel: Kings and Prophets

5. Confession, Restoration, and Penance: Psalms and Sages

6. Confessing in Hope, Awaiting the Messiah

7. Jesus and the Mission of Restoration

8. Christ, the Spirit, and the Ministry of Forgiveness

9. Be Reconciled to God! Sin and Restoration in the Pauline Letters

10. Growing in Christ, Confessing in Hope: The Catholic Epistles and Revelation

11. The Manifold Mercy of God

It was a thorough delight to read this book; the careful exposition, the thoughtful and measured conclusions that were carefully created from nothing but the biblical texts alone, and the pastoral kindness that Prothro shows toward the inquiring reader make this book the perfect addition to a Catholic library. For all of us preparing to “make a good confession” prior to Easter, I can think of no other book to prepare our thoughts and hearts for that encounter with God’s mercy and grace.

 As Bradley Gregory, professor of Scripture at Catholic University of America, observed:

“In a time when the sacrament of reconciliation is much neglected, this urgently needed work beautifully shows how the forgiving love of God is an ongoing drama. Theologically perceptive and pastorally sensitive, James Prothro unpacks key scriptural stories to show that the sacrament of reconciliation is a liturgical expression of how wayward but repentant people have always encountered the grace of a merciful God. Those who contemplate the insights here will find their appreciation of the sacrament renewed and deepened.”

In speaking of Christ restoring the lost, Prothro reflects on Jesus’ ministry works against the power and influence of sin. As Jesus teaches, however, sin is not just a power or enemy that oppresses us from outside. Deliverance from sin’s external effects and anticipations of death must come also with forgiveness and healing within (p.123). It is striking to realize that sacrament of reconciliation is a restoration of spiritual health to the recipient as much as it is a cancellation and absolution of sins on our soul and conscience.

As one of the many people who are receiving this sacrament particularly during Lent, it led me through an amazing preparation, a more thorough and searching reflection and spiritual inventory, and a more complete confession than I have had in years. This book is powerful, effective, and encouraging — showing us not just that we regularly fail and fall short of the glory of God, but that the Father, like in the parable of the Prodigal Son, is always waiting and eagerly seeking our return.

One part of this book that is especially helpful is the focus on the problem of sins committed after baptism. Those who have been purified by the blood of Christ and the waters of baptism must now purify themselves, hastening to be “without spot or blemish” before God (2 Peter 3:14). We avoid sin that would stain the soul that Christ died to cleanse (James 1:27, Jude 23; Revelation 3:4). We grow in purity by faith and continued hope, by which we are joined to Christ (I John 3:3, Hebrews 10:22-23). For, though many are reborn to the hope of this inheritance, it will finally be received only by those children who are found faithful at the end (p.190). The present time is a time of grace and promise, a time of hope. For that reason, it is also a time of repentance. The Lord desires that “all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Prothro helps readers avoid the two extremes — either existential uncertainty of salvation, or blustering insensitivity to continual willful sin that rejects any possibility of the loss of “so great a salvation.” We await the full restoration of a full and merited confidence in our salvation, neither insecure nor overconfident — based on the sacrifice of Christ, mediated through his priesthood.

I would greatly recommend this book for adult faith formation; I plan use it as a primary text in a refresher class for catechists and parish staff. As our time of Lenten observance concludes, as we enter Holy Week with Jesus, it is my hope that the Spirit of Jesus bring you joy this coming Easter, refreshing your souls with the resurrection of his son, and may you be an encouraging power and influence in the lives of the new Christians in your parish, Amen.    

 (For comments or to suggest a book that might be helpful for Catholics, write Deacon Rick at rbauer@diocs.org.)

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