As Christmas approaches, priests and penitents should remind themselves of the “miracle” of confession and how we should approach the sacrament with “full freedom,” a Vatican cardinal says. Cardinal Mauro Piacenza called the season of Advent is a time of “particularly attentive waiting,” a time both of men awaiting God and of God awaiting men, “whom he loves.” “The Lord sets himself to search for man,” the cardinal said in a Dec. 14 letter to confessors. Jesus Christ “continually calls men to conversion and, in these days of vigil, draws hearts with a unique tenderness towards the crib: 'Come to me all you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.'” The cardinal is prefect of the Apostolic Penitentiary, the tribunal of the Roman Curia whose responsibilities include the internal forum — matters of confession and spiritual direction. The free act of confession, Cardinal Piacenza said, is “a miracle that has the assistance of God himself” and is “sustained by God’s grace.” The cardinal said that confession is also a “gift” for the priest-confessor, who “always receives a light and special confirmation in the apostolate from contemplating this mystery.” He added that through the “ineffable gift” of their ordination, priests “participate intimately in the work of salvation” and share more closely in “the immense joy of the soul’s encounter with Him.” “Even as Mary Most Holy brought him forth to the world in the manger of Bethlehem, we bring him forth in the hearts of repentant sinners, and on the altar for their food and consolation,” the cardinal said. He stressed the need for “every authentic pastoral charity.” This charity is not only “much desired” by the Christian faithful, sought by the Church, and “so ardently insisted upon by the Holy Father.” This charity is “overflowing from the wounded Heart of Jesus.” Cardinal Piacenza also encouraged confessors to pray for one another, especially in preparation for Christmas, “so that, for confessors as much as for penitents, the smile of the Child Jesus may shine transformatively in their souls.” “And thank you for all you do as generous channels of the waters of divine mercy,” he added. Praising the Virgin Mary as the “perfect mirror of Christ’s charity and sign of sure hope in his victory over sin and death,” he prayed that she may “stake out a true and lasting spiritual ‘rebirth’” for all the members of the Church.