The Sacrament of Penance is a precious treasure of the Catholic Church, and a good confession teaches more about sin, personal responsibility, mercy, and forgiveness than a hundred homilies. Confession also teaches the priest, and Pope Benedict was quick to point that out in an audience recently for priests and seminarians.
The Pope said, “The priestly mission represents a unique observation point from which we are daily granted the privilege of contemplating the splendour of divine mercy. … By administering the Sacrament of Penance we can receive profound lessons of humility and faith. For each priest, this is a powerful call to an awareness of his own identity. Never could we hear the confessions of our brothers and sisters merely on the strength of our own humanity. If they come to us it is only because we are priests, configured to Christ, the Supreme and Eternal Priest, and granted the capacity of acting in His Name and Person, so as to make present the God Who forgives, renews and transforms.
“Sacramental reconciliation is certainly one of the moments in which individual freedom and self-awareness are called to express themselves particularly clearly”, he went on. “It is perhaps for this reason too that, in an age of relativism and of the consequent reduced awareness of self, the practice of this Sacrament should also have diminished. The examination of conscience has an important educational value. it teaches us to look sincerely at our own lives, to compare them with the truth of the Gospel and to evaluate them with parameters that are not only human but drawn from divine Revelation. Comparison with the Commandments, with the Beatitudes, and above all with the Precept to love, represents the first great ‘school of penance'”, he said.
“Dear priests”, the Holy Father concluded, “do not fail to give appropriate space to exercising the ministry of Penance in the confessional. To be welcomed and heard is also a human sign of God’s welcome and goodness towards His children. Integral confession of sin also helps penitents to be humble, to recognise their own fragility and, at the same time, to achieve an awareness of the need for God’s forgiveness and the belief that divine Grace can transform life”.
Information from Vatican Information Service.