Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Priest at Prayer, June 14

The Priestly Ministry

The Administration of Penance

First Meditation - Motives for Hearing Confessions Readily

I. Gratitude. - What would have become of me had I never confessed my own sins? All the grave sins com­mitted since Baptism would be still infesting my soul; they would be branded on my conscience almost indelibly, and made blacker still by the muddy stream of sinful habit which without this Sacrament would have flowed on unchecked, staining with a deeper dye. What countless shameful falls this Sacrament has saved me from! What fearful remorse, what mental briars and thorns, it has plucked from my soul!

I might almost modify a text from St. Paul and exclaim: "By the Grace of God, through the Sacrament of Penance, I am what I am!"

Such incomparable benefits demand some form of gratitude; and I am quite sure that, in my case, the token most pleasing to God is, not to begrudge other souls the benefits which my confessors have made available to me.

II. Personal gain. - The administration of this Sacrament carries with it incalculable advantages for the minister, the advantages of heavy, hard toil not at all pleasing to nature. So, in general, the first to do penance on this occasion is the priest administering it.

Now, if the penitential spirit is something essential to the Christian spirit:
except you do penance, you shall all likewise perish - (Luke xiii, 5);
if our Divine Master's first sermon, as though He had taken it straight from the lips of His Precursor, was:
Do penance; if my many slights and offences against the Creator bind me for life, and perhaps beyond this life, to a compensation wrought of the rigours of this virtue of penance; then, Lord, I thank Thee for giving me so near at hand this great opportunity of expiation through hard work, through a work as self-denying to me as it is helpful to others: the hearing of confessions.

There is another gain. Certain ministerial tasks are easily vitiated by vanity; for example, preaching and other public duties. How often the cankerworm of conceit gets into the holiest of endeavours, and gnaws and consumes them! But what a fool I should be if I were to swell with pride for having spent a few hours hearing confessions, giving bits of advice for the amend­ment of my penitents, when, according to St. Francis de Sales, the first qualification to be a good confessor is usually to know how to listen and let the penitents have their say.

III. The greatest work of mercy. - The priest, deprived of the goods of this world - and how desperately poor a priest can be! - will not make a headline by his sub­stantial money contributions; many a layman can afford to outdo him in this respect; but are not the spiritual works of mercy far more meritorious in God's sight than the corporal?

And if the Catechism does not enumerate the hearing of confessions among the spiritual works of mercy it is for the simple reason that this work belongs exclusively to the priest, or rather, because, while it includes them, it also eclipses every one of them. What work of mercy ever reaches the depths of the soul to bring God's pardon, like the work of the confessor?

I might well apply the words of St. Peter, when he healed the man born lame, and apply them with deeper significance:
"Turn towards me: silver and gold are not mine to give, I give thee what I can." (Acts iii, 6)

"In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ thy sins are forgiven thee."

"I absolve thee from thy sins."

IV. The Church commands you, implores you on bended knees. - It is the Church's desire, formulated by the Council of Trent, that all who assist at Mass should, if duly disposed, share Holy Communion with the priest; and this anxiety is re-affirmed in canon 863 of the [1917] Code:
The faithful should be admonished, according to the decree of the Holy See, to receive the Eucharistic Bread frequently, and even daily; and that those who assist at Holy Mass should not only communicate spiritually, but be prepared to receive in reality our Lord in the Holy Eucharist.

The greatest good in any parish or public church is the number and frequency of good Communions. So I shall be deceiving myself if I imagine, and perhaps boast, that I am an excellent worker in the Lord's vine­yard, unless I have promoted and succeeded in obtain­ing a frequent and proper approach to the Holy Table by all the souls confided in one way or another to my care. Yes, I may hear a number of slighting remarks or specious objections against the practice of frequent Communion, but I should clearly understand that I am an ignorant priest, unequipped with the practical science of salvation, if I fail to grasp this great and impregnable truth: the more Communions there are, the more crowded the churches are, the purer the morals, the more deep-rooted the Faith. In the divine Balance, all other works of zeal, without this, will hardly weigh more than a few grains of sand.

But how will the faithful communicate frequently if they do not confess frequently, that is, if I do not sit down frequently to hear them, if many hours of my priestly existence are not spent in the confessional, if I do not offer them every facility to approach? . . . Oh, let me be honest with myself! Cannot all my spoken, unspoken, and subconscious objections to frequent and daily Communion boil down to this: my reluctance to spend long hours in the confessional?

1. Since Baptism is the first Sacrament of forgive­ness and the gateway to the Sacrament of Penance, I shall not be put to the shame of seeing a single parishioner of mine unbaptised, if I can possibly avoid it. Nor shall I console myself thinking that the un­baptised will receive the Sacrament when they grow up, for I realise the hindrances besetting them later in life. I shall remind neglectful parents of their grave obliga­tion in this matter.

2. Sincerely acknowledging before God that hitherto I have shown no small reluctance to hear confessions, and have tried to shirk this ministerial duty under many a futile pretext; from today and until my dying day I shall submit to this task most willingly, a task so often the least esteemed and yet the most profitable to souls.

I may not be much good at preaching, I may not be qualified for high ecclesiastical offices; but I do wish, dear Jesus, to become a good and constant confessor.
Adapted from The Priest at Prayer
by Fr. Eugenio Escribano, C.M. (© 1954)
Translated by B.T. Buckley, C.M.

Please pray for our priests and pray for vocations to the priesthood!

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