The Priestly Ministry
The Administration of Penance
Fourth Meditation - Respect for Penitents
I. The Church, whom the Holy Ghost calls a "meek dove", and whom we all call "Holy Mother", appears to forget her meekness when it is a question of defending the purity and the respect due to the tribunal of Penance. Strange as it may seem, an unworthy priest can profane the most holy Body of Christ and the august Sacrifice a thousand times by celebrating sacrilegiously, and She, the Bride of the immolated Lamb, keeps silent, and holds no canonical penalty in reserve for the profaner; but if that same priest should sully his confessional ministry once only, through any lack of circumspection and respect towards even the lowliest of penitents: a poor old woman or a child, the Church forgets Her gentleness, throws off Her meekness of a dove and a Mother, and becomes an eagle swooping down to the attack, a lioness defending her offspring with her claws and deafening roar. So much so that the latae sententiae penalties which still remain in full force, without ready absolution, are mainly those which the confessor would incur if he failed to respect his ministry.
II. What explanation is there for the transformation? It is one proof more that the Church is of Jesus Christ,and the only one that lives by His Spirit. For Her as for Her Bridegroom, - the Good Shepherd going in search of the lost sheep, and, when found, putting it on His shoulders with infinite compassion; the Father of the prodigal son all the more beloved for his wretchedness; - for Her, as for Jesus, there is no one worthier of pity and love than the soul who ran away perhaps, dragged hither and thither by unbridled fancy; than the soul who plunged with infernal delight into the miry depths of the flesh, holding God in less esteem than any base pleasure or pastime; yes, did all this, but finally, goaded by grace, begins to make an effort to come into the Light of God and to reach, if not the arms, the Feet of the Heavenly Father.
And to think that the confessor, the very minister delegated by the pardoning Christ to regenerate that poor soul, should be the one to thrust it back again into the mire! . . . The Church, Mother of little ones and of all who suffer; the Church, with a heart formed and fashioned in the Mercy of Christ; the Church will sooner bear with the sight of the Most Blessed Sacrament Itself trampled upon or Her Divine Spouse nailed to the Cross.
O Blessed Mother of the weak and fallen! whose defence so melts Thee with compassion, enkindles Thy heart to wrath, and girds Thy arms with strength!
1. I shall very frequently study the terrible censures inflicted on solicitantes, absolventes vel intendentes absolvere complicem, and on sigillum infringentes; and both within the confessional and outside it I shall, by God's grace and favour, bridle my heart, my tongue, and my whole being, with reins of steel rather than be found wanting in respect and reverence towards the Sacrament where the Lord's Blood is applied unto the remission of sins.
2. If ever or at any time I have reasonable grounds to fear a breaking or a loosening of the sigillum, I shall as often flee from the confessional rather than incur dishonour.
For God sees me; and the Church, all eyes, armed with the lightnings of divine Wrath, stands watch over me, always on the alert to safeguard that imposing and austere tribunal which the Judge of living and dead established unto the remission of sins.
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!