Confession teaches both priests and penitents to be humble and aware of God’s forgiveness, Pope Benedict XVI said March 25.
“By administering the Sacrament of Penance we can receive profound lessons of humility and faith,” he told a gathering of priests at the Vatican. “For each priest, this is a powerful call to an awareness of his own identity. Never could we hear the confessions of our brothers and sisters merely on the strength of our own humanity.”
“If they come to us it is only because we are priests, configured to Christ, the Supreme and Eternal Priest, and granted the capacity of acting in His Name and Person, so as to make present the God Who forgives, renews and transforms,” the Pope said.
His remarks addressed participants in an annual course organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Vatican tribunal in charge of granting indulgences, resolving sins reserved to the Pope, and resolving matters of conscience forwarded to the Holy See.
The course concerned the “internal forum,” a technical term for the personal area of conscience and judgment in the priest-penitent relationship.
Pope Benedict told the priests that the sacrament of Penance teaches the priest about his faith and the truth and poverty of his person. It also nourishes in him an awareness of his sacramental identity.
He also pointed out that individual freedom and self-awareness are expressed “particularly clearly” in the sacrament.
"It is perhaps for this reason too that, in an age of relativism and of the consequent reduced awareness of self, the practice of this Sacrament should also have diminished.”
The pontiff then touched on the practice known as an examination of conscience, which involves a review of one’s sins and failings. This practice, he said, teaches Catholics to compare their lives with “the truth of the Gospel.”
Comparing one’s life with the Commandments, the Beatitudes and “above all” the commandment to love represents a great “school of penance,” Pope Benedict told the priests. An “integral confession” helps penitents recognize their own fragility, achieve an awareness of the need for God’s forgiveness, and achieve the belief that divine grace can transform life.
“(D)o not fail to give appropriate space to exercising the ministry of penance in the confessional. To be welcomed and heard is also a human sign of God's welcome and goodness towards His children,” he said.