VATICAN CITY, MARCH 21, 2002 (Zenit.org).- In his traditional Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday, John Paul II calls for the rediscovery of the sacrament of reconciliation and avoidance of severity or laxity in the confessional.
The Pope counsels the world´s more than 405,000 priests to exercise “pastoral balance” in administering this sacrament that, after years of crisis, is awakening interest among youth.
The Holy Father points out in the letter that the ministry of confession is “always beset by two opposite extremes: severity and laxity.”
The first excess does not take into consideration that “mercy comes first, encouraging conversion and valuing even the slightest progress in love, because the Father wants to do the impossible to save the son who is lost.”
And laxity, the second excess, “fails to take into account the fact that the fullness of salvation, not just offered but also accepted, the salvation which truly heals and restores, involves a genuine conversion to the demands of God´s love.”
The Holy Father observes that “severity crushes people and drives them away” while “laxity is misleading and deceptive.”
Therefore, according to the papal letter, “The minister of pardon, who exemplifies for penitents the face of the Good Shepherd, must express in equal measure the mercy already present and at work, and the pardon which brings healing and peace.”
“It is on the basis of these principles that the priest is deputed, in dialogue with the penitent, to discern whether he or she is ready for sacramental absolution,” the Pope adds.
“Unless it appears otherwise, the priest must assume that, in confessing his or her sins, the penitent is genuinely sorry and is determined to make amends,” John Paul II explains.
“This can be more readily assumed if there are suitable pastoral aids for sacramental reconciliation, including a time of preparation for the sacrament, in order to help penitents come to a more mature and satisfactory sense of what it is that they are looking for,” the Pope continues.
Should the penitent not feel sorrow for sin and the desire to amend, “the confessor is obliged to tell the penitent that he or she is not yet ready for absolution,” the Bishop of Rome emphasizes.
“If absolution were given to those who actually say that they have no intention of making amends, the rite would become a mere fiction; indeed, it would look almost like magic, capable perhaps of creating the semblance of peace, but certainly not that deep peace of conscience which God´s embrace guarantees,” the Pope adds.
For these reasons, the Church establishes that in confession there must be a “personal encounter between confessor and penitent,” which “is the ordinary form of sacramental reconciliation, while the practice of general absolution is only for exceptional circumstances,” John Paul II clarifies.
The Holy Father encourages priests themselves to rediscover this sacrament “with joy and trust.”
“Let us experience it above all for ourselves, as a deeply-felt need and as a grace which we constantly look for, in order to restore vigor and enthusiasm to our journey of holiness and to our ministry,” the Pope concluded, encouraging priests to go to confession.