Rorate Caeli

"No Confessions will be heard"
- A Confessor's Examination of Conscience

A guest-post by Fr. Bec (pen name)

Eugène Ernest Hillemacher
A confessional at Saint Peter's, Rome, on Easter Sunday (1847)
Musée d'Orsay

A few days before Christmas last year, a sign appeared on the door of a confessional in a certain cathedral that read, "No Confessions will be heard from Sunday 22nd to Wednesday 25th."

​In this same church, priests have often been seen closing the confessional and walking past as many as twenty, thirty, and even more persons who have waited patiently but unsuccessfully to go to confession during the half hour scheduled before noon Mass. For several years, each time he has made it into that confessional, at least one of those penitents has requested more time or more confessors, to meet the obvious need.

At being made aware of this, my first reaction as a priest was to pity those souls, and to rashly judge the priests who were not hearing their confessions. But quickly I realized that neither of these was appropriate. Instead, I should offer to help, both penitents and priests, perhaps by sitting in the other confessional, perhaps hearing confessions for a longer time. Perhaps the people and the priests would accept such an offer of help from another priest.

But what if they did not? What else could a priest do in such circumstances? If pity and indignation are not appropriate, then what is?

O Lord, have mercy on those who seek Your forgiveness and healing through absolution! O Lord, have mercy on those men You chose to be priests to offer that absolution. O Lord, have mercy on me, who like them, am a sinner and a priest. Enlighten me, O Lord, as a priest and sinner. Show me what I should do. Show me how I can help.

If sinners should examine their conscience, admit their guilt and reform their lives, all with the help of Your grace, then I as a priest with the power and mission to absolve sinners, should do the same.

Confessor's Examination of Conscience :

O Lord, have mercy on me for I am a sinner. Enlighten my mind and make me aware of my faults in the exercise of Your holy priesthood. Reveal my true intentions and inspire in me repentance and an increase in zeal for souls and a desire to please and serve You and Your Holy Church.

Do I make provision so that the confessions of the faithful entrusted to me are heard when they reasonably seek to be heard and that they have the opportunity to approach individual confession on days and at times established for their convenience? Or do I give priority to my personal activities and schedule?

Do I visit the sick and shut-ins to bring You to them in Holy Communion, giving them opportunity to receive You worthily by also offering to hear their confessions? Or do I expect someone else to do this?

Do I seek out the sick and dying to console them, to bring them the Sacraments, and to help them prepare for their judgment before You? Or do I wait to be called? Do I feel inconvenienced when I am?

Do I prefer the effort of helping sinners change so that they can frequent the Sacraments worthily? Or do I prefer the relative ease of demanding that the Sacraments change so that sinners can receive them frequently?

When, like the Magdalene, sinners are exposed and brought before You, do I insist You justify punishing them according to the law? Or do I hope You will be merciful to them, and me, with absolution and the grace to go and sin no more?

Do I perform sacramental rites by routine? Or do I take care to offer the Sacraments reverently with the proper matter, form and intention?

Do I, in keeping with tradition, presume the validity of the sacraments offered by others? Am I more like the Donatists or like Saint Augustine, who by his very correction of their heresy, upheld and defended the validity of their sacraments?

Am I united to other priests by a zealous desire to foster the worthy and frequent reception of the Sacraments. Or am I detached from priests from other parishes, dioceses, religious orders or rites.

Do I profess and require unity of doctrine and practice with virtually all popes and bishops and saints throughout history, or is the unity I profess and require with only some popes?

Do I quote canons, decrees and encyclicals with the intent to exclude and condemn, to trouble and confuse, to frighten away or deprive from the Sacraments? Or do I adopt the intention expressed in the context of those same canons, decrees and encyclicals to invite to repentance and reconciliation, and to foster the worthy reception of the Sacraments?

Do I elevate disputes over ecclesiastical politics, canonicity and even expressions of doctrine, above my duty as a shepherd and pastor of souls to cooperate in nourishing, healing and protecting Your flock. Am I more willing to put myself at risk to seek out the sheep who wander or stray than I am to banish them?

Like our Father in Heaven, do I desire the return of prodigals and meet them eagerly at the first sign of their return? Or do I complain about the scandal they have caused and question their motives?

Am I annoyed when other places are established in which other priests offer the Sacraments? Am I pleased when they close or leave? Or do I welcome other flocks to become one fold lead by the one Good Shepherd.

Do I compete with other priests for reputation or collections? Or do I cooperate with them, pray for them, and praise the good they do?

O Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you and how sorry I am for being a cowardly priest and acting like a hireling. I beg your mercy and forgiveness, and the mercy and forgiveness of other priests, for the scandal I have caused. Teach me also to be merciful and forgive, in the confessional and out of it, for love of You, so that, like You, I may feed Your sheep and keep them safe, and lay down my life for them. Amen.