Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 29: “Whose Sins You Shall Forgive” Part 4: The Ministry of Confessor

We can tell a pastor penned this:

This is undoubtedly the most difficult and sensitive, the most exhausting and demanding ministry of the priest, but also one of the most beautiful and consoling. Precisely for this reason and with awareness also of the strong recommendation of the synod, I will never grow weary of exhorting my brothers, the bishops and priests, to the faithful and diligent performance of ministry.(Cf the address to the penitentiaries of the Roman patriarchal basilicas and to the priest confessors at the closing of the Jubilee of the Redemption July 9, 1984: L’Osservatore Romano, July 9-10, 1984)

Pope John Paul II recognized the tangle of emotions and assessments that penitents bring to the sacrament:

Before the consciences of the faithful, who open up to him with a mixture of fear and trust, the confessor is called to a lofty task which is one of service and penance and human reconciliation.

Perhaps “penance” and “reconciliation” go without saying, but I think service to people is primary.

The following is slightly more problematic, and I’ll explain below.

It is a task of learning the weaknesses and falls of those faithful people, assessing their desire for renewal and their efforts to achieve it, discerning the action of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, imparting to them a forgiveness which God alone can grant, “celebrating” their reconciliation with the Father, portrayed in the parable of the prodigal son, reinstating these redeemed sinners in the ecclesial community with their brothers and sisters, and paternally admonishing these penitents with a firm, encouraging and friendly “Do not sin again.”(John 8:11)

Some confessors take the intellectual side of this a bit too seriously. It is the role of a spiritual director to make assessments. As it is usually celebrated, Form I doesn’t allow for the practices advocated as ideal by the Holy Father. A confessor can certainly pray for penitents, intercede for discernment and all. Outside of a scheduled one-on-one with a trusted mentor, this is dangerous territory. Hence the fear part of the mixture.

This document is Copyright © 1984 – Libreria Editrice Vatican. The link on the Vatican site is here.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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