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  December 2018  
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Pope: Confessors’ Greatest Service: Put Penitents in Contact With Jesus Himself

March 9, 2018. Francis Urges Course on Internal Forum to Entrust Penitents to Mary

What is a confessor’s greatest service to penitents? Putting them in touch with Jesus Himself.

Pope Francis stressed this today in the Vatican to the participants in the 29th Course on the Internal Forum, which is taking place in Rome, in Palazzo della Cancelleria, from March 5-9, 2018.

In his address, he urged young priests, future priests and penitentiaries, to be “witnesses of mercy, be humble listeners to the young and to God’s will for them, always be respectful towards the conscience and freedom of those who approach the confessional, because God Himself loves their freedom.” He also told them to entrust penitents to she who is the refuge of sinners, and Mother of mercy.

 The Holy Father had begun by greeting the “whole family” of the Apostolic Penitentiary and the participants in the course on the Internal Forum, which this year, looking ahead to the next Synod on youth, dealt with the relationship between sacramental confession and vocational discernment.

This, the Pope noted, is a very appropriate topic that deserves some reflection.

“How, then, should one live this circumstance?” the Pope asked: “What care should be taken in listening to sacramental confessions, especially of the young, also in view of a possible vocational discernment?”

First of all, he said, it is always necessary to rediscover, as Saint Thomas Aquinas says, the instrumental dimension of the priestly ministry.

“The priest-confessor is the source of neither mercy nor grace: he is certainly the indispensable instrument, but always only an instrument! And when the priest takes charge of this, he prevents God from acting in hearts. This awareness must favour a careful vigilance over the risk of becoming “masters of consciences”, above all in the relationship with young people, whose personality is still being formed and is therefore far more easily influenced.”

Remembering to be, and having to be, only instruments of Reconciliation, the Pope said, is the first requirement for assuming an attitude of humble listening to the Holy Spirit, “which guarantees a genuine effort of discernment.”

Secondly, the Pontiff stated, it is necessary to know how to listen to questions before offering the answers.

“Giving answers, without taking care to listen to the questions of young people and, where necessary, without trying to raise genuine questions, would be the wrong attitude. The confessor is called to be a man of listening: human listening to the penitent, and divine listening to the Holy Spirit. Truly listening to the brother in the sacramental dialogue, we listen to Jesus Himself, poor and humble; listening to the Holy Spirit we place ourselves in attentive obedience, we become hearers of the Word and therefore we offer the greatest service to our young penitents: we put them in touch with Jesus Himself.”

When these two elements are present, the Pope said, the sacramental dialogue can truly open up to that prudent and prayerful journey that is vocational discernment.

“Every young person should be able to hear God’s voice both in his own conscience and through listening to the Word.”

“The meeting of sacramental confession thus becomes a privileged opportunity for encounter, for both penitent and confessor to listen to the will of God, discovering what His plan may be, regardless of the form of the vocation. Indeed, the vocation does not coincide, nor can it ever coincide, with a form! This would lead to formalism! The vocation is the relationship itself with Jesus: a vital and indispensable relationship.”

Pope Francis concluded, reminding those present of their responsibility and of their need to entrust their penitents to our Mother Mary.