The priest and confession
John Paul II, apostolic exhortation "Reconciliatio et Paenitentia " (2/12/84)
29. In the psalms and the preaching of the prophets, the attribute, merciful, is perhaps more often said of the Lord, contrary to the persistent cliché that the God of the Old Testament is presented above all as severe and punitive. Within the psalms, a long wisdom discourse drawn from the Exodus tradition, recalls the beneficent action of God in the midst of his people. Such an action, in its anthropological representation, is perhaps one of the most eloquent inter-testamental proclamations of divine mercy.
It is sufficient her to cite the verse: " And compassionate, he pardoned guilt, he pardoned them instead of destroying them. Many times, I placate his wrath and calm his fury, remembering that these are flesh, a breath which blows and does not return."
In the fullness of times, the Son of God, coming like an Angel who takes upon himself the sin of the world, appears as the one who has the power either to judge or to pardon sins, and who has come not to condemn but to pardon and save.
This power to remit sins Jesus grants, through the Holy Spirit to simple human beings, that is to his apostles who themselves are subject to the dangers of sin: "Receive the Holy Spirit: whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them and whose sins you shall retain they are retained." This is one of the more formidable Gospel innovations. As was his intention from the beginning, He confers the same transmissible power to the apostles and also upon their successors in turn entrusted by these same apostles with the mission and the responsibility to continue their work as announcers of the gospel and as ministers of the redemptive work of Christ. Here revealed in all of its grandeur, is the figure of the minister of the sacrament of penance, called by very ancient custom, the confessor.
Just as he does at the altar where he celebrates the Eucharist and at each one of the sacraments the priest, as the minister of penance, works "in persona Christi". The Christ whom he gives and makes present, and who by means of his ministry effects the remission of sins is with the priest, who appears as a brother of man, a merciful bridge-builder, faithful and compassionate pastor dedicated to search for the lost sheep, the doctor who heals and comforts, the one teacher who teaches the truth and teaches the ways of God, who judges the living and the dead and judges according to the truth and not according to appearances. This is, without doubt, the most difficult and delicate, the most exhausting and demanding, but also one of the most beautiful and consoling ministries of the priest. Precisely for this reason, aware of the strong call of the synod, I will never grow weary of calling my brothers bishops and priests, to their faithful and diligent performance of duty. Being present before the penitent who opens up to him with a mixture of trepidation and faith, the confessor is called to a great responsibility which is a service to penance and to human reconciliation: to know that penitent , the weaknesses and failings; to evaluate the desire to begin again and the strength to do it; to discern the action of the
Spirit the Sanctifier in the heart; to communicate a pardon which God alone can give; to "celebrate" his reconciliation with the Father, represented in the parable of the prodigal son; to reinsert that redeemed sinner redeemed into the ecclesial communion with his brothers and sisters; to admonish the penitent to change , in a fatherly, encouraging and friendly way, "Go and sin no more".
For the efficacious fulfillment of this ministry, the confessor should necessarily have the human qualities of prudence, discretion, discernment, a firmness tempered with gentleness and goodness. He should have thorough preparations, not fragmentary but integral and harmonious in the different branches of theology, in pedagogy and in psychology, in the methodology of dialogue and above all, in the living and communicative knowledge of the word of God. Even more important is that he live an intense and genuine spiritual life. To lead others into the way of Christian perfection, the ministry of penance should be present in his own life, more by his actions than by words, thus giving proof of a true experience of real prayer, of the practice of the theological and moral virtues, of faithful obedience to the will of God, of love of the Church and of docility to its magisterium.
All of the treasure of human endowment, of Christian virtue, of pastoral capacity can not be improvised nor acquired without effort. For the ministry of sacramental penance, each priest should be prepared already from the years in seminary, through the study of dogmatic, moral, spiritual and pastoral theology along with the human sciences, the methodology of dialogue and especially of pastoral conversations. He should be able to be directed and sustained in his first experiences and should always care for his development and updating through on-going formation. This treasure of grace, of real life and spiritual light will not come to the church unless each priest demonstrates that he is considerate lacking nothing through negligence or by putting on airs in his appointment with the faithful in the confessional. and he should not give the impression of going unprepared, or lacking in indispensable human qualities or in understanding of spiritual and pastoral conditions.
For this reason , I can not forget to call to mind with devout admiration those extra-ordinary apostles of the confessional, St. John Nepomuceno, St. Jean Marie Vianney, St. Joseph Cafasso and St. Leopold of Castelnuovo, who are more well-known and whom the Church has inscribed in the album of its saints. But I also want to pay tribute to the innumerable crowd of confessors, saints and anonymous ones
to whom the salvation of so many souls is owed, their assistance in conversions, in the struggles against temptation, in spiritual progress, and in finding sanctity. I can not go without saying that the great canonized saints are generally produced by the confessionals and along with the saints, the spiritual patrimony of the Church and the flowering of a society, permeated with a Christian spirit. Honours, therefore to this silent exercise of our brothers, who have served well and are serving every day the cause of reconciliation, mediating the ministry of sacramental penance.