My very wise and compassionate spiritual director for the past 18 years, Father Jack, often reminds me as I ask him to hear my confession as we conclude our monthly meeting, “But of course, for Confession is the Easter Sacrament.”
So true, because we are an Easter people, a people of the Resurrection, and thus a people reconciled to God. St. John’s Gospel relates for us that when the Resurrected Jesus appeared to the Apostles in the upper room on that first Easter night, He breathed on them, conferring upon them the gift of the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive sins in His name.
This 4th Sunday of Easter is traditionally called Good Shepherd Sunday since we proclaim Jesus’ discourse in John Chapter 10 that He indeed is the Good Shepard who willingly lays down His life for His sheep. It is also World Day of Prayer for Vocations. We implore the Good Shepherd to inspire in His faithful an abundance of priests and religious men and women to serve in fulltime, lifelong pastoral ministry in the Church.
Back to the Easter Sacrament. For many Catholics, Confession (or the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation) has been reduced to the Advent and/or Lenten Sacrament. Many dutifully (and laudably) attend parish penance services during these two holy seasons but rarely seek out a priest in the Confessional at other times of the year. Please remember: As Catholic priests, we are always ready to receive back into the fold the Good Shepherd’s straying, sinful sheep at any and every time of the year.
May I humbly propose to you that making an Easter resolution to return back to Confession during this holy Paschal time may be the best Easter gift that you could give yourself (and your family) during these 50 holy days. Frequent confession is such a blessing for the soul — not out of scrupulosity but as a genuine desire to remain in a state of Grace.
I will be seeing Father Jack for my monthly spiritual direction meeting a few days before Good Shepherd Sunday. As always, I will ask him to hear my confession. Father Jack will be for me a living embodiment of the Good Shepherd as I implore the Risen Lord Jesus to forgive my sins and heal my wounded soul.
For the past four years, Archbishop Gomez, our local shepherd, has provided a wonderful gift to his priests during Holy Week. We now have an annual Day of Recollection for all of the bishops and priests of the archdiocese at the Cathedral Conference Center before the Chrism Mass on Monday of Holy Week. This year Bishop Robert E. Barron gave two inspiring conferences on Jesus’ attributes as Priest, Prophet, and King, especially for us in the context of the current Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. To fully celebrate Jesus’ gift of Divine Mercy for His people, and to more fully prepare ourselves for the Paschal Triduum, in between Bishop Barron’s two conferences the cathedral was closed for about 75 minutes.
During that time, a most remarkable event occurred. About 20 priests were stationed throughout the cathedral sanctuary vested in a white Alb and purple stole. And we priests had the opportunity to avail ourselves of the same Sacrament that most of us spent dozens of hours celebrating throughout Lent — many of the almost 450 of us present went to confession.
Imagine the scene:
Young priests seeking out the counsel and wisdom of a more seasoned confessor. Close friends humbly and trustingly experiencing God’s healing grace from guys they went to the high school seminary with. Bishops going to confession to recently ordained priests! In other words, doing what ordinary Catholics do all the time — reaching out to Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd, just like you do when you seek out your pastor or a beloved priest from your childhood or youth for confession. We priests need to do the same.
I sat in the pews of the cathedral with tears in my eyes during that precious time for us together as brother priests in the Archdiocese. What a beautiful sight. Priests confessing their sins to brother priests. I wish we could have been livestreaming these remarkable 75 minutes to the rest of world to give them a glimpse into the fraternity, faith, joy, and hope of your priest shepherds.
That was during the last week of Lent in Holy Week. But as Father Jack will inevitably remind me this week when I see him, Confession is especially the Easter Sacrament — the gift of the Resurrected Jesus’ mercy, love, peace, grace, healing, forgiveness, blessing, goodness and so much more, through His priests. As priests, we both receive and dispense these treasuries of graces from the Merciful and Sacred Heart of the Good Shepherd.
As we celebrate World Day of Prayer for Vocations on this Good Shepherd Sunday, let us rejoice that we can receive, renew, or have restored the very life of Jesus Christ in this sacrament for all seasons, but especially during the Easter Season.
May our local Church in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles always have an abundance of priests to celebrate the sacraments for the faithful and many religious to guide us on the path to holiness and encounter with the Good Shepherd.
Father Samuel W. Ward is associate director of vocations.
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