As part of my personal spiritual preparation for Christmas, I decided to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation earlier this week. I try to go on a regular basis, but especially before really big things like Christmas. And the Confession I had this week, was one of the best I have ever had in my life. What made it so special was the priest who I was talking to really entered into the role of spiritual father in our conversation. Not only could I see the love and forgiveness of Christ in him, but I truly felt like I was being given wise advice from my father. He helped me see more clearly on something I had been dealing with and spoke truth to my heart. Not surprising because I’m a woman, I have recently been reflecting a lot about relationships. Eventually I would love to marry a handsome, Catholic, faithful man, but recently I’ve been thinking a lot about what that means for me right now. I love to think about what my future husband might be like and how I might meet him, but after all I am a sophomore in college, clearly not ready to be married and living family life. I was told once (by another priest) and really take to heart that “everything worthwhile requires preparation.” I would say that marriage is definitely worthwhile and as a result requires preparation, even before you necessarily know who your spouse is going to be. Therefore, it makes complete sense that I would already be thinking about it. But the thing is, before this somehow came up in my Confession this week, I really didn’t know if my thinking was logical. I didn’t see the connection that my thinking about what kind of man I want to marry is simply part of the preparation for what will be one of the most important aspects of my life. I thought that I was being ridiculous. I couldn’t see the truth in this situation because my sin was clouding my vision. Father allowed me to speak from my heart and took the time to help me to see the underlying truth in what I had been thinking and feeling. He spoke as a wise father, helping his daughter along the path of life. The beautiful sacrament of Reconciliation gave him the grace to be able to absolve me of where I had fallen short and where I had failed and show me the truth and direction of where I needed to go. With my sins forgiven and my being given a clean slate, I was able to clearly hear the truth he spoke to me.
But the thing is, what made this Confession and other Confessions in the past so remarkable has been the priest. Not the individual priest, but rather the way each priest was living out his role of spiritual fatherhood to me. We don’t just call these men “father” for no reason. They are truly called to be spiritual fathers to all of us in the Church, and truly beauty radiates when they take this call to heart and allow themselves to receive the grace to carry it out. Beauty is in the world as a means of drawing us to the source of beauty, which is God. When priests truly enter into their role as spiritual father, beauty radiates. Through this beauty, we are brought to the heart of Christ. Forgiveness is at the heart of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and forgiveness is at the heart of a loving father. Just think about the parable of the Prodigal Son, which is also known as the Parable of the Forgiving Father. (Luke 15:11-32) Where forgiveness takes place, the beauty of fatherhood is most clearly demonstrated.
The thing is, every human being needs a father. Most basically, boys need true fathers to learn to be true men and girls need true fathers to learn how real men are supposed to treat them. In society today, we are dealing with a poverty of fatherhood. There are so many people growing up with either the absence or negative image of fatherhood. I firmly believe that many of the problems in our society will not get any better until we fix the fatherhood crisis. With that said, the role of the priest in our lives is so incredibly important. Although we may not have been given the best or any father in our family, we are all given spiritual fathers in the priests in our lives. What a gift this is to be able to have men of character in our lives who have devoted their lives to help us encounter Christ, to speak truth to us, and to give us wisdom about the journey of life. They literally act in the person of Christ. They are present at every moment of our lives. They rejoice with us, mourn with us, laugh with us, suffer with us… but most importantly, they forgive us. Praise the Lord.
St. John Vianney, universal patron of priests, pray for us and for our priests.