Pope Francis held his yearly penitential service at St. Peter’s Basilica on March 17. In it, he urged confessors to go to the peripheries of evil and sin, despite it being, at times, “ugly;” nonetheless, the priest is called to go “and his work represents an authentic pastoral priority.”
The pope stated: “Please, may there not be those signs (that say): ‘confessions only Monday and Wednesday, from this time to this time,” adding “Confess each time they ask you…you are there with the confessional open, which is the open heart of God.”
This is a clear imperative that we hope that priests and parishes would hear. Sin is real and is ugly. It distorts the beauty in which the human being was created, being made in God’s image and likeness.
What is a sin? Basically, it is three things: grave matter, full knowledge and complete consent. We have to know that what we’re doing is wrong and freely choose to do it anyway. Sin can be something that we do, or what we fail to do, or it can be participation in an action or an attitude that we know flies in the face of our own dignity and the dignity of our sisters and brothers in the world.
And it is the priest, who by his sacred ordination, is the doctor of the soul who can help to heal us. By preaching often on the reality of sin, but always emphasizing more the absolute necessity of confession and the healing grace of the sacrament of penance, the priest catechizes his parishioners and invites them to partake of this sacrament of healing.
The priest himself needs to be a good confessor, but he can only do so by being a good penitent, by availing himself of the sacrament of penance often. Every priest needs a good spiritual director and a good confessor to which to go.
Likewise, the priest needs to make himself available for confession. It does no one any good to have confession scheduled once a month for 45 minutes on a Saturday before Mass and then complain that no one goes. No, even if it means the delegating of administrative tasks to the laity and religious, the priest must be there weekly (and even several days a week) waiting in the confessional.
The old film, “Field of Dreams,” had a famous line in it: “If you build it, they will come.” If you preach about the beauty and grace offered in the sacrament of penance, and if you make yourself available for it, then they will come.