Friday, August 14, 2009

“Father, can I have a confession?”

“Father, puwede ho ba akong mangumpisal sa inyo pagpunta n’yo rito sa Tarragona?” The voice was so soft and pleading. A mixture of timidity and determination to do what she longs to do for a great number of years could be perceived in it. “Oo ba. Sige, pagdating ko d’yan, bago mag-umpisa ang misa”, was my response.

I go to Tarragona twice a month this summer (July and August) to celebrate Tagalog mass with the Filipino community there. Before the mass starts, I always make an announcement encouraging those whose wanted to make a confession to approach me or the community officers. But oftentimes, I get no reply.

This time, the reply comes through the phone. And the lady is calling from Tarragona to Valencia, in a parish where I stay this summer. Indeed, when I arrived in Tarragona two Sundays ago, I had three penitents waiting in line. Praise the Lord!

* * *

What a change of reaction! I remember in my two years as newly-ordained priest in Davao, how I have greatly desired to receive the faculty to hear confession immediately after the ordination. But out of obedience, I had to adhere to the bishop’s custom of delaying the grant of such faculty to newly-ordained. After a few months, I received the faculty to hear confessions only of little children.

Then, as I was assigned in the seminary, I was given permission to exercise such faculty to all the faithful in the archdiocese. I remember how I stayed hours, together with other young priests, hearing the confessions of retreatants from colleges and universities, teachers and students alike, of religious sisters, etc. And with the long lines of penitents, how I had wished it would soon be finished.

Indeed, a priest needs supernatural sense to feel immense joy at the sight of endless queues of penitents. I had prayed hard for this grace because the immediate human reaction is to say “Oh God, how long it would take me to finish this!” And the physical and psychological fatigue was unbearable. But now, what a joy to find even three penitents!

* * *

When I was a seminarian, I observed that in every parish a signboard reads: Confession, every Friday, 5-6 PM, (or other day, depending on the parish) or upon appointment, which means, as the penitents call on a priest for confession. Yet I noticed – now as a priest – that a few penitents follow this last one. Those who really have the custom to confess regularly would prefer to follow the given schedule.

Now, when they would present themselves on the given parish schedule, hardly they could find a priest in the confessional. Where’s the priest? “In his room,” the sacristan may answer. “Just call him if someone wants to confess”, he would add. “Why would I stay in the confessional if no one wants to confess?” would be a seemingly justifiable cry of the parish priest. Besides, he has a lot other parrochial concerns: meetings, reports, invitations, emails, homily preparation, etc.

I think, the priest’s presence inside the confessional is a great encouragement for penitents (especially those who are still in doubts if they’d go or not, or those who are timid to ask the priest who is still in his room) to finally decide to receive the sacrament. I have proven it myself recently.

* * *

This summer, in one parish I am helping, I usually come 30 minutes before the mass. In other days, I would stay and prepare for the mass at the Adoration Chapel. But one day, it occurred to me something different. I put on an alb and a violet stole. Then, I sat in the confessional. There were only five persons in the church.

As soon as I have taken my seat, one old woman approached, kneeled down and started her confession. She was followed by two others. At other times when I was at the chapel, it seldom happened that one would approach and request for confession. How much more if I were confined in the comfort of my room!

* * *

One last consideration: the use of confessional. Aside from the fact that this is the prescription of the Church as the ordinary place to dispense grace – the court room of Christ’s mercy, I think the use of confessional is both prudent and catechetical.

If psychologists and psychiatrists, medical doctors and dentists attend to their patients in designated places – have you seen a doctor operating a cancer patient outside, even if the operating room is just nearby? – and whenever we want to open up some intimate truths to someone, we always go a private place, why can’t we do with more reverence whenever we dispense God’s grace in the Sacrament of Confession?

Besides, it is the penitent’s right to be confessed privately. If he wants anonymity, he should not be denied of it. How many people I know who are inhibited to confess because they are ashamed of their parish priest!

Confession outside the confessional is done only in extra-ordinary circumstances. But I think, in a parish, not having a confessional is not an extra-ordinary circumstance where it is very possible to construct one or two.

On this Year for Priests, we are told how St. John Mary Vianney spent up to 18 hours hearing confession. But we should not forget that before he reached this mark, he also spent hours inside the confessional without hearing the words: “Father, can I have a confession?”

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"Sacerdotes, 'consagrados en la Verdad'"

Estar inmersos en la Verdad, en Cristo, de este proceso forma parte
la oración, en la que nos ejercitamos en la amistad con Él y aprendemos a
conocerle: su forma de ser, de pensar, de actuar. Rezar es un caminar en
comunión personal con Cristo, exponiendo ante Él nuestra vida cotidiana,
nuestros logros y nuestros fracasos, nuestras fatigas y nuestras alegrías -es un
simple presentarnos a nosotros mismos ante Él. Pero para que esto no se
convierta en un autocontemplarse, es importante que aprendamos continuamente a
rezar rezando con la Iglesia.