If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself… entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. –2 Corinthians 5:17-20
In Christ, each of us is made a minister of reconciliation in the realizing of God’s vision for a new creation in which all creatures are made one with God and each other, freed from the bonds of evil and death. Grace-filled, transforming reconciliation, therefore, both within our own selves and with others, always takes place in partnership with the One who first brought us into being. God has always been reaching out to us and continues to reach out to us, yearning for companionship with us. In this longing, we can see that the essence of both the divine life and our created nature is to be in relationship. In Christ, God has been revealed as a community of reciprocal self-offering love, the Holy Trinity. Thus we, made in the image and likeness of God, can only come to be fully reconciled in and alive to our created dignity through relationship with God. We, like God, find the fullest expression of who we are in community, so our relationships with one another also have their source in God. We become truly who we are only in relationship to others. In lives committed to loving ourselves and one another as God loves us, we fulfill the ministry of reconciliation by beholding and honoring the image of Christ in every person.
Jesus Christ is the exemplar and embodiment of the ministry of reconciliation. Fully human and at one with God, Jesus chooses to bear in himself the misunderstandings and rejections that mar and distort human relationships, and he takes the risk of personal vulnerability and loss in order to redress our brokenness. Jesus looks at the disciples gathered around him and says, “These are my brothers, my sisters, my mother,” that we might come to understand ourselves, in relationship to him and one another, as having been adopted into the family of God. Jesus teaches that relationships involve the exercise of tough love and the willingness to forgive – even before those who have wronged us seek forgiveness. Jesus commands us to forgive as many as “seventy times seven,” to expose ourselves to the same vulnerability toward others in which he lives. It is much easier to avoid difficult relationships and to ignore within ourselves the same traits we despise in others. But Jesus calls us to live into the fullness of our humanity, to embrace what we, in our brokenness, experience as physical, psychic, or spiritual limitations. Jesus urges that, rather than seeking to be cured of our limitations, we ask God to heal us in them, and waken us to the spiritual gifts hidden in them. God desires that each of us live into the particular image of divinity which only we can be, and which God’s world needs in order to be reconciled.
One way to find renewed energy and desire for our role in God’s work of reconciliation is taking time for intimacy with Christ in silence and prayer. The chapter on retreat in the Society’s Rule of Life explains how times of retreat give us an opportunity to “celebrate the primacy of the love of God” in our lives as the sole focus of our attention. Regardless of how fragmented our lives may seem, how alienated from the world or at odds with others we may feel, retreat allows us inner space and time to know that we are beloved of God. Many guests in our houses remark on the experience of coming to a deeper knowledge of themselves and those around them in the silence of retreat. They are learning, as the Rule also says, to cherish “adoring love for the mystery of God,” to “honor the mystery present in the hearts of our brothers and sisters, strangers and enemies,” as well as to revere that mystery present in themselves through the indwelling of Christ. This kind of silence does not see the mystery of self or other as a problem to be solved or as something to be understood. Instead, in silence, we acknowledge the mystery of self and other, like that of God, as a wonder to be adored. Even in the absence of those with whom we seek to be reconciled, praying for them and practicing silence can help us come to truly love them.
Reconciliation takes place within us not so much by what we think as by who we allow God to help us to become. God calls us to emotional honesty with ourselves and others, and we can best find that disposition through intentional relationship with God. In the humility of silence, we can hear the voice which speaks in every human heart, and says, I cannot be the God I truly am without being fully in relationship with you. Times of retreat can help to awaken in us the desire for that time when all people will be drawn into that community of love which is the only God.