One of the passages in the Holy Gospel which, in a certain sense, has always intrigued my heart, and been an occasion of constant meditation is where Jesus is asked about the location of where He ‘stays’. [Jn.1:39]

 “Where do you live?”, is a question we quickly become used to asking and being asked from the time we are little children.

The answer, in a real manner, defines much about the person who answers and gives us clues to where they and we stand in relation to each other.

The question posed to Jesus is pretty ordinary.

Since His Holy Resurrection and Ascension to the right hand of the Father and through the marvel of the Blessed Sacrament we know where Jesus is staying: with us!

The tragedy is when we forget He also ‘stays’ in every sacrament and within our own being through sacramental grace.

Jesus’ response is, of course, more than allowing a certain transfer of information to reassure His future apostles of certain trustworthiness.

It is an invitation to intimacy.

The sacrament of Reconciliation is also a place where Jesus stays, to which He constantly invites us, for it is the place of encounter at the well, on the road of return.

Our people dwell in the midst of the culture of death with its attendant loss of a sense of sin and personal responsibility for their free will choices. They often are either fearful of, confused about, or simply have no experience of confession as necessary grace.

This lack of the experience of Divine Mercy in the sacrament of penance is frequently because we priests rarely make the sacrament available at times, a length of time, best suited to our people.

Once again we are face to face with the ravages of a crisis of faith.

However we need to be humble and admit the truth which is that the real crisis of faith is not that of our people but is our own.

When Jesus, from the heart of the confessional, is calling out to us, inviting us to come and see where He is staying, do we accept?

There is an ancient Orthodox prayer which is upon my heart as I write.

It is a prayer which serves as a starting point to stirring ourselves awake that we might accept His invitation to repent of our sins in the place where Divine Mercy dwells.

                                                                   O Master Christ God, who has healed my passions through Your Passion, and has cured my wounds through Your wounds, grant me, who has sinned greatly against You, tears of compunction.

                                                                 Transform my body with the fragrance of Your life-giving Body, and sweeten my soul with Your Precious Blood from the bitterness with which the evil one has fed me.

                                                                 Lift up my downcast mind to You, and take it out of the abyss of perdition, for of my own I have no repentance, no compunction, and none of the consoling tears which uplift Your children to their inheritance.

                                                                 My mind has been darkened through earthly passions, I cannot lift my eyes and look up to You in pain.

                                                                I cannot even warm myself with tears of love for You.

                                                                But, O Sovereign Lord Jesus Christ, Treasury of good things, give to me true and complete repentance and a faithful heart with which to seek You alone; grant Your grace to me, and renew within me Your Holy likeness and image.

                                                                 I have fled from and forsaken You – I beg You not to abandon me.  Come out and look for me; lead me to Your pasture and count me among the sheep of Your flock whom You have chosen. Nourish me with them on the grass of Your Holy Mysteries, through the intercessions of Your most pure and holy Mother Mary, my Mother, and all Your saints. Amen.

It is of the essence of our being in persona Christi that we be living icons and dispensers of His mercy. Indeed being so, nothing should be more important. [Acts 20:24]

After the faithful and pious celebration of the source and summit of our faith at the altar of Divine Love, where else can we more truly bear witness ‘to the gospel of God’s grace’, than in the confessional?

Fidelity to being present in the confessional, when often times no one comes to avail themselves of Divine Mercy, is itself a laying down of our life for our friends.

It is also a joy.

                                                           There is nothing which belongs more to Church and there is nothing Jesus Christ wanted more closely reserved for its shepherds than the dispensation of the sacraments He instituted. [67]

Implicit in this is our willingness to be, since He already is, lavish in our dispensation of the sacraments.

This means a willingness on our part to be, frankly, tireless and available.

Recently a priest told me that, over and above various other reasons for preferring to use the Third Rite (and it should be noted here he has no posted times in the bulletin for individual confessions, ever) he does so because “It’s more realistic than the one on one stuff.”

However after some further discussion he told me the real reason: he simply can’t bear the weight of people’s sins.

Well who can!

Is it not true we can barely survive the weight of our own?

When we forget who we really are in persona Christi is when we fall into the disorder of functionality and a prideful, erroneous, assumption that we ‘do’ what we do.

It is the Holy Spirit who ‘does’ what we ‘do’.

It is a mystery that it pleases the Holy Trinity to place the immense treasure of sacramental priesthood with all the power and authority of the sacrament into our hands and hearts of clay and stone. But that is what it pleases the Trinity to do, confiding to us the full power to celebrate each sacrament in conjunction with the Holy Spirit, in persona Christi, for the glory of the Father and the salvation of souls.

When we stay with Jesus in the sacred place of the confessional of course we are simultaneously staying with Him in the sacred place of the Garden.

We will experience with Him the weight of sin, human misery, people’s self-deception.

For priests part of our divine election, a precious aspect of our vocation of joy, is accepting from the hands of Christ the Cross of the burden borne by our brothers and sisters. [Gal.6: 1, 2]

In the celebration of the holy sacrament of Reconciliation we do take the burden of our brothers and sisters. Precisely as we do that, with ‘a gentle spirit’ Christ is with us. Indeed the moment we take up our Cross each day, which is also the cross borne by our brothers and sisters; Jesus comes along, like the Cyrene, though in our case Jesus bears the greater weight.

                                                                  Through ordination, in an ontological sense, you are Christ’s witnesses in the service of the Word and the sacraments; you are likewise the real testimony of Christ the one Priest. At the moment of your ordination you received a new mode of being. You are marked by the priestly character, which is a real, indelible, spiritual sign. This character does not separate you from humanity; on the contrary, it places you in the midst, so that you can devote yourselves to its service. Indeed, the priestly character inserts you into the priesthood of Christ, who is ‘the key, the center and the goal of all human history’ (Guadium et spes, n.10), ‘the alpha and the omega’ (ibid.,n.45) of visible and invisible realities.

                                                                 Dear friends, how could the saving waters of Redemption flow to all generations if it were not for you? The clarity and certainty of your identity give rise to an awareness of your absolute indispensability in the Church and in the world.

                                                                Through you the Good Shepherd continues to teach, to sanctify, to guide and to love all the peoples of every culture, every continent and every age. For this reason you alone enjoy the title of pastor and, since there is no salvation except in Christ and since He must be proclaimed to the ends of the earth, it is impossible to cross the threshold of the third millennium without making the pastoral care of vocations a priority. If the world cannot do without Christ, it also cannot do without His priests. [68]

Thus, beloved brothers, it is a truth that when we stay with Christ in the confessional we will encounter those souls, some of tender years, others already in the full enthusiastic energy of youth, and some of mature life experience, who sense within themselves the call of divine election.

Moved by the Holy Spirit our Christ-like priestly hearts will see beyond the blackness of a soul burdened with sin to the generous heart seeking to follow Christ in the sacramental priesthood.

Likewise, whatever the vocation in life already being lived, or being discerned, even refused, we will always dispense love and its inseparable companion, truth, conscious that we ourselves are but poor and weak sinners always in need of His mercy.

Sacramental confession is, of course, more than just the sacred event of absolution from sin.

It is a willing response to sanctifying grace, the call of the Holy Spirit to follow Christ into the desert, there to be alone with Him in the vast expanses of the garden enclosed of our soul where we will surrender to an ever more complete metanoia and absolute kenosis.

Today mostly because of the immense evil of abortion, all forms of violence and hatred, expressed horrifically in terrorism, we are waist deep in the blood of our brothers and sisters.

How is it possible that we priests in the face of such deliberate evil, the attendant confusion about the sacred dignity of the human person, the ravages of loneliness, the demeaning slow death of homelessness, the excruciatingly slow death by starvation, the thousands of men, women and children who must till the soil in fields strewn with landmines, which tear their limbs and steal their beauty, how, given the other innumerable sins committed by brother against brother, sister against sister, how, given the constant blasphemy in countless films and tv shows of His Holy Name, how, before families ripped asunder by divorce, adultery, domestic violence, abuse, how, when the tears of our people cascade like rivers in flood, how, when we look in the mirror and see the face of a sinner staring back at us, how, my beloved brothers, can we doubt the absolute necessity of sacramental confession and the utter urgency that we willingly pour out our lives celebrating this treasure of Divine Mercy?

That is why we must enter emptiness, kenosis.

Christ emptied Himself for our salvation.

We must follow Him into this mystery that we might become what we are.

It is the process of being alone with Jesus in the desert – the place of solitude, aloneness with Him.

The deeper we enter this inner desert the more urgently will our conscience motivate our hearts to enter the desert of the confessional, first as contrite penitents, then as merciful confessors.

After the Holy Eucharist, no other sacrament is more powerful a means of configuring us with that depth of holiness which will fulfill within us our baptismal vocation to be saints.

                                                            Repentance is but a second victory of faith and is itself a new testimony…..

                                                            The Lord teaches that the return of a penitent to the bosom of Christ is equal in its power and honour and pleasure of having a whole sheepfold (a whole Church). [69a]

Our hearts should eagerly desire that every one of our people might be that returning penitent.

In fact, the more we ourselves experience the joy of entering the bosom of Christ through our own sincere sacramental repentance, the more eagerly indeed shall we seek out the lost sheep through being constantly available to them in the confessional, the celebration of the sacrament of Divine Mercy.

                                                           It is the richness of heaven that has been poured out with the Blood of Christ into our hearts. [69b]

Sin reduces us, as we well know, emotionally, sometimes physically, always spiritually, to the level of poverty, heartache, lonely isolation from the community, from communion of love with the Holy Trinity, as experienced by the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, the ten lepers, the paralytic lowered through the roof, the man by the pool, the publican at the rear of the temple, the woman washing His feet, the traveler beaten and tossed in the ditch and the prodigal son.

It is into all of our sins and the consequences of all our sinning, into the depths of all that sickness, loneliness, darkness and fear, that broken poverty, those gaping wounds, that He seeks, through the sacrament of confession, to pour the ‘richness of heaven’, the healing wine and oil of His Blood.

                                                             The wonderful power of Christ as God who redeems and loves even to death can by no means be conceived or experienced except in the person of a sinner who is cast on the ground and repudiated by all people!

                                                           Without the sinner we are able neither to comprehend the love of Christ, nor to measure its depth, nor can it show itself in an action which reveals the superlative quality of the divine love. Divine love appears at its most dignified in our sight when we come to know it in its condescension to us while we are fallen into a state of misery. [69c]

Thus we must truthfully as priests ask of our hearts: Do I love sinners with Christ’s own passionate love? When they come to the fountain of mercy in holy confession, do I give them His compassionate, truthful, tender understanding and wisdom? More, am I aware in the core of my being that while, in confession, I may hear accounts of many sins and much evil, I am the sinner?

In his Holy Rule St. Benedict urges all his monks to receive every guest as Christ.

Our hearts must never forget that Christ comes as a guest, in the holy place of the confessional, in the guise of a penitent.

Indeed remembering His invitation to His beloved flock to come to Him with all that wearies and burdens them, finding within Him the true rest they yearn for; do we make of the confessional a sacramental place of rest, comfort, that secure inn where their wounds are bathed with the oil of kindness, the wine of absolution?

Every penitent is poor, hungry for mercy, and all of us sinners are truly ignorant of the actual reality of sin. If we were not even a single venial sin would be such a burden on our souls so crushing we might fall into despair.

Thus it is mercifully true that:

                                                                  Whosoever is poor, hungry, sinful, fallen or ignorant is the guest of Christ. [69d]

If we have any difficulty, or hesitancy, to appreciate that truth it may well be because we fail to recognize the description of our true selves in those words. This failure undoubtedly is rooted in the irregularity of being ourselves penitents who trustingly enter the inn of the confessional, the refuge of sinners, the hospice of the beaten up and wounded pilgrim.

                                                              It is to offer freedom to captives that Christ came, pursuing them to the hidden places of darkness, but if you have not yet felt the captivity of sin or if you are not aware of its darkness or have not been awakened by its smothering horror, how then can you cry out from the depths? If you do not cry in alarm, how then is the Saviour to hear your voice and how is He to know your place?

                                                               Christ came to give sight to the blind. If you have not discovered the blindness of your heart and have not felt deprived of the divine light, but have tried to open the eyes of others while you yourself were blind, how is He to endow you with sight and where is He to give you the light?

                                                              The essence of repentance is an awareness of sin, a cry of the pain of crime, certitude of the absence of light. [69e]

Traveling some years ago in a remote region of the country I visited a friend of a friend at the latter’s request. My own friend was greatly concerned about the way his friend was living, the consequence for their immortal soul.

The person I visited appreciated his friend’s concern and was forthright in conversation about the way they were living.

While showing me around their city they mentioned how the previous Easter, around the time when the Vigil would have been over, the local Bishop came into the bar where this man with many other people was drinking.

This Bishop simply went around and gently reminded those members of his flock that Christ is Risen!

The man telling me the story was still visibly moved by that event and said he knew that someday, but not yet, he would return to the sacraments for the memory of the Bishop being so gentle and inviting remained strong.

Our words and actions of truth-speaking love will obviously not always result in immediate conversions. But seed well sown will eventually, because of the tender care of the Divine Gardener, bear fruit.

                                                                          Conversion by its very nature is the condition for that union with God which reaches its greatest expression in the Eucharist. Our union with Christ in the Eucharist presupposes, in turn, that our hearts are set on conversion, that they are pure. This is indeed an important part of our preaching to the people. In my encyclical I endeavoured to express it in these words:

                                                                      “The Christ who calls to the Eucharistic banquet is always the same Christ who exhorts us to penance and repeats His ‘repent’. Without this constant and ever-renewed endeavour for conversion, partaking of the Eucharist would lack its full redeeming effectiveness…”(RH20).

                                                                     In the face of a widespread phenomenon of our time, namely, that many of our people who are among the great numbers who receive Communion make little use of confession, we must emphasize Christ’s basic call to conversion. We must also stress that the personal encounter with the forgiving Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a divine means which keeps alive, in our hearts and in our communities, a consciousness of sin in its perennial and tragic reality, and which actually brings forth, by the action of Jesus and the power of His Spirit, fruits of conversion in justice and holiness of life. By this sacrament we are renewed in fervour, strengthened in our resolves and buoyed up by divine encouragement. [70]

If, however, we are, as we should be, concerned about the disparity between frequent Communion and infrequent confession by our people, we need to look into our own hearts and see if we witness to the necessity of true repentance by the example of our own contrite hearts.

As mentioned in the very title of this chapter, metanoia and kenosis are aspects of the ‘grace in return for grace’ of this great sacrament of Divine Mercy.

                                                                     The first care of the Cure of Ars was to teach the faithful to desire repentance. He stressed the beauty of God’s forgiveness. Was not all his priestly life and all his strength dedicated to the conversion of sinners? And it was above all in the confessional that God’s mercy manifested itself. So he did not wish to get rid of the penitents who came…For him this was undoubtedly the greatest of his mortifications, a form of martyrdom…he himself suffered from  the sins confessed and even more from the lack of repentance: “I weep because you do not weep.” [71]

Tears: the ancient holy ones in the early centuries of the life of the Church considered tears to be a type of second baptism and the most precious gift of the Holy Spirit.

Tears: the gift of weeping copiously with the zeal of penthos over our own sins, crying from the core of our being over the sins of the world, sobbing in unity with the Weeping One Himself.

                                                          This is the moment in our lives, in our Christian lives, in which we must arise and be inflamed with ‘the zeal for our Father’s house.’ We have the Advocate in us, the Wind that fans this flame that the Scriptures talk about.

                                                          It is time, yes, it is indeed time. I feel like imploring, like weeping, like crying out, like doing a thousand things that men do when they feel close to despair, except that I can’t come close to despair because I live in  hope.

                                                                 But I am human, and so I cry out, and I think that lay people cry out with me. Do you hear us? It’s not enough to speak softly anymore. We have to cry. So, filled with hope, yet not far away from despair, I howl. [72]

So writes the Servant of God Catherine Doherty of her great passionate love for the Church, for priests, and of her willingness in the depths of her own being and prayer to weep, cry, howl for the conversion and protection of the Church, as repentance for herself and all sinners, in particular for priests.

All this cleaved to the heart of the weeping Christ.

If the laity howls in agony over the re-crucifixion of Christ, especially in the Church, can we priests weep less? [Jb.16:20;  Ps.6:7; 39:13; 42:3,4;  Is.16:9; 25:8; 38:5;  Mal.2:13; Mk.14:34; Lk.6:21;7:38;19:41;22:61,62; Jn.11:33; 11:35; 20:11; 20:13; Acts 20:19; 20:31; Rm.12:15; 2Cor.2:4; 2Tim.1:3-5; Jas.4:9; Hb.5:7; 12:17; Rv. 21:4; 22.20]

As priests we in particular, in Christ, through Christ, by the action and teaching of the Holy Spirit, keep watch with, weep with, Christ for the Church, each other, our own particular flock, and for the entire world.

Our tears must be co-mingled with His tears as we have our face on the ground beside and with Him in the Garden, on the Cross.

While normally not, though frankly at the same time in may be a salutary example if come upon inadvertently by the laity, when there is Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, nonetheless frequently in church before the Tabernacle, we should be prostrate, face to the ground in adoration and tears.

In particular, in our own room before a crucifix or icon, we should be face to the ground in vigil during the night when satan is on the prowl, when the violent, the thieving, the desperate, the lonely, the distraught, the homeless, the hungry are most in chaos, turmoil, danger and grief.

The confessional, which can be a place of solitude where it often seems we wait in vain for penitents to arrive, is also a good place to shed copious tears in prayer and from such intercession we will build the place to which they will come: a priestly heart which is a wellspring of compassion.

                                                                  The solicitude of every good shepherd is that all people “may have life and have it to the full”, so that none of them may be lost, but should have eternal life. Let us endeavour to make this solicitude penetrate deeply into our souls; let us strive to live it. May it characterize our personality, and be at the foundation of our priestly identity. [73]

This solicitude for all people, burning in our hearts, must be Christ’s own solicitude.

Likewise is should be akin to that of our father in faith Abraham. In our intercessory prayer we too should argue with God, pleading that He spare the city of this world, or at least reduce His anger. [cf.Gn.18:22-32]

To be sure this passionate desire that all might be saved finds its most eloquent and efficacious articulation in the celebration of the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the primary cry for forgiveness and restoration in Christ.

The sacrament of Reconciliation is also a prayer of intercession: particularly when we truly pray for those confessing their sins and take upon ourselves the greater portion of their penance, as Christ Himself has done for every human being in His Passion.

The passion of our solicitude is also expressed through fasting, vigils and tears.

                                                                  The soul is dead through sin. It requires sadness, weeping, tears, mourning and bitter moaning over the iniquity which has cast it down to perdition. Howl, weep and moan and bring it back to God. [74a]

Jesus assures us in the Beatitudes that all this weeping and moaning is blessed and promises that the fruit of true contrition and compunction is joy!

Weeping through the gift of tears from the Holy Spirit is not an emotional sadness of unavailed grief. Rather tears are gifts of hope, trust and gratitude as much as a gift of true repentance. Indeed weeping over our own sins and those of the world is an act of sublime faith and true trust in Divine Mercy.

Tears shed on behalf of our brothers and sisters become a selfless act of pure charity.

                                                                     To advance in virtues, as well as to escape sin, compunction is still needed. A brother asked Saint Anthony, ‘What should I do about my sins?’ The saint replied, ‘Whoever seeks deliverance from sins will find it in tears and weeping, and whoever wishes to advance in building up virtue will do so through weeping and tears.’ As examples he went on to cite King Hezekiah, Saint Peter and Mary Magdalen who, ‘after washing the Saviour’s feet with her tears, deserved to hear that she had chosen the better part.’ In the sayings of the Fathers, it is to Abba Poemen that the same brother addresses his question, and the reply is the same, except that the scriptural quotations are summed up in a short sentence: ‘Weeping is the way the Scriptures and our Fathers give us, when they say, “Weep!” Truly, there is no other way than this.’ Abba Moses proposes the same formula: ‘Through tears we acquire virtues, just as through tears we obtain pardon for sins. [74b]

It may perhaps strike you my brothers as a bit odd that I should be extolling the gift of tears as an important and necessary grace for true repentance, and for powerful effective intercessory prayer, yet I do so with a great sense of urgency given the unrelenting holocaust of abortion, the pervasive hatred which feeds terrorism, the deep anxiety, loneliness, confusion which wounds the hearts of so many of our brothers and sisters.

In a word the urgency to be constantly, we priests especially, crying out for Divine Mercy and the grace of repentance, metanoia, kenosis, for the entire priesthood, for the whole human family.

It is a matter of urgent yearning for the salvation of souls.

                                                                  Those who go to God have a great struggle, first exhaustion and then ineffable joy. Those who wish to light a fire get smoke in their eyes and shed tears; then they obtain the desired result. We too must light the divine fire with tears and hardship. The more one aspires to the love of God, the more one will value this ‘work’. [74c]

Perhaps it is not, really, that we fear tears, or have not pleaded with the Holy Spirit to grant us this vital gift.

Perhaps it is simply we do not know how to weep.

                                                                            You have no tears? Buy tears from the poor. You have no sadness? Call the poor to moan with you. If your heart is hard and has neither sadness nor tears, with alms invite the needy to weep with you. The exercise of pity is a great thing; it procures tears for approaching God. [74d]

My heart is convinced, beloved brothers, if we spent less time re-telling tales of clerical scandals, gossiped less about our brothers, were less critical of our bishops, less negative about the laity and instead wept more, the re-crucifixion of Christ in the Church, in the world, would cease; there would be less priest-scandals, fewer of our brothers would abandon their divine election, we’d be blessed with truly holy and orthodox shepherds and our people would return, in droves, to the sacraments. [Ja.1:21, 26; 2:12, 13; 3:1, 2, 5]

We know very well the power of words.

Indeed our vocation of joy being in persona Christi capitis means we constantly are using ultimate sacred words in the celebration of sacrament.

How powerful the words: I absolve you!

Yes, we can utter words of mercy, of consecration, blessing.

Words: to give comfort, hope, love, truth.

We even have the power to use words of deliverance, exorcism.

How then is it that would ever casually utter unholy words?

Commenting on the reality of “sobornost”, a Russian word which means unity – unity on the most profound level of oneness of mind and heart – the Servant of God, Catherine Doherty, teaches:

….the only time we can really have sobornost is when we are in communion with one another. But a human being has great difficulty in establishing communion, first, within himself, and secondly, with others.

                                                        This being so, whence comes that ‘key’ which will open our hearts to the other…the answer is quite evident…The roots of that word communicate lie in our communion with God. Do we realize what takes place within the depths of our souls when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ? He told us that, unless we partake of this communion, we would have no place in the Kingdom of God.

                                                      …..when the Kingdom of God comes to us in its fullness, the first thing that will happen…is that every word that we have thought, spoken, or whispered in the night, or in the most secret chambers of our hearts, will be revealed to everyone else. Why will it be revealed at that time? Why should it be revealed at all? Because the Kingdom of God cannot exist without this deep sharing between one another.

                                                      When we approach the table of the Lord and receive from Our Lord’s own hands (for the hands of the priest are, at that moment, His hands) His Body and Blood, His Soul and Divinity, we have truly communicated with Him; we have been absorbed in Him; we have become one with Him. Then, when we move away from that table and return to our place in the congregation, we must become lovers incarnate, just as He has become incarnated for love of us, and for our brothers and sisters.

This love must lead us to communication with others because we have just been in communication with God…..[75]

Clearly the holier our communication outside of the confessional the more holy shall be our communication of love, truth, mercy, within the confessional.

As within everything else in our vocation of divine election, as holds true for all the baptized as well, we are surrounded by examples of the sacred possibility of it all!

I speak here of our participation in the supportive mystery, and ministry, of the Communion of Saints.

                                                               Following in Christ’s steps, those who believe in Him have always tried to help one another along the path which leads to the heavenly Father, through prayer, the exchange of spiritual goods and penitential expiation. The more they have been immersed in the fervour of love, the more they have imitated Christ in His sufferings. They have carried their crosses to make expiation for their own sins and the sins of others. They were convinced that they could help their brothers to obtain salvation from God who is the Father of mercies. This is the very ancient dogma called the Communion of Saints. It means that the life of each individual son of God is joined in Christ and through Christ by a wonderful link to the life of all his other Christian brethren. Together they form the supernatural unity of Christ’s Mystical Body so that, as it were, a single mystical person is formed. [76]

When we refrain from using Eucharistic Prayer I, the Roman Canon, or use it reluctantly so long as we can skip over the Saints names; when we are disinclined to celebrate the Mass of a particular saint unless that one is a formal feast or obligatory memorial; when we visit our people in their homes, in hospital, places of work and so forth, or visit the schools, without calling upon the Guardian Angels and Patron Saints of those we are about to visit, or sit in the confessional for hours without penitents coming, yet not calling upon our Guardian Angel, Patron Saint, all blessed priests in heaven to join together to seek the lost and bring them to sacrament – in what reality are we living?

If we are in intimate communion, dare I say a daily working relationship, with the Angels and Saints, and then we shall find communicated to us by them a profound sense of place and experience of reality, namely, that we are living in the midst of truth.

Actual reality is, in the main, invisible to the naked eye of the body, ineffable to the intellect while being simplicity itself to the heart. [Phil.4:4-9]

When we read the lives of the saints it is striking, from the time of the great holy men and women of the desert to the present, of the importance saints gave in their lives to both the sacrament of reconciliation and to spiritual direction.

Oftentimes the term ‘confessor’ meant both the priest to whom one went for sacramental mercy and for spiritual guidance.

The spiritual giants, such as the Fathers of the Desert, in the area of sacred teaching/guiding of souls were not always ordained priests. In more recent history holy ones such as St. Theresa of Avila and St. Therese, the Little Flower, Bl. Dom Columba Marmion, Archbishop Martinez, Startez Silouan, Elder Zosima, and the Servant of God Catherine Doherty, priests and laity, have either been spiritual directors in particular or their writings have, and do, serve as resources for souls seeking to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

Often times when I address priests on the importance of our being available as spiritual directors/spiritual fathers, the initial reaction is a complaint that they do not feel adequate to the task and anyway there is hardly the time to spend giving direction.

Frankly the majority of what occupies us administratively can always be done well, if not often times better, by the laity.

As to the issue of not being up to being a spiritual director, even more than specific training in the seminary or through a particular institute, assuming always these places of formation are in accord with the Magisterium, is the essential formation which we will receive if we ourselves are directed by a spiritual father, a master of the interior life.

                                                                     Without confusing the sacramental moment with spiritual direction, priests should know how to identify opportunities to initiate spiritual dialogue outside of the celebration of the sacrament. “Rediscovery and promotion of this practice, also during the various moments of the sacrament of Penance, is a major benefit for the contemporary Church.” Such leads to an awakening of the sense and effectiveness of the sacrament and creates the conditions necessary to overcome the present crisis. Personal spiritual direction forms true apostles, capable of activating new evangelization in society. The success of the mission to re-evangelize so many of the faithful who are estranged from the Church requires a solid formation for those who have remained close to her.

                                                              New evangelization depends on an adequate number of priests; experience teaches that many respond positively to a vocation because of spiritual direction, as well as the example given by priests who are interiorly and exteriorly faithful to their priestly identity. [77]

                                                       ….through the Fathers of the Church God has made it clear to us that we need spiritual direction….St. John of the Cross has said that “only a fool directs himself”. Especially should people dedicated to God seek direction. Through this grace they realize their poverty and their weakness. We need a spiritual guide on the narrow road that leads to heaven. The devil delights in placing confusing signposts on our way, especially at our major crossroads….

                                                      ….That holy man, that priest, must know the state of your whole self mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

                                                      ….The great Spiritual Director, Christ, who stands behind your spiritual director, already begins to bless you. Often without your realizing it, He gives the beginning of answers, and places a great peace in your soul…because you have recognized your dependence upon the priest He has given to direct you.

                                                       Through spiritual direction, you have taken the greatest precaution a human being can take against pride. Pride is the greatest enemy of a Christian, the one sure guide to hell. Pride is the devil’s daughter, or perhaps even the essence of the devil himself. It was pride that made him hurl into the endless heavens his terrible, challenging cry to God: “Non serviam!”

                                                       I know that there are some among you who, strangely enough, still question deep down in your souls the need of spiritual direction. Due to spiritual sloth, you do not see the need for communicating the state of your soul to that other Christ. He is the person whom you have chosen with the grace of God to lead your soul to the green hills of the Lord, to that sanctity and life of perfection that you have promised solemnly when you made your promise before the Blessed Sacrament. But to question the need of a spiritual director is to question God, the Church, and the popes themselves. [78]

If at no other moment in our lives as priests, certainly in the sacrament of reconciliation we ourselves, like the laity, must enter into that faith which perceives, embraces, lives reality.

Namely, in confession we must trust that our brother is indeed priest like us in persona Christi.

The same holds true in spiritual direction.

Can we really expect the laity to return to regular confession, to the place where the Merciful Christ dwells, if we are never there on our knees as true penitents, soaking the floor with our tears? [Mt.18:3; Mk.2:5; Lk.13:3; Jn.8:31,21; Jn.20:22,23]