Friday, March 9, 2018

Greetings for those participating in a course on Internal Forum

At 11:15am (5:15am EST) today, in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, the Holy Father, Pope Francis received in audience those who are participating in the XXIX Course on the Internal Forum which is taking place at the Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome from 5 to 9 March 2018.

Speech of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
addressed to participants taking part in the
XXIX Course on the Internal Forum

Dear brothers, good morning!

I cordially greet all of you, beginning with Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, who I thank for his words.  I greet the entire family of the Apostolic Penitentiary and those who are participating in the Course on the Internal Forum, which this year, in view of the upcoming Synod on youth, has examined the relationship between Sacramental Confession and Vocational Discernment.  This is a most opportune theme, which merits some reflection that I want to share with you.

You confessors, especially you future confessors, have the advantage - I would say it that way - of being young, and therefore you can experience the Sacrament of Reconciliation as youth among youth; and, not infrequently, closeness in age also favours dialogue including concerning the sacraments, and a natural affinity of languages.  This can constitute a facilitation and a circumstance to be experienced adequately, for the edification of authentic Christian personalities.  However, it is a condition that has limits and even risks, for you are at the beginning of your ministry and therefore you still have to acquire the experience that a consumate confessor possesses, after decades of listening to penitents.

How then should you experience this circumstance?  What level of attention should you pay to hearing sacramental confessions, especially those of young people, including those who may be discerning a vocational call?

First, I would say that it is always necessary to rediscover, as Saint Thomas Aquinas affirms, the instrumental dimension of our ministry.  The priest confessor is neither a source of Mercy nor of Grace; he is certainly indispensable but he is always merely an instrument!  And when the priest tries to control this aspect, he impedes God from acting in the hearts of others.  This awareness must favour careful vigilance concerning the risks of becoming masters of conscience, especially in relationships with young people whose personalities are still being formed and, for this reason, they are much more easily influenced.  Remembering that we are, and striving to be only instruments of Reconciliation is the first requirement of being able to take on a humble attitude of listening to the Holy Spirit, who guarantees a genuine effort at discernment.  Being instruments does not imply a diminution of the ministry, but on the contrary, it should lead to the fuller realization of it, since to the extent that the priest disappears and that Christ, the supreme and high Priest appears more clearly our vocation of worthless servants is fulfilled.

Secondly, it is necessary that we know how to listen to questions before we can offer responses.  Giving responses, without taking the time to listen to the questions posed by young people and, wherever necessary, without taking the time to seek out and explore valid questions would be a mistaken approach.  The confessor is called to be a man of listening: human listening to the penitent is also the divine listening of the Holy Spirit.  By truly listening to our brother in a Sacramental discourse, we welcome Jesus himself, poor and humble; listening to the Holy Spirit, we place ourselves in obedient waiting, becoming those who listen to words and then offer the greatest service to our penitent young people: we put them in contact with Jesus himself.

When these two elements occur, the sacramental conversation can really open up to the prudent and prayerful journey that is vocational discernment.  Every young person should be able to hear God's voice both in his or her own conscience ad through listening to the Word.  Along this journey, it is important that they are supported by the wise accompaniment of confessors, who at times can also become - at the request of the young person him- or herself and never self-imposed - a spiritual father.  Vocational discernment is above all a reading of the signs, which God himself has already placed in the life of the young person, through his or her qualities and personal inclinations, through encounters that have been experienced, and through prayer: prolonged prayer in which the person simply repeats the words of Samuel: Speak Lord, your servant is listening (1 Sam 3:9).

The conversation of sacramental Confession therefore becomes a privileged occasion for encounter, for attuning both the penitent and the confessor to listening to the will of God, discovering what his plan might be, independent of the particular form of vocation involved.  In fact, the vocation does not coincide, neither can it ever coincide with a particular form!  A vocation is a relationship with Jesus himself: a vital and indispensable relationship.

The categories that define the confessor correspond to the reality of the situation: a doctor and a judge, a pastor and a father, a teacher and an educator.  But especially for the young, the confessor is called to be above all a witness.  A witness in the sense of a martyr, called to suffer-with for the sins of his brothers, as the Lord Jesus did; and then to bear witness to mercy, to the heart of the gospel which is the embrace of the Father offered to his prodigal son who has come back home.  The confessor-witness makes the experience of mercy more effective, opening up for the faithful a new and greater horizon that only God can provide to mankind.

Dear young priests, future priests and dear Penitentiaries, be witnesses of mercy, be humble listeners to the young people and to God's will for them, always be respectful of consciences and of the freedom of those who approach the confessional, because God himself loves freedom.  And entrust all penitents to her who is the Refuge of sinners and our Mother of mercy.
(Original text in Italian)

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