The Administration of Penance
Second Meditation - Qualities of a Good Confessor
I. Purity of intention and of soul. - Clean must be the hand that cleanses; clean the soul of the confessor about to enter the depths of souls stained with human miseries in order to pardon their sins. What risks he runs, if he is not very pure, of adding stain to stain in himself and even in his penitents, and of profaning the Sacrament!
But purity of conscience in the sacred tribunal is not enough; because here, more than in any other ministerial duty, there is need of a pure and upright intention. It is here more than elsewhere, perhaps, that we do the work of Christ, for it is God's prerogative to probe the heart and to forgive sin; therefore, I must be worthy of Christ, I must respect Christ in myself, I must behave like Christ. And I must also keep in mind those grave words spoken by St. Paul:
"No more Jew or Gentile, no more slave and freeman, no more male and female; you are all one person in Jesus Christ." (Gal. iii, 28)They are simply souls, souls redeemed by Christ, souls approaching the Sacrament in order to purify and wash themselves clean in the Blood of the Lamb.
Can I honestly declare. . . shall I declare on the Day of Judgement, that in the confessional my one concern has been for souls, the remission of their sins, and their eternal salvation?
II. Kindness and meekness. - To sinners, more than to anyone else, is addressed that tender appeal of our Lord's: Come to me, all you that labour and are burdened: and I will refresh you . . . because I am meek, and humble of heart. (Matt. xi, 28-29)
Gentlest Physician of stricken souls, never didst Thou prescribe for sinners a medicine that was not steeped in the sweetness of Thy immense compassion and tenderness!
No wonder! . . . Physicians of the body never chide their patient, they listen to him, ask him questions, pamper him; they suffer with a smile his impertinences and his pitiful self-centredness, they bear with his childish fears: all for the sake of curing him - if he does cure! - or of prolonging the existence of this mortal body, built to crumble into dust.
And I, a physician of souls, why do I not possess at least a grain or two of that same kindly disposition in order to heal immortal souls, for whom my Lord and God shed lavishly not only His ineffable sweetness but also the torrents of His Blood?
Or do I think that my ministry of healing souls yields a paltry remuneration as compared with the medical profession's? I am thy reward exceeding great. (Gen. xv, 1) Yes, Lord, but all the same, I find it hard to convince myself.
But if thou warn the just man, that the just may not sin, and he doth not sin: living he shall live because thou hast warned him, and thou hast delivered thy soul. (Ezech. iii, 21)How much the more if by pardoning the sinner I make him a just man!
III. Readiness. -Come ye after me, and I will make you to be fishers of men.-(Matt. iv, 19)
So I am a fisherman of souls, and therefore I must go in search of them, wherever they may be. A fisherman who contented himself with arranging and spreading out his tackle and gear before the door of his house, waiting for the fish to come to him, would be held up to ridicule. It is not the fish that go in search of the fisherman. And it is I who should invent ways and means of getting people to crowd the church; I am the one who should possess the art and secret of drawing souls into the confessional.
What wouldst Thou think of me, dear Lord, if through my harshness, my indolence, and my dread of hard work, I drove them away? What, if, after approaching me already half converted or decided to flee from evil and desirous of peace and pardon, I threw them out, or received them so badly that I plunged them back into sin, and moreover, made Thy tribunal of Mercy hateful to them? Thou couldst with righteous anger say to me: I will require his blood at thy hand. (Ezech. iii, 18.) And I should be Thy enemy, opposed to Thee, because I should be doing what Thou never didst do: break the bruised reed, and quench the smoking flax, with the chill blast of my sullen moods.
1. Not only shall I sit down to hear confessions at the slightest indication from any penitent, without waiting to be called, I shall remain in the confessional at the most convenient times for the faithful; and if no one comes, I shall stay on reciting the breviary, reading some spiritual book, meditating, or performing my devotional exercises. Has it not been my own personal experience that the ordeal of searching for a confessor is greater than the actual confessing of my sins?
2. I shall welcome and bear with all my penitents with the utmost kindness, with the same affability that I expect to receive from my own confessor. How often would I go back to a spiritual father who received or treated me with malhumor? I shall let them speak, without interrupting them, except to encourage them, and without showing any evidence of surprise, however enormous their sms. Have I not perhaps committed the same sins myself? Am I not quite capable of committing sins even more abominable?
3. I shall not make the slightest discrimination with regard to sex, social standing, or other inequalities. What a number of souls have been given offence! What seeds of mistrust and disesteem for the Sacrament of Penance have been sown by those vile discriminations! If there is to be any preference at all, let it be for the old rather than the young, for the poor rather than the rich, and, above all, for the men rather than the women. The well-to-do and the devout members of the fair sex will never have far to go to find a confessor, even if, because of the poor and the men crowding round my box, I myself am not immediately at their disposal.
4. I shall go to confession very frequently myself, as a sure sign of my love for this divine Sacrament. And if I am conscious of being in mortal sin, I shall go to confession before hearing others. Moreover, although not conscious of mortal sin, I shall make an immediate preparation for the hearing of confessions by an act of contrition, and ask God to purify me more and more.
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!