Have you ever noticed that the lines for Holy Communion are long and yet the lines for Confession are short – whereas in times past, it was the opposite … I have often wondered – what happened? What happened to people in their desire for God’s mercy? Was that even a real desire? Was confession back then simply a matter of satisfying God’s divine justice? Or perhaps a bad experience has driven many away from the sacrament … and people make up all sorts of excuses to avoid confession … I’m a good person, I confess privately to God … But it boils down, I think, to a misunderstanding of the nature of who the priest really is …
St. John tells us that Jesus breathed on His apostles… He breathed on them… The Greek word ‘to breathe’ in this instance walks us back to the very beginning of creation when the spirit ‘breathed’ over the waters – giving life to creation – it’s the same word … Jesus, echoing that very action, does the same for His apostles – He breathes His life into them … He imparts to them His own divine life and goodness – which gives them the necessary authority to forgive sins … why? Because He tells them to! He breathes into the apostles and follows up with that command: Forgive people’s sins … They thus become an extension of Christ Himself, they continue His mission of redemption – the salvation of souls … and that authority has been passed on through Apostolic Succession down through the history of the Church … for you and for me … so that we too may be able to receive God’s Divine mercy … that we may be restored to right relationship with God … This is the mission of the priest – the salvation of souls …. In the sacramental life of the Church, we discover the identity of the priest … He is an extension of Christ – the reason why so many people avoid confession is because we don’t believe who the priest is any more … The reason why so many do not believe in the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is because we do not believe in who the priest is …. And the reality is this: no priests – no confession, no Eucharist … no Church.
My students at Pope Francis Prep – they get it… I mentioned it to them in my Confirmation class – if we believe in a God who out of nothing can create, and breathe His own life into creation, if we believe that this same God could become a human being, perform miracles, rise from the dead – If this God of ours can do all that… can He not pass that authority on to others? Can He not make priests? Why, then are we so slow to believe that He is present in the Eucharist? Why are we so slow to believe in His power to forgive our sins?
Friends, we are in a crisis… The crisis of vocations is a crisis of faith … We need to reclaim that faith … And we need to do our part to reclaim it … not just promoters of faith but also of vocations. Here’s how: we need to show our young people how necessary priests are in our lives … how we cannot live without the Eucharist and Confession; we need to pray for them, for vocations and speak up to encourage our young people to do God’s will… to listen to His voice.
Though we are in a crisis, there is good news: our numbers are on the upswing … Currently we have 3 men in application to study for the Diocese of Springfield and we have 2 seminarians. That means, potentially, this fall we could have 5 seminarians, when just 3 years ago we had none. We need to keep this momentum going … do not be afraid to encourage the men of our diocese to consider the priesthood – and our young women too, to consider religious life … Don’t be afraid to lend your voices to them in words that help them to understand who Jesus is and why faith in Him is necessary… and of course, pray for our seminarians, our candidates, and for more vocations … the next generation of priests are out there and we have to find them, to help them hear God’s call.