Pope Extols Sacrament of Penance

Urges Priests Worldwide to Promote It

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VATICAN CITY, APR. 2, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Given man´s «new and urgent need for spirituality» and his «deeply felt need for interpersonal contact,» John Paul II proposes the rediscovery of the sacrament of confession as a crucial part of the new evangelization.

The Pontiff focused on this proposal in his yearly letter to the 404,560 priests worldwide, for Holy Thursday. At the beginning of his letter, the Pope 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 the hundreds of thousands of youths who attended World Youth Day.

Following the profound crisis of this sacrament in recent decades, the Bishop of Rome acknowledges 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.»

«Despite many incongruities, a new and urgent need for spirituality is becoming widespread in society,» he writes. «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.»

He adds: «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 Pope urges 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 notes, «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,» the Pope stresses.

The Holy Father asks that 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, … 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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