Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Confession

I’ve always considered myself part of Generation BXVI — those of us who discovered the beauty of the Faith during the pontificate and through the teachings of the now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Wait -- what? Pope Benedict XVI reads his resignation notice during a consistory on February 11, 2013. Photo from dailymail.co.uk

Wait — what? Pope Benedict XVI reads his resignation notice during a consistory on February 11, 2013. Photo from dailymail.co.uk

(Bee-Ex-Vee-Ai! Sounds so snazzy!)

That’s why I really couldn’t help tearing up a bit as he left the Vatican last year.

He is an amazingly humble man — and a hipster pope in many ways, starting with his choice of footwear (red) and including, of course, the rare way he ended his pontificate (with a resignation notice written in Latin!). And all that, certainly, being a manifestation of his humility.

But all those wonderful qualities aside, it’s his diamond-like brilliance — clear and incisive — coupled with an evident piety, which impresses me the most. He can discuss the same stuff with his fellow theologians and then with children with such oomph and depth that it hits you softly the first time, then as seconds pass by you feel the impact more and more, and then you feel certain that you can think and pray about what he said for the next few days. His words — very much like Jesus’ — are inebriating! (In a good way.)

This brilliance and piety he displayed, for example, when he talked about Confession precisely in separate get-togethers with theologians and children during his papacy.

To the children, who had just received their First Communion, he explained why regular Confession is good, even if we end up confessing the same sins.

It is true: Our sins are always the same, but we clean our homes, our rooms, at least once a week, even if the dirt is always the same; in order to live in cleanliness, in order to start again. Otherwise, the dirt might not be seen but it builds up.

Something similar can be said about the soul, for me myself: If I never go to confession, my soul is neglected and in the end I am always pleased with myself and no longer understand that I must always work hard to improve, that I must make progress. And this cleansing of the soul which Jesus gives us in the sacrament of confession helps us to make our consciences more alert, more open, and hence, it also helps us to mature spiritually and as human persons.

Confession being like regular house cleaning! How vivid and simple can you get to explain frequent Confession?

Then Pope Benedict XVI exits a temporary confessional where he administered the Sacrament to four pilgrims of the World Youth Day in Madrid. Photo from CNS / L'Osservatore Romano

Ho-hum. Pope Benedict XVI exits from a temporary confessional where he administered the Sacrament to four pilgrims of the World Youth Day in Madrid. Photo from CNS / L’Osservatore Romano

And then to priests and bishops, he remarked that Confession is something wherein it is not only the penitent who receives some benefit, but the priest as well. He said, “The celebration of the sacrament of Penance has a pedagogical value for the priest, as regards his faith, as well as the truth and poverty of his person, and nourishes within him an awareness of the sacramental identity.”

His other words from that meeting with confessors:

The faithful and generous availability of priests to hear confessions — after the example of the great saints of the past from St John Mary Vianney to St John Bosco, from St Josemaría Escrivá to St Pius of Pietrelcina, from St Joseph Cafasso to St Leopold Mandić — shows all of us that the confessional may be a real “place” of sanctification.


Basically, hearing confession means witnessing as many professiones fidei as there are penitents, and contemplating the merciful God’s action in history, feeling tangibly the saving effects of the Cross and of the Resurrection of Christ, in every epoch and for every person.


Then, how much the priest can learn from exemplary penitents: through their spiritual life, the seriousness with which they carry out their examination of conscience, the transparency with which they admit their sins and their docility to the Church’s teaching and to the confessor’s instructions.

I’m sure he has more profound stuff about the Sacrament of Confession, but obviously I have not yet read his library of theological books — all written by himself!

Getting to know St John XXIII (Hint: he also confessed to an ordinary priest!)

At 9:00am Roman time today, Pope Francis declared two former popes Saints of the Catholic Church.

Everyone, of course, knows St John Paul II — but St John XXIII…?

St  John XXIII was also known as "the Good Pope" -- and most probably with the same sense of humor as Pope Francis'. Image from mahhai on Flickr.

St John XXIII was also known as “the Good Pope” — and, some say, had the same sense of humor as Pope Francis’. Image from mahhai on Flickr.

Like most Catholics now, I’m also a recent “acquaintance” of John XXIII. I used to recognize him only as the fat, jolly pope who convened the Second Vatican Council in the ’60s. I also knew he had a published journal — modestly titled Journal of a Soul — which gives us glimpses of his interior life.

But that was all.

Now that his canonization has finally come, I did some research. Of course, you know my bias. 😉

It turns out he also went to Confession. Haha! Of course, all popes (not just Pope Francis) would go to Confession regularly! Didn’t I say even St John Paul II used to confess once a week?

St John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1962. Whooooaaaa, clergy galore. Photo from CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano

St John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1962. Whooooaaaa, clergy galore. Photo from CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano

Born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli in 1881, St John XXIII reigned as Supreme Pontiff only for about five years. Brief, but what a church-changing period! He convened the Second Vatican Council, in a move that Pope Francis described today as a bold “openness to the Spirit”, as was the entire life of John XXIII. That Council, of course, had been misinterpreted by some but, in the mysterious ways of God, later on produced so much fruit and its true message came to light especially starting with the pontificate of St John Paul II. (Part of this message was the universal call to holiness — that everyone is called to become saints!)

And Confession — penance in general — was so much in the mind of the St John XXIII that he urged Catholics to do penitential acts in preparation for the Council. Months before the Council opened in October 1962, he issued the encyclical Paenitentia Agere (Doing Penance), in which he underlined the importance of penance in the spiritual life, both individual and ecclesial.

Doing penance for one’s sins is a first step towards obtaining forgiveness and winning eternal salvation,” he wrote. “No individual Christian can grow in perfection, nor can Christianity gain in vigor, except it be on the basis of penance.”

In a section where he discussed Baptism, he said:

…[W]ell may those sinners who have stained the white robe of their sacred baptism fear the just punishments of God. Their remedy is “to wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb”(cf. Rev. 7.14 )—to restore themselves to their former splendor in the sacrament of Penance—and to school themselves in the practice of Christian virtue. 

Former splendor! Restored to grace, we can indeed become as angelic as newly baptized infants.

The body of St John XXIII in the crypts of St Peter's Basilica. The lady is taking a picture...and praying. Photo from Fox News

The body of St John XXIII in the crypts of St Peter’s Basilica. The lady is taking a picture…and praying. Photo from Fox News

And did you know that St John XXIII also did something like what St John Paul II did decades later? A story goes: when he was still Patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Roncalli knelt and asked to go to Confession to one of his priests, whom he had caught doing something that a man of God wouldn’t. What he told the priest was simply edifying. Read the full article on page 2, par 1 »

After all this meager information I got, I’m now curious to know more about St John XXIII. His Journal should be a good start, right?

Confession and plenary indulgence

Plenary indul–what?

Plenary indulgence, ladies and gents.

I was reminded of this beautiful reality when the Holy Father was about to give his Urbi et Orbi message and blessing last Easter Sunday. The commentator said that a plenary indulgence could be gained, given that the usual conditions are met.

Pope Francis gives his Urbi et Orbi message on Easter Sunday. Photo from www.saltandlighttv.org

Pope Francis gives his Urbi et Orbi (To the City and the World) message on Easter Sunday. Photo from http://www.saltandlighttv.org

But what is a plenary indulgence?

Simply put, it’s the removal or “remission of all temporal punishment due to sin.” Sounds scary, I know. But focus your attention on “removal” or “remission”.

You see, when we sin, it’s like we’ve hammered a nail into a piece of wood that’s perfect for a sculpture. So what do we do? We pull out the nail; this is like Confession. But then, of course, the nail has already left an ugly hole. It has to be filled in. That filling in the hole is like plenary indulgence.

Ugly nails and holes... Photo by havent the slightest on Flickr

Ugly nails and holes… Photo by havent the slightest on Flickr

Remember that sin, though forgiven in Confession, leaves in us scars or imperfections which are, of course, unacceptable in Heaven, where all is holy and pure. That’s why, by God’s mercy, there is Purgatory. This is where we are purified by suffering — terrible, but full of joy and hope, since anyone who is in Purgatory is already assured of Heaven (it’s only a matter of how much the soul has to be purified). Theologians would say that the ‘sensorial’ sufferings of Purgatory are the same as those in hell; the only difference is that in Purgatory there is salvation in the end; hell is everlasting.

That period spent in Purgatory, my friends, is basically the temporal punishment due to sin.

Thus we can skip this stopover in Purgatory through a plenary, or full, indulgence (which, by the way, can be applied to oneself or to souls in Purgatory). We can also skip it through the mortifications or sacrifices we do or receive here on earth. No wonder the saints find so much consolation in suffering!

So what are the conditions so that one can gain plenary indulgence?

  1. Detachment from (or hatred for) sin, including venial sins
  2. Confession within several days before or after the indulgenced act
  3. Holy Communion within several days before or after the indulgenced act
  4. Prayer for the Pope and his intentions

Easy peasy! But then, of course, whether we have adequately fulfilled these conditions (especially #1) is known to God alone, so we can never be proud of ourselves and tell people that we have “fulfilled” all the conditions for the plenary indulgence. (Pride is a sin, right?)

If you want to know more about indulgences (the other type is called “partial indulgence”), visit this Catholic Encyclopedia article or this EWTN page. Indulge!

Why Confession is biblical

Yes, the Sacrament of Confession is biblical — as all the other Sacraments are.

There are, of course, many things that Jesus said and did which were not written in the Bible. As St John said to end his Gospel: “…there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (Jn 21:25).

Many of these unrecorded stuff, my friends, are kept carefully by our Mother the Church throughout the centuries. These form part of what we now call Sacred Tradition.

BUT, the Sacrament of Penance or Confession certainly is among those things Jesus explicitly said!

The Risen Christ appears to his disciples. It was the shock -- and the joy -- of their life. Image from awesomestories.com

The Risen Christ appears to his disciples. It was the shock — and the joy — of their life. Image from awesomestories.com

Before ascending to heaven, he commanded his disciples: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. […] If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.

And in terms of Confession being the reconciliation of the sinner with the Church, the Catechism reminds us of what Jesus said when he instituted the primacy of St Peter as ‘prince of the apostles’: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19).

The Church has always understood this “loosing” as excluding the unrepentant sinner from communion with the Church, and “binding” as restoring through Confession the contrite one to communion  (CCC 1445). Of course, this “binding and loosing” power cascades to all bishops and priests united to Peter — that is, the Pope.

So, yes, even if Jesus never said that we should believe only on what the Bible says, Confession is biblical and is indispensable.

Video: Pope Francis goes to Confession — and why we should, too

Talk about setting a good example.

Pope Francis, after presiding a penitential service (not equivalent to Confession, but leading to it) as part of the “Festival of Forgiveness” that started yesterday, unexpectedly goes to Confession!

The master of ceremonies, who was leading the Pope to his assigned confessional where he would hear confessions, was for a split second kind of disoriented, when the Holy Father detoured to a nearby confessional. The Pope knelt and is seen making his Confession to a (lucky) priest. The rite reportedly lasted a few minutes.

Now isn’t that a perfect keynote to the “Festival of Forgiveness”?!

So what are we waiting for? Let’s go to Confession!

Pope Francis’ ‘celebration of forgiveness’

And so, Pope Francis promises not a climax, but a powerful ignition, of a wild campaign of mercy.

Some days ago (sorry I couldn’t blog quickly enough!), the Holy Father announced in his Sunday Angelus that March 28-29 will be a “celebration of forgiveness.”

Pope Francis as champion of Confession. Photo from patheos.com

Pope Francis as champion of Confession. Photo from patheos.com

From midnight of March 28 to midnight of March 29, St Peter’s Basilica and various churches and parishes the world over will have prayer sessions and Confessions galore. Priests will be available to hear confessions.

Pope Francis calls the event “24 hours for the Lord.”

I really hope that bishops and parish priests would look at this as the signal to open the dams of God’s mercy and make the Sacrament of Confession available in all parishes regularly (if possible, daily!) — no more “by appointment only” Confessions!

Pope Francis and Confession

Everybody loves Pope Francis. So his remarks on the Sacrament of Confession throughout his pontificate so far are nothing less than fantastic!

Pope Francis calls on his flock to go to Confession. Photo: The Telegraph

Pope Francis calls on his flock to go to Confession. Photo: The Telegraph

In his early days as Supreme Pontiff, he already did some sort of keynote on the Sacrament (though perhaps indirectly) when he said that “the Lord never tires of forgiving us, never! We are the ones who get tired of asking forgiveness.”

Touché, right?

Fast forward 11 months and still we are getting encouragement from the Pope to go to Confession.

“Do not be afraid of Confession,” he said in an audience last month. “When I go to confession, it’s for healing: healing the soul, healing the heart because of something that I did to make it unwell.”

This reminds me of what he confided last November — that he goes to Confession every two weeks.

“Priests, too, need confession, even bishops” Pope Francis said. “We are all sinners. Even the Pope goes to confession every two weeks because the Pope, too, is a sinner… My confessor hears what I say, offers me advice and forgives me. We all need this.

It was, for me, a grand manifestation of how crucial the Sacrament of Confession is, such that even the Vicar of Christ himself needs it!

Are we greater than popes?