By Father Ed Dougherty, M.M.
Confession is good for the soul. How profoundly true this old adage is and it is so helpful because it leads people to realize the need they have to unburden themselves from truths that can be difficult to open up about.
In Italy, where I’m stationed, one hears a lot about St. Padre Pio, the famous Capuchin Friar from the mountains of San Giovanni Rotondo. During his lifetime, people came from around the world to go to him for confession. Though he was a stern judge of character who demanded sincerity and resolution of heart, he also highlighted the power of God’s mercy to overcome sin. He once said, “Place a tombstone on the confessed sins, just as the Lord has done.” He also said, “God runs after the most stubborn souls. They cost Him too much to abandon them.”
One story about Padre Pio tells of a woman named Gina who was left by her fiancé shortly before they were to be married. She sunk into a deep depression, but then one day she made a trip to San Giovanni Rotondo with her aunt. There, a woman they had never met approached Gina and said that Padre Pio wanted to speak to her. She wound up making her confession to him and told him she had stopped receiving communion due to her despair. He spoke to her very tenderly, being understanding of her sins and telling her that her fiancé was not worthy of her. He then gave her a picture of Jesus and wrote on the back, “Let Jesus be the center of all your aspirations.” And after this simple yet beautiful encounter, she was finally able to move on with her life.
I believe that people sought out Padre Pio as a confessor for the same reason they seek out any confessor, because they felt God’s mercy while in his presence. A great confessor is a servant who opens himself to the wounds of sin that people bear, absorbs those wounds on behalf of Christ, and shares the forgiveness won for us all through His sacrifice. That is a humbling task to undertake. A lot of people feel it’s too humbling to go to confession to a priest until they encounter the humility and sacrificial love of a great confessor.
When I’m asked about the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I’m often reminded of a humbling experience I once had as a confessor. A man came to confession one day and told me about a recent incident where he passed a person begging on the street and didn’t stop to offer assistance of any kind. I was taken aback by this at first, thinking this wasn’t something to confess. I had done this sort of thing myself in the past and never thought much of it.
But as I look back, I find it so touching to recall the confession of a man striving for a level of holiness that would not permit him to forsake his fellow man, no matter who that person was. It is humbling to think of being a conduit for God’s mercy to such a man. And it demonstrates the beauty of the sacrament. Though we seek great confessors, it is God who offers mercy through imperfect priests. Our administration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a process that occurs in the midst of the journey we all are on to discover His love.
Father Dougherty is The Christophers’ Board of Directors
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