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This exclusion for a time from the community concerned notorious misdemeanours. The admonitions in Paul's letters leave us in no doubt, however, that the early Christian communities were burdened by the human failings all too familiar in every age of the Church.

How, then, did the first Christians find God's forgiveness for sins committed after the rebirth of baptism? The New Testament indicates numerous ways in which the common sins of our frailty found forgiveness.

We have already been alerted to the first Christians' vivid awareness of their sharing in the victory of the `paschal mystery' through the Eucharist in which the Saviour himself invited them to drink "my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Mt 26:28).

They remembered Jesus had taught his disciples that they would find the Father's forgiveness in forgiving others (Mk 11:25; Mt 6:14). They recalled the parable of the tax collector whose humble prayer, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”, was commended by the Lord: “I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other” (Lk 18:13-14).

The Letter of James, after speaking of the anointing of the sick, continues: 'confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective' (5:16).

If their practical love was genuine, they were instructed, they would find forgiveness for their sins: `whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner's soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins' (5:20). Compare the First Letter of Peter. 'Maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins' (4:8).

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Copyright © John Thornhill - Questions Catholics Ask in a Time of Change. For more, see The Emmaus Series


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