VATICAN CITY, 11 MAR 2010 (VIS) - At midday today, the Pope received participants in an annual course on the "internal forum" organised by the Apostolic Penitentiary. By participating in the course, he told them, "you have shown the pressing need to dedicate deeper study to a subject that is essential for the ministry and the life of priests".
Benedict XVI recalled how this year's course coincides with the current Year for Priests, dedicated to St. John Mary Vianney, "who heroically and fruitfully exercised the ministry of Reconciliation. ... From the saintly 'Cure of Ars' we priests can learn not only a limitless trust in the Sacrament of Penance which leads us to reinstate it as the focus of our pastoral concerns, but also the method of 'the dialogue of salvation' which must be part thereof", he said.
"Awareness of one's own limits and the need to turn to Divine Mercy in order to ask forgiveness, to convert the heart and to find support on the path of saintliness, are fundamentals in the life of priests. Only someone who has himself experienced greatness can convincingly announce and administer the Mercy of God", the Holy Father explained.
The current cultural context, characterised by "a hedonistic and relativist mentality which tends to remove God from the horizon of life, does not facilitate our acquisition of a clear picture of reference values, and does not help us to discern good from evil or to develop a correct sense of sin". This, the Pope noted, is not very different from the period in which St. John Mary Vianney lived, marked as it was by "a mentality hostile to the faith, as expressed by certain forces that even sought to prevent the exercise of the priestly ministry.
"In these circumstances, the saintly 'Cure of Ars' made 'the church his home' in order to lead men and women to God", the Pope added, "and he appeared to his contemporaries to be an evident sign of God that he encouraged many penitents to come to his confessional". Thus, the Holy Father went on, "it is necessary for priests to live their own response to vocation 'exaltedly', because only someone who daily becomes living and clear presence of the Lord can arouse a sense of sin in the faithful, give them courage and stimulate their desire for forgiveness from God".
"The 'crisis' in the Sacrament of Penance, which is often spoken of, is an appeal addressed first and foremost to priests and to their great responsibility to educate the people of God in the radical demands of the Gospel. In particular, it calls on them generously to dedicate themselves to hearing sacramental confessions, and courageously to guide their flock not to conform itself to this world, but to make choices that go against the tide, avoiding deals and compromises".
Finally, Benedict XVI invited priests to open a "dialogue of salvation" with their penitents, as suggested by the "Cure of Ars". A dialogue that, "arising from the certainty of being loved by God, helps man to recognise his own sin and progressively to introduce himself into a stable process of conversion of heart, which leads to the radical rejection of evil and to a life lived in accordance with God's wishes".
AC/CONFESSION/APOSTOLIC PENITENTIARY VIS 20100311 (560)