The confessor’s ministry of forgiveness requires fidelity and diligence

From Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Pænitentia (1984):

Just as at the altar where he celebrates the eucharist and just as in each one of the sacraments, so the priest, as the minister of penance, acts “in persona Christi.” The Christ whom he makes present and who accomplishes the mystery of the forgiveness of sins is the Christ who appears as the brother of man,163 the merciful high priest, faithful and compassionate,164 the shepherd intent on finding the lost sheep,165 the physician who heals and comforts,166 the one master who teaches the truth and reveals the ways of God,167 the judge of the living and the dead,168 who judges according to the truth and not according to appearances.169

This is undoubtedly the most difficult and sensitive, the most exhausting and demanding ministry of the priest, but also one of the most beautiful and consoling. Precisely for this reason and with awareness also of the strong recommendation of the synod, I will never grow weary of exhorting my brothers, the bishops and priests, to the faithful and diligent performance of ministry.170 Before the consciences of the faithful, who open up to him with a mixture of fear and trust, the confessor is called to a lofty task which is one of service and penance and human reconciliation. It is a task of learning the weaknesses and falls of those faithful people, assessing their desire for renewal and their efforts to achieve it, discerning the action of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, imparting to them a forgiveness which God alone can grant, “celebrating” their reconciliation with the Father, portrayed in the parable of the prodigal son, reinstating these redeemed sinners in the ecclesial community with their brothers and sisters, and paternally admonishing these penitents with a firm, encouraging and friendly “Do not sin again.”171

163 Cf Mt 12:49f; Mk 3:33f; Lk 8:20f; Rom 8:29: “the firstborn among many brethren.”
164 Cf Heb 2:17; 4:15.
165 Cf Mt 18:12f; Lk 15:4-6.
166 Cf Lk 5:31f.
167 Cf Mt 22:16.
168 Cf Acts 10:42.
169 Cf Jn 8:16.
170 Cf the address to the penitentiaries of the Roman patriarchal basilicas and to the priest confessors at the closing of the Jubilee of the Redemption (July 9, 1984): L’Osservatore Romano, July 9-10, 1984.
171 Jn 8:11.

Reconciliatio et Pænitentia 29

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