Recently I’ve seen several articles shared around social media on The Five Languages of Apology. It’s a theory by Dr. Gary Chapman, who also wrote The Five Love Languages. He identifies five types of apology (expressing regret, accepting responsibility, genuinely repenting, making restitution and requesting forgiveness) and explains that while each of the types of apology is important, we all have one or two types of apology we need or best receive and that it’s a worthy endeavor to learn what types of apology are best received by those we love and to actively practice all of them.
It seemed, based on the articles and comments, that this is an area of interest for a lot of people, but I noticed that there was more enthusiasm for identifying and sharing one’s own preferred mode of apology rather than actively practicing all of them. That inclination is problematic for Catholics because the Church instructs us that each of those “types” of apology is necessary. We’re called to practice them all.
I think this is a good example of an opportunity we have as Catholics to take something from the world that we’ve found helpful or motivating and to turn to the Church to say, “Tell me more.” It allows us to deepen our personal formation, to encounter the rich teachings of Scripture, Church teaching and the writings of the saints, and to let the Lord lead us to a deeper understanding of Him.
So, let’s turn to the Catechism and examine what the Church has to say about how to approach reconciliation with God sincerely, because it will also give us a model for how to approach reconciliation with our neighbors. (And spoiler alert, it lines up pretty nicely with the five apology languages!)
- “Penance requires … the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction.” (CCC 1450)
- “Among the penitent’s acts contrition occupies first place. Contrition is “sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again.” (1451)
- “Through such an admission man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God and to the communion of the Church in order to make a new future possible.” (1455)
- “To return to communion with God after having lost it through sin is a process born of the grace of God who is rich in mercy and solicitous for the salvation of men. One must ask for this precious gift for oneself and for others.” (1489)
- “Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g., return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). Simple justice requires as much. But sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused.62 Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must “make satisfaction for” or “expiate” his sins. This satisfaction is also called “penance.” (1459)
We see that the different languages of apology are actually all necessary and work together for true reconciliation. So practicing them all is good! And knowing which one we’re inclined towards is also good insofar as it helps us know where we might need some practice. (Looking for ways to practice? We’re advised to frequently examine our conscience and make a habit of going to the Sacrament of Penance. The fruits of this will spill over into our relationships, too!)
It must be recalled that … this reconciliation with God leads, as it were, to other reconciliations, which repair the other breaches caused by sin. The forgiven penitent is reconciled with himself in his inmost being, where he regains his innermost truth. He is reconciled with his brethren whom he has in some way offended and wounded. He is reconciled with the Church. He is reconciled with all creation. (1469, from St. John Paul II)
Copyright 2020 Megan Swaim