The priest’s task is to fight evil and save souls (Blessed Paolo Manna)
Priestly Identity and Mission: Fighting Against Evil
From the Gospel of John
“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. [Jesus] said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’” (Jn 20:19-23)
From the Magisterium of the Catholic Church
“The ministers of sacramental grace are intimately united to Christ our Savior and Pastor through the fruitful reception of the sacraments, especially sacramental Penance, in which, prepared by the daily examination of conscience, the necessary conversion of heart and love for the Father of Mercy is greatly deepened.” (Second Vatican Council, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, Presbyterorum Ordinis, 18)
“To evoke conversion and penance in man's heart and to offer him the gift of reconciliation is the specific mission of the church as she continues the redemptive work of her divine founder.” (John Paul II, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 23)
“Now this power to ‘forgive sins’ Jesus confers through the Holy Spirit upon ordinary men, themselves subject to the snare of sin, namely his apostles: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven; whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.’ (Jn 20:22; Mt 18:18). [...] Here there is seen in all its grandeur the figure of the minister of the sacrament of penance who by very ancient custom is called the confessor.
Just as at the altar where he celebrates the Eucharist and just as in each one of the sacraments, so the priest, as the minister of penance, acts ‘in persona Christi’ The Christ whom he makes present and who accomplishes the mystery of the forgiveness of sins is the Christ who appears as the brother of man. [...]
This is undoubtedly the most difficult and sensitive, the most exhausting and demanding ministry of the priest.” (John Paul II, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 29)
“But I also add that even in order to be a good and effective minister of penance the priest needs to have recourse to the source of grace and holiness present in this sacrament We priests, on the basis of our personal experience, can certainly say that the more careful we are to receive the sacrament of penance and to approach it frequently and with good dispositions, the better we fulfill our own ministry as confessors and ensure that our penitents benefit from it. And on the other hand, this ministry would lose much of its effectiveness if in some way we were to stop being good penitents. Such is the internal logic of this great sacrament. It invites all of us priests of Christ to pay renewed attention to our personal confession.” (John Paul II, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 31)
From the writings of Blessed Father Paolo Manna
“The priest was born to fight sin and to lead the Christian people in this war.
1) Baptizing? He does it to free the soul from the original sin.
2) Preparing the children for Holy Communion? He wants them to become valiant soldiers against sin.
3) Hearing confession? To break the bonds of sin.
4) Preaching and administering other sacraments? All to destroy the sin of the world.” (P. Manna, Chiamati alla santità, Naples 1977, p. 97)
“What to say if the kingdom of sin was established in your heart?
If Judith, instead of beheading Holofernes, had allowed herself to be taken by unworthy affection for him, what a shame for her, what a disgrace for the people, yet it is no comparison to the opprobrium of which the priest covers himself by sinning, as well as to the ruin he causes to souls.” (P. Manna, Chiamati alla santità, Naples 1977, p. 97)
“The priest’s sin is always a social sin, it reflects on the people: the good people are scandalized by it, the bad ones triumph.” (P. Manna, Chiamati alla santità, Naples 1977, p. 97)
“How much scandal, how much leprosy of impurity, how much injustice and oppression! How much blasphemy and impiety! [...] It would need angels from heaven, apostles ardent with zeal to break so many chains, to illuminate so much darkness, to move so many hearts. And behold, only we are here. We must be these angels, these apostles, because we are priests. We are the saviors of these souls, and none other than us... and woe to us if we thought we had no obligations towards these souls..., if we remained indifferent spectators of their ruin!” (P. Manna, Chiamati alla santità, Naples 1977, p. 66)
“[Jesus] came to destroy sin. […] Here is the priest’s purpose and mission: to fight against sin and save souls.” (P. Manna, Chiamati alla santità, Naples 1977, pp. 135-136)
“But what about the priests who live in darkness, in fatal blindness? It is scary to think about it. As long as the sick person does not know his illness ... there is hope of recovery; but if even the doctor who has to cure him does not know the disease and does not pay much attention to it, the case is desperate.” (P. Manna, Chiamati alla santità, Naples 1977, p. 137)
“Had that priest been more assiduous in the confessional, had he been more patient and charitable... there would be fewer sins! (...) Men bother some priests... The souls understand this, they show themselves more rarely and sin triumphs.”
«Se quel sacerdote fosse stato più assiduo al confessionale, avesse avuto maggior pazienza e carità... quanti peccati di meno!... A certi sacerdoti gli uomini danno fastidio… le anime lo comprendono, si fanno vedere più di rado e il peccato trionfa». (P. Manna, Chiamati alla santità, Naples 1977, p. 138)
Questions for reflection
- “Do I honestly serve God? How do I walk in the way of the Spirit and of my eternal salvation?” (P. Manna, Chiamati alla santità, Naples 1977, p. 98)
- If I were to die today, would the Lord find me ready to stand before him? (Cfr. P. Manna, Chiamati alla santità, Naples 1977, pp. 98-99)
- How do I prepare to receive and administer the sacrament of reconciliation?
From the prayer of Paul VI pronounced in French on January 4, 1964 at the Holy Sepulcher:
Here we are, oh Lord Jesus. We have come as the guilty return to the place of their crime,
we have come as the one who followed You, but also betrayed You, many times faithful and many times unfaithful,
we have come to recognize the mysterious relationship between our sins and your passion: our work and your work,
we have come to beat our breasts, to ask your forgiveness, to implore your mercy,
we have come because we know that you can and that you want to forgive us, because you have atoned for our sins;
you are our redemption and our hope.
Lord Jesus, our Redeemer, revive in us the desire and confidence in your forgiveness, strengthen our desire for conversion and fidelity, let us taste the certainty and also the sweetness of your mercy.
Lord Jesus, our Redeemer and Master, give us the strength to forgive others, so that we too can be truly forgiven by You.
Lord Jesus, our Redeemer and Shepherd, give us the ability to love You and all those who in You are brothers and sisters, with your grace. Help us in following your example [...]