Join host Brian Patrick and me tomorrow morning at 8:40 AM on 740 AM Sacred Heart Radio as we continue our discussions on Pope John Paul's Holy Thursday Letters to Preists. We have arrived at 2002, on the interplay between the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Penance.
9. In the light of what has been said, it is all the more evident why the personal encounter between confessor and penitent is the ordinary form of sacramental Reconciliation, while the practice of general absolution is only for exceptional circumstances. It is well known that the practice of the Church moved gradually to the private celebration of penance, after centuries in which public penance had been the dominant form. Not only did this development not change the substance of the sacrament – and how could it be otherwise! – but it actually expressed this substance more clearly and made it more effective. This happened not without the aid of the Holy Spirit, who here too fulfilled the mission of leading the Church “into all truth” (Jn 16:13).
The ordinary form of Reconciliation not only expresses well the truth of divine mercy and the forgiveness which springs from it, but also sheds light on the truth of man in one of its most fundamental aspects. Although human beings live through a network of relationships and communities, the uniqueness of each person can never be lost in a shapeless mass. This explains the deep echo in our souls when we hear ourselves called by name. When we realize that we are known and accepted as we are, with our most individual traits, we feel truly alive. Pastoral practice needs to take this into greater account, in order to strike a wise balance between gatherings which emphasize the communion of the Church and other moments which attend to the needs of the individual. People ordinarily want to be recognized and looked after, and it is precisely this nearness to them that allows them to experience God's love more strongly.
Seen in these terms, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of the most effective instruments of personal growth. Here the Good Shepherd, through the presence and voice of the priest, approaches each man and woman, entering into a personal dialogue which involves listening, counsel, comfort and forgiveness. The love of God is such that it can focus upon each individual without overlooking the rest. All who receive sacramental absolution ought to be able to feel the warmth of this personal attention. They should experience the intensity of the fatherly embrace offered to the prodigal son: “His father ... embraced him and kissed him” (Lk 15:20). They should be able to hear that warm and friendly voice that spoke to the tax collector Zacchaeus, calling him by name to new life (cf. Lk 19:5).