(Video credit: Catholic News Service)
Why are Catholics around the world talking about this? Why are we all so shocked? We have all heard reports that Pope Francis (like Benedict and John Paul before him) celebrates the sacrament of Reconciliation with great frequency. He has encouraged Catholics on multiple occasions to go to Confession. We have seen pictures of him hearing confessions at World Youth Day. But this, this was different.
There is nothing shocking about the fact that he went to confession. The Pope is, after all, Catholic. What has the world's attention is that he did it publicly. We can watch him on video kneeling before the priest, quietly sharing the sins he has committed, and humbly bowing his head to receive absolution. Just like we do.
A few year's ago at a Penance Service held at my parish on Divine Mercy Sunday, I watched as my regular confessor, sat down before another priest and went to confession in plain view of the entire church. At the time, I was just as stunned to witness him going to confession as I was to watch the Pope going last week. That day gave me a new view on the priesthood and on the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
We are all sinners - none of us is exempt from this condition. We are all in need of God's mercy and as Catholics we all have the opportunity to share in the great gift of sacramental Confession which the Lord Jesus gave to the church. The priest, or, for that matter, the Pope himself, is no different from the rest of us sinners when he is sitting on our side of the confessional. Watching the Pope, and my own confessor, celebrate the sacrament before my very eyes drove that point home to me in a way that just "hearing" about it never could. At the time, it gave me a comfort-level about going to Confession that I had not experienced before.
On the flip side, the priest hearing confessions has been given an extraordinary gift. By the anointing he has received at ordination, he acts in persona Christi, and dispenses Jesus' mercy and forgiveness in the Sacrament. The Pope himself, knelt before an "ordinary" priest, who on his side of the confessional, is able to do extraordinary things through the power of the Lord. The minute my confessor puts on his purple stole, and begins to hear my confession, it is palpably evident that this is not an ordinary conversation with an ordinary priest, but rather a "privileged encounter with Christ".
Click here for related posts:
I'm participating in #WorthRevisit Wednedays hosted by Allison at Reconciled to You and
Elizabeth at Theology is a Verb - head on over there for more inspiring Catholic posts.