Today, August 4th, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast day of St. John Vianney, patron saint of priests. St. John dedicated himself without hesitation to his parish in Ars, France, where he would spend 12-16 hours each day hearing confessions. Last year, my first as a priest, I recall the impulsive decision as I walked the fifteen steps from the rectory to the church to celebrate daily Mass on this feast; I decided, "In honor of John Vianney, I'm going to offer confessions after Mass today."
Seemed simple enough. An hour and a half after Mass ended, I finished with my last confession. I had, I guess, called people's bluff when I announced before the final blessing that I would be in the Reconciliation Room.
Since that time, I have made it my practice to offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation after daily Mass on days whenever the liturgical calendar identifies a feast celebrated for a priest or bishop, schedules permitting. This has been a rewarding experience for me, and I have been told a grace to many parishioners. Some, paying attention to the daily feasts, will now ask me before Mass: "Confessions this morning, Father?" Funerals and office appointments permitting, I love to be able to answer "Yes!" Sometimes there will be one person come to speak with me, sometimes twelve, or more. Each time, I know that it is the movement of the Holy Spirit in the life of those parishioners that presses them to enter into the Sacrament.
When discussing this first year as a parish priest with friends and fellow priests, I have found myself pointing to Reconciliation as perhaps the Sacrament where I feel God's action the most. I've described my own feeling with the analogy that as a priest in the reconciliation room, I get to model Simon of Cyrene and help to carry crosses that others have shouldered, sometimes for 5, 10, or 30 years. And usually, those long absences have been found when I call their bluff, when I simply say, "I'll be in the Reconciliation Room after Mass today." To be sure, there are many who simply like the convenience of not having to return on Saturday afternoon at the regularly scheduled time.
The picture accompanying this post is so apropos in this context: the stained glass window shows Simon holding the cross, while Jesus ministers to Veronica along the Way of the Cross.
I remain most grateful for the chance to serve God's people as a parish priest, to be, as the motto of my seminary reflects, "dispensers of the mysteries of God." On this feast of St. John Vianney, please remember to pray for your parish priests, for seminarians, and for the vocations of more men who will consider this wonderful ministry.
Please also pray that more and more people take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, opening themselves up to the abundant forgiveness Jesus has promised to each of His beloved disciples. With and through Jesus, we can declare that our yoke is easier and burdens are lighter.