Although I am of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, I usually make my confession at a Roman Catholic parish near my home.
I go to this parish because my pastor lives in another city hours away, and I cannot always get to him. I also go because the pastor of the Roman Catholic parish is a model confessor.
I always look forward to confessing my sins to the young pastor of the parish. Confession with him is an act of deep prayer.
He listens and prays with you. He offers spiritual guidance and an appropriate penance. He is fully present, as a servant of Christ, for the penitent.
When I make my confession to him, it always seems a contemplative act.
I fell away from the Church for nearly three decades. After returning, I eventually came to understand the necessity of frequent Confession, also called Penance or Reconciliation these days.
At first, my teachers were Roman Catholics such as St. John Vianney, St. Padre Pio, and Dom Benedict Baur. Abbot Baur’s book Frequent Confession is the best I have found on the subject and one I have often recommended as a spiritual director. Later I absorbed the Eastern Christian tradition of repentance and Confession preached by various Church Fathers.
In the East, Church Fathers such as St. John Chrysostom define the Sacrament of Holy Confession as medicine for the soul administered by Jesus Christ, the Divine Physician, the medicine we need to defeat the passions that lead to sin so that we can enter into union with Christ.
In the “Prayer of Saint John of Damascus” prayed after confession and absolution, essentially the Eastern Christian “Act of Contrition,” the penitent prays: “O Physician and Healer of my soul, O Merciful Savior, blot out all my transgressions, for in the depth of my heart I am sorry for having offended You.”
St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars, understood Confession in a similar way. In his little catechism, he states: “It is a beautiful thought, my children, that we have a Sacrament which heals the wounds of the soul!”
Toward the end of last year, I arrived at the parish as I usually do about fifteen minutes before the young pastor arrives to hear confessions. I was surprised to find no line of penitents and wondered whether Confession had been canceled. Usually anywhere from ten to twenty are standing in line when I arrive.
A few minutes later an older priest emerged from the confessional and said he was ready. I was disappointed that the pastor was away, and more disappointed once inside the confessional because the priest is somewhat idiosyncratic in his approach to the Sacrament.
Even so, he is a good confessor. I confessed my sins, received absolution, and left with a less heavy heart and a soul washed clean.
When I went to the parish for Confession about a month later, I had the same older priest. I made another commitment that day. I would go to Confession on the days I planned to go and would give no thought to which priest might hear my confession.
The elderly priest did not have to make time to hear confessions. But he did. Without his presence, there would be no Sacrament on the days he heard confessions at the parish.
If he could make time to hear confessions, I could honor his priesthood and confess my sins to him honestly and without a worldly care.
I made my confession again at the parish recently. Once again, the elderly priest was in the confessional.
The past month had not been a good one for me. The past week had been especially difficult. Passions and sins I struggle with had been particularly pernicious and nearly had overwhelmed me. Even on the drive over to the parish, my interior peace had been disturbed.
That evening, the priest heard my confession, and he offered advice that was so particular to my situation that as I kneeled on the other side of the screen in the confessional I felt Our Lord’s healing presence.
Through this elderly priest, I received guidance I did not expect and grace that comforted and strengthened me and healed the wounds of my heart and soul.
Whenever I think of this priest now, or any priest, I will think of what the Cure of Ars says of priests in his little catechism: “The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus Christ. When you see the priest, think of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Regardless of which priest is in the confessional now, I always look forward to making my confession and I am never disappointed.