Posted June 19, 2003
Six Qualities of an “Effective Confessor”By Most Rev. Gregory M. Aymond
Taken from Spiritual Physician: Living Christ’s Own Mission of Healing Love
An annual symposium co-sponsored by: The Institute for Priestly Formation and Notre Dame Seminary, February 28-March 3, 2002
One who celebrates the Sacrament of Penance with others must first of all be a man of prayer. As we know in theological education, it is not enough to know about God. We must know God personally. We have to know His mercy and His healing, and I think that if anyone is going to be effective as a confessor that person must read and read frequently the Gospel healing stories where Jesus reached out and was the physician.
Second, I suggest that to be an effective confessor we must be in touch with our own conversion story. As we know from our conversion story, the call to continue to be disciples never ends. It is part of life’s experience. What does our conversion story look like and when was our conversion story the most negative? When did we feel the most unforgiven, the most ashamed for what we did and how did Jesus deal with us? If we are not in touch with that gift of mercy and forgiveness that God gives us and if we do not appreciate it as part of our own conversion story, then we will end up not being open and reflective with others who come to us. I suggest that if we have not done so we should write out, in our hearts and maybe even on paper, our own conversion story. For some people it has been dramatic events. For many of us it has not been dramatic. It is God chipping away here and there; however, it has been a consistent conversion story. Are we really in touch with the sacred story that is our own with God?
Third, in order to be an effective confessor we must celebrate the Sacrament of Penance with some regularity and truly experience healing ourselves. We are wounded healers. We are invited to celebrate the sacrament and to appreciate it.
Fourth, to be an effective confessor we must examine the image of ourselves when we go into that room of reconciliation. Hopefully, it is not one of judge. And hopefully it is not even one of being the presider of the sacrament. I would hope that it is not simply one of being a pastoral counselor or even a spiritual director. It seems clear to me that from reading the Rite of Penance, and from reading the Scriptures there is actually only one image that Jesus invites us to and that is the image of being the healer, the physician.
Fifth, to be an effective confessor we must pray for the penitents who come to us. Sometimes it seems to me we are called, without telling the penitent or anyone else, to do penance for them and with them. Their needs become our own. We carry with them and we want to unite with them in a spiritual way and we try to become part of the remedy by doing penance for them and with them.
Sixth, to be an effective minister of the sacrament we must listen with not just our ears, but also with our hearts; we must listen with compassion and patience. Yes, even on a Saturday afternoon when we know that there are still seventeen other people in line. How do we do that? I know that is asking a lot and I know that this is not easy.