In his speech, Francis noted how young priests have an "advantage – so-to-speak" when it comes to hearing the confessions of other young people, a proximity of age "favors even sacramental dialogue."
On the other hand, there are limitations and challenges to being at the beginning of their ministry and therefore lacking in the experience of an older confessor, he said.
With these thoughts in mind, he asked, how do we go about listening to sacramental confessions, especially of the young, when it comes to vocational discernment?
"First of all, I would say that it is always necessary to rediscover, as St Thomas Aquinas says, the instrumental dimension of our ministry," he said. "The priest confessor is not the source of Mercy or of Grace; he is certainly the indispensable tool, but always just an instrument!"
Being intentionally aware of this can help keep priests from becoming what Francis called "masters of consciences" instead of humbly listening to the Holy Spirit. He emphasized that seeing oneself as an instrument is not a lessening of the priest's role in confession, but "the full realization of [the ministry]."
The Pope also stressed that confessors should listen carefully to any questions before offering answers, and when these two elements come together in sacramental dialogue, it can help to open up the journey of prayer and prudence that is vocational discernment.
Concluding, he encouraged the present and future confessors to be "witnesses of mercy, humble hearers of young people and God's will for them, always respectful of the conscience and freedom of those who approach the confessional."
He reminded them to entrust penitents to Mary, "who is the Refuge of sinners and Mother of mercy."
Hannah Brockhaus is Catholic News Agency's senior Rome correspondent. She grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and has a degree in English from Truman State University in Missouri.