THIS is the big challenge for priests who, in the person of Christ through their sacrament of Order, dispense divine mercy to the Christian faithful. They should see to it that they are neither too strict nor too lenient, neither giving too much nor too little.
Thatâ€™s why priests are strongly recommended to pray hard before hearing confessions and giving spiritual direction, if only to assume the very mind and heart of Christ himself who is the only one who forgives. Some pertinent words for this kind of prayer may be the following:
â€œGrant to me, O Lord, that wisdomâ€¦that I may know how to judge your people with justice, and your poor ones with equity. Let me so use the keys of the Kingdom of heaven that I may open to no one upon whom they should shut, nor close them to any for whom they should openâ€¦Let me be gentle without weakness, severe without harshnessâ€¦
â€œGrant me skill to lead them back from sin, zeal in confirming them in good, diligence in elevating them to better things. Grant me good judgment in answering questions, correctness in counseling. Give me light when things are obscure, wisdom when they are entangled, victory when they are difficultâ€¦â€
Especially now with the recommendations contained in Pope Francisâ€™ apostolic exhortation, Amoris laetitia (The joy of love), priests should be most sensitive to the different conditions people can find themselves in. they are practically thrown into the many shades of grey. This task has to start with respecting the different cultures in the world.
Let me quote some words of the Vatican-issued summary of the document with respect to this point: â€œFor some questions, â€˜each country or regionâ€¦can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs. For cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principleâ€¦needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied.â€
And besides respecting the different cultures, priests also have to consider the various differences of individuals in terms of temperament, social and economic status, etc. They have to learn to be â€œall things to all men to save all,â€ (1 Cor 9,22) knowing how to engage different kinds of individuals the way they are while giving the one message and saving mercy of Christ.
In other words, priests should not just give generic pieces of advice, delivered indiscriminately to everyone without giving due consideration to the concrete conditions of the penitents.
This will require a lot from priests who have to know how to enter into the mind and heart of each individual penitent. And this requires nothing less than a vital union with Christ, since it is only through him that a priest can effectively have the proper compassion.
That is why priests have to be properly formed and trained to at least be able to cope with this challenge. Though they also have their own temperament and idiosyncracies, priests should be open to the different kinds of people who approach them begging for mercy.
This is where they are exposed to the very vast field of grey area of the human condition, where they can find good and evil, strengths and weaknesses, innocence and malice mixed together. They should not get lost in cruising this grey area.
Thus, priests should have clear ideas as well as a heart full of pastoral charity. They have to be tough and sensitive at the same time but in different respects, focused on what is really essential but open to all conditions. They have to be father, brother, friend, doctor and judge to everyone.
They have to be quick to give forgiveness and charity, just as Christ did with all the sinners, even as they should also map out some plans to attend to the requirements of justice and truth.
They have to be quick in taking advantage of whatever saving grace, no matter how slight compared to the negative things in a given case, to effect some transformation for the better in a person.
We should not allow the requirements of justice and truth to stand in the way of divine mercy. In the end, only God knows what to do for the requirements of justice and truth in a given case to be fully satisfied.
We know that guilt can always be forgiven and erased with Godâ€™s grace, though the temporal punishments of such guilt may still stand. In this regard, let us also take advantage of the many occasions when indulgences can be earned, so that these temporal punishments can be reduced or even eliminated.
In the meantime, priests should try to enjoy the adventure of the cruise. (By Fr. Roy Cimagala)