The BBC is reporting that Pope Francis has dispatched 1000 priests to travel throughout the world with a singular mission: to forgive reserved sins confessed by penitents during this observance of the Year of Mercy. Reserved sins are those particular sins that involve the desecration of the Most Holy Eucharist, intentions to cause harm, or harming the Supreme Pontiff and of course the sin of abortion. While the Holy Father has already delegated the authority to bishops and priests world wide the permission to forgive a penitent from the grave sin of procuring an abortion, the 1000 supplemental priest confessors are welcome assistance. According to the press release of the BBC, some of the priests will be among indigenous peoples in nations such as Africa,Asia and some will minister in the frozen regions of the Arctic and Antarctic circles.
The priests are delegated by the Holy Father to absolve penitents from all sins, reserved and otherwise so that the year of mercy will experience a wellspring of God’s grace through the Sacrament of Confession. While it is great news for the far corners of the globe to have these specially designated priests as Ministers of Forgiveness, it is important to realize that forgiveness is also taking place in your local parish. Catholic parishes throughout the world have designated times for people to come and seek reconciliation through the Sacrament of Penance. One only needs to call the parish and ask when the Sacrament is being celebrated on a weekly basis.
A positive effect of Francis’ proclaimed Year of Mercy is perhaps a greater understanding and appreciation to this Sacrament that is often neglected and sometimes considered antiquated in our contemporary society. It is amazing to hear that most Catholics do not take advantage of the Sacrament of Penance, simply because they rationalize that they do not need the absolution of a priest. Most continue to erroneously believe that they are able to receive forgiveness by just asking God for forgiveness, regardless of the severity of the sins committed. Well, unfortunately it is necessary to remind everyone of the difference between a mortal sin and a venial sin.
The Baltimore Catechism defines a mortal sin as a grievous offense against the law of God.(Question 54, Baltimore Catechism).
The catechism further defines a venial sin as a slight offense against the law of God in matters of less importance, or in matters of great importance it is an offense committed without sufficient reflection or full consent of the will.(Question 57, Baltimore Catechism).
The conditions of the mortal sin are what makes it so grievous: To make a sin mortal three things are necessary: a grievous matter, sufficient reflection, and full consent of the will.
With those conditions observed, mortal sin requires the confession of the penitent and the absolution by a priest or bishop in the Sacrament of Penance. So, while there is an opportunity for all of us to take advantage of the Year of Mercy lets stop rationalizing the notion of mortal sin and have everyone, “man-up,” and go to confession! Yes it is one of those things that we all out off, like the biannual check-up and teeth cleaning at the dentist, the proverbial promise to, “loose weight,” when the New Year rolls around and the penultimate one that I love, ” Yes, I will clear off my desk and get more organized this year!” Domestic chores are important for living a happy life, spiritual chores are important for a happy temporal life, but most importantly a happy eternal life. So while there are legions of priests running around with permission to absolve even the most ferocious penitent…take advantage of the opportunity for God’s mercy and continued graces during this season of penitence Lent and in the Year of Mercy.
Another thought as well, priests need to make the message well heard to everyone that attends the Sacraments during the Year of Mercy. Of course, preaching to the already present penitents is always quite the oxymoron. Parishes need to embrace in a ministry of outreach, calling those that walk by, drive by or even wander by…that the Catholic Church is open for the business of forgiveness…please come home. A sign planted on the parish lawn, a spot on the electronic bulletin board or a listing in the local newspaper will help bring people back to take advantage of the Year of Mercy.
Finally, please Fathers, designate more than 1/2 hour on Saturday afternoon for the Sacrament of the Father’s love and mercy….
Finally, again…(sorry,) be available to those that want to receive the Sacrament without calling the rectory and making an appointment. After all, anonymity is STILL a legitimate option for the penitent. Please don’t make returning Catholics go through, voice mail hell, the parish secretary(who insists they know what the matter is regarding, ) or any other lay gatekeepers you might have in the parish office. Penitents want a priest, not a parish minister, a director of religious education, a part-time business manager or a door/phone attendant…a good old, Barry Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, “Going my Way!” PRIEST.
Hopefully, the Year of Mercy initiated by Pope Francis will restore for many fractured individuals a true experience of the Father’s love and mercy! God bless us and our priest confessors…Amen!