Advent in the life of a diocesan priest
Advent in the life of the diocesan priest usually means penance — lots of penance services that is.
This is a season of joyful expectation as we prepare for the coming of the Lord by maintaining vigilance in prayer and by confessing our sins so we receive our King with minds and hearts made pure. Thus, although we hear many confessions throughout the year, the many parish penance services of Advent take on a special significance for priests as we spend far more time in the “box” than usual. It is a short season as well, so we confessors have precious few moments to catch our breath let alone pause to marvel at the mystery of the Incarnate Word — the true reason for the season.
Although it can be a challenge for priests to truly delve into the mystery of the season as we have much to do, hearing confessions is truly a labor of love for us because our vocation to the priesthood is a precious gift. There is a sacred trust between priest and penitent within the sacrament that we are humbled to serve, unworthy that we are. People of all stripes come to parish penance services in particular, many of whom have not confessed in years. It is truly a joy to welcome those returning home to the Church with the words of absolution.
There is no sin too great to be forgiven for those of contrite heart and humble spirit who come before the Lord in the confessional asking for mercy. I will never forget how, as a newly — ordained priest, one of my elder brothers in the presbyterate gave me the advice, “never be surprised by sin in the confessional,” or, in other words, never be shocked or scandalized by what people will confess. I have also learned, time and again, that the mercy of the Lord in the sacrament never ceases to surprise.
We welcome and encourage all to approach the Lord in His mercy, knowing all too well how we ourselves are in desperate need of His forgiveness. We priests have drunk so deeply from the chalice of His mercy and love that our hearts yearn to absolve others.
One of my favorite moments as a priest came at the end of a penance service when I was able to confess as well. After I finished, my confessor wordlessly removed his stole and offered it to me so that I would absolve him, in turn. I was humbled to forgive him just as I had been forgiven.
We confessors have neither myrrh, nor gold, nor frankincense with which to greet the newborn King. Instead, we lay before Him the cries of the poor, the doubts of believers, the grief and anxieties of families, and above all, the sins of His people.
We bring Him our own troubled and tired hearts, as well — troubled by the seeming indifference of the lukewarm and wearied by our toil of mercy among His flock. But, we priests are blessed and eternally grateful for having received a share of His Spirit for the forgiveness of sins. And we are blessed to be forgiven time and time again by His merciful love.
To Him may all glory and honor be given, now and forever. Amen.