Dear SJN Families and Friends,
A few years ago Monsignor Al and I were in Rome for a meeting of the Missionaries of Mercy. We had the opportunity to share our experiences with brother priests, venerate the relics of great confessor saints [including Padre Pio] brought to St. Peter’s for that purpose, concelebrate Masses in the major basilicas and attend lectures with Pope Francis. One of the memories Pope Francis shared was his own first confession as a child and the tenderness of the confessor.
I was always a little afraid of confession as a child, at least until I actually went – then I most often felt relief. It wasn’t until I was in the monastery for a little while that I started to go more frequently. Fr. Philip, one of my confreres who was killed in the shootings in 2002, was my confessor for a few years. He was pretty blunt outside the confessional and remarkably kind in the confessional. After he died I went to confession to a couple of the other older monks. Confession in the monastery was practically luxurious… I could [and sometimes did] go daily. I can’t help but think now of the people in Ukraine – so many of them or Catholic or Orthodox, and thus participate in the sacraments. Countless women and children are on the move to other countries and most men are still in the country to defend their homeland. The contrast is stark… in the monastery confession and sacramental absolution are available at the drop of a hat… or a cowl – and in Ukraine everything is fluid and shifting. It reminds me of St. Ignatius of Loyola – before he was the founder of the Jesuits he was a successful Spanish officer. During a battle for Pamplona [the French were attacking], Ignatius held out against the votes of other officers who argued for surrender. There wasn’t a priest around so he confessed his sins to a fellow soldier. He did the best he could in the moment. Ignatius ended up being injured by a ricocheted canon ball and convalescing through his conversion. This is what the Lord asks of us – to do the best we can.
During the season of Lent please pray for our younger brothers and sisters who will be making their first confessions. And pray, too, for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine and all who are hindered from freedom. May the Lord who frees us from the power of death, free us from all bondage, oppression and harm. God bless you all!
In Christ, Fr. Joe