Signs That Crisis in Sacrament of Confession Is Diminishing

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VATICAN CITY, APR. 2, 2001 ( Given man´s “new and urgent need for
spirituality,” at the beginning of the millennium, and his “deeply-felt need
for interpersonal contact,” John Paul II proposes the rediscovery of the
sacrament of confession as a decisive dimension of the new evangelization
launched at the end of the Jubilee.

The Pontiff focused on this proposal in his yearly letter to the 404,560
priests worldwide, on the occasion of Holy Thursday. In fact, at the
beginning of his letter, written in a direct style, the Holy Father stresses
that the rediscovery of the sacrament of Reconciliation was, perhaps, one of
the most important fruits of the Holy Year.

The Pope recalls how the confessionals in the Vatican and other Basilicas
were “stormed” by pilgrims, “who often had to wait patiently in long queues
for their turn.” The sacrament reached its zenith in Rome last August, when
thousands of confessors were available in the Circus Maximus to offer God´s
pardon to the hundreds of thousands of youths who attended World Youth Day.
Over those 4 days, the historical record of confessions was exceeded.

Following the profound crisis of this sacrament in recent decades, the Bishop
of Rome acknowledged that it “would be naive to think that the mere
intensifying of the practice of the sacrament of forgiveness during the
Jubilee Year is proof of a definitive turnabout. Nevertheless, it was an
encouraging sign,” he says.

This is the reason the Pope feels that the time has arrived to re-launch this
unique gift made by Christ to humanity through his Apostles: “Whose sins you
shall forgive …”

“A source of renewed confidence in the revival of this sacrament is not the
only fact”; “despite many incongruities, a new and urgent need for
spirituality is becoming widespread in society. There is also a deeply felt
need for interpersonal contact, which is increasingly experienced as a
reaction to the anonymous mass society, which often leaves people interiorly
isolated, even when it involves them in a flurry of purely functional
relationships,” the Pope explains.

“Obviously, sacramental confession is not to be confused with a support
system or with psychotherapy. However, neither should we underestimate the
fact that the sacrament of Reconciliation, when correctly celebrated, also
has a ´humanizing´ effect, which is in perfect harmony with its primary
purpose of reconciling the individual with God and the Church,” the Holy
Father emphasized.

The Pope urged priests to “declare with firmness and conviction that the
sacrament of Penance is the ordinary means of obtaining pardon and the
remission of grave sins committed after Baptism.”

John Paul II points out that “unfortunately, there exists a ministerial
tendency, which prevents the sacrament from producing all the benefits that
we might hope for. Many of the faithful have an idea of sin that is not based
on the Gospel but on common convention, on what is socially ´acceptable.´
This makes them feel not particularly responsible for things that ´everybody
does,´ and all the more so if these things are permitted by civil law.”

“Evangelization in the Third Millennium must come to grips with the urgent
need for a representation of the Gospel message that is dynamic, complete,
and demanding. The Christian life to be aimed at, cannot be a mediocre
commitment to ´goodness´ as society defines it; it must be a true quest for
holiness,” Peter´s Successor stressed.

The Holy Father asks for a decisive step, if this renewal is to come from
within. The priests themselves must regularly go to the sacrament of
Confession with other priests. “Only those who have known the Father´s tender
embrace, as the Gospel describes it in the parable of the Prodigal Son — ´he
embraced him and kissed him´ (Lk 15:20) — only they can pass on to others
the same warmth, when after receiving pardon themselves, they administer it
to others,” the Pope concludes.

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