The Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Joaquim Meisner, addressed priests from around the world gathered at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome on Wednesday, telling them that nothing is more important for a priest than conversion of heart because only this will enable them to fulfill their mission to bring Christ to others.
Speaking to some 4,000 priests, the German cardinal said that making “corrections” to ecclesial structures is not sufficient to evangelize priests, but rather a “change of heart” must occur because “the greatest obstacle to the transmission of Christ is sin.”
Sin, the cardinal said, “prevents the presence of Christ in our lives. Therefore, in our mission, nothing is more important than conversion.”
Cardinal Meisner underscored the importance of priests dedicating time to Confession—both to administer it and to receive it—and said one of the “most tragic losses the Church has suffered in the second half of the 20th century” is the loss “of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of Reconciliation.”
“When the faithful ask me: ‘How can we help our priests?’ I always respond: ‘Go to Confession,’” the cardinal said, underscoring that “when the priest is no longer a confessor, he becomes a religious worker.”
Cardinal Meisner said simply changing the structures of the Church “in order to put on a more attractive show” is not the answer. “What we need is a change of heart, a change in my heart. Only a converted Paul could change the world, not an engineer of ecclesial structures.”
“A priest who never kneels on the other side of the screen suffers permanent damage in his soul and mission,” the cardinal continued. “Here we see one of the main causes” of the multiple crises facing the priesthood in the last 50 years,” he stated. “When the priest abandons the confessional, he enters into a grave identity crisis.” “Why does a sacrament that evokes so much joy in heaven and on earth bring about such antipathy?” he asked. “Only with the humility of a child, like the saints, can we accept with the joy the difference between our indignity and the magnificence of God.”
Priests who receive the sacrament of Reconciliation frequently demonstrate their spiritual maturity, the cardinal taught. “Because it is in the Sacrament of Penance that I encounter the merciful Father who has the most precious of gifts.”
“To be on both sides of the screen in the confessional allows us, through our witness, to help our people experience Christ. In order to truly forgive, we need much love. The only forgiveness that we can really give is that which we have received from God,” he added.
The International Meeting of Priests is being promoted by the Congregation for the Clergy with the theme, “Faithfulness to Christ, Faithfulness of the Priest.” All the priests of the world have been invited to the event that will conclude the Year of Priests, convened by Pope Benedict XVI to mark the 150th anniversary of St. Jean Marie Vianney.