Pope Francis received participants to the 29th Course organised by the Apostolic Penitentiary. He told them that those who confess must be teachers, educators, and pastors. They must always be “witnesses of mercy” and never “masters of consciences”.
“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.”
The more the priest disappears, the clearer Jesus appears as the “supreme and eternal priest”. This helps confessors to have the indispensable attitude of humility needed to learn a second requirement, namely “knowing to listen to questions before offering answers.”
“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.”
“We know that the state of sin distances us from God. But in fact, sin is the way that we distance ourselves from him. Yet that does not mean that God distances himself from us. The state of weakness and confusion that results from sin is one more reason for God to remain close to us.
“The certainty of this should accompany us throughout our lives. The words of the Apostle are a reassuring confirmation that our hearts should trust, always and unhesitatingly, in the Father’s love: ‘No matter what our hearts may charge us with, God is greater than our hearts’ (v. 20).
“His grace is constantly at work in us, to strengthen our hope that his love will never be lacking, in spite of any sin we may have committed by rejecting his presence in our lives.
“It is this hope that makes us realize at times that our life has lost its direction, as Peter did,” when he denied Jesus.
“The crowing of the cock startles a man who is bewildered; he then recalls the words of Jesus, and at last the curtain is lifted. Peter begins to glimpse through his tears that God is revealed in Christ, who is buffeted and insulted, whom he himself has denied, yet who now goes off to die for him. Peter, who wanted to die for Jesus, now realizes that he must let Jesus die for him. Peter wanted to teach the Master; he wanted to go before him. Instead, it is Jesus who goes off to die for Peter. Peter had not understood this; he didn’t want to understand it.
“Peter is now confronted with the Lord’s charity. Finally, he understands that the Lord loves him and asks him to let himself be loved. Peter realizes that he had always refused to let himself be loved. He had always refused to let himself be saved by Jesus alone, and so he did not want Jesus to love him completely.”