Thoughts for July 26 from Fr Willie Doyle

Pope Benedict preparing to hear Confessions in St Peter's Basilica

I, too, used long ago to hate Confession, for no reason whatever, till as a priest I began to realize the fact that it is the biggest help and quickest means to holiness, since a Sacrament pours grace into the soul.

COMMENTS: Fr Doyle is of course correct in stating that there is no reason whatever for fearing Confession. But unfortunately the practice of frequent confession seems to have gone out of fashion somewhat in some parts of the world.

Fr Doyle, firstly as a mission preacher and secondly as a military chaplain was well aware of the importance, and power, of Confession. His notes and letters are full of stories of how his soldiers were relieved to be able to receive the sacrament before going into battle. From one of Fr Doyle’s letters:

When I finished breakfast, I found a big number of men waiting for Confession. I gave them Communion as well, though they were not fasting, as they were going to the trenches that evening and being in danger of death could receive the Blessed Sacrament as Viaticum. It was the last Communion for many poor fellows who, I trust, are praying for me in Heaven now.

Having polished off all who came to the Church, I made a raid on the men’s billets, and spent a few hours in stables, barns, in fact anywhere, shriving the remainder who gladly availed themselves of the chance of settling up accounts before they started for the front. The harvest, thank God, was good and consoling. Just before they marched at six in the evening, I gave the whole regiment – the Catholics, at least – a General Absolution. So the men went off in the best of spirits, light of heart with the joy of a good conscience. ‘Good-bye, Father’, one shouted, ‘we are ready to meet the devil himself now’.

In a certain sense this man was, probably unbeknownst to himself, onto something interesting. The sacrament confers grace which strengthens us to overcome temptations in the future. The fact that we probably don’t feel that grace doesn’t matter; it is still there and will help us in our struggles with temptation. As St Jean Marie Vianney, said:

When you have made a good Confession, you have chained up the devil

We shall end today with these beautiful words from Pope Benedict XVI from his letter announcing the opening of the year for priests:

Priests ought never to be resigned to empty confessionals or the apparent indifference of the faithful to this sacrament. In France, at the time of the Curé of Ars, confession was no more easy or frequent than in our own day, since the upheaval caused by the revolution had long inhibited the practice of religion.

Yet he sought in every way, by his preaching and his powers of persuasion, to help his parishioners to rediscover the meaning and beauty of the sacrament of Penance, presenting it as an inherent demand of the Eucharistic presence.

He thus created a virtuous circle. By spending long hours in church before the tabernacle, he inspired the faithful to imitate him by coming to visit Jesus with the knowledge that their parish priest would be there, ready to listen and offer forgiveness. Later, the growing numbers of penitents from all over France would keep him in the confessional for up to sixteen hours a day.

It was said that Ars had become ‘a great hospital of souls’. His first biographer relates that ‘the grace he obtained [for the conversion of sinners] was so powerful that it would pursue them, not leaving them a moment of peace!’.

The saintly Curé reflected something of the same idea when he said: ‘It is not the sinner who returns to God to beg his forgiveness, but God himself who runs after the sinner and makes him return to him’. ‘This good Saviour is so filled with love that he seeks us everywhere’.

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