The gushing waters of the Tiber called to mind the tears of repentance and the free flow of God's forgiving grace as I remembered my supply ministry in a parish near Milan in north Italy during Holy Week, which though somewhat physically demanding with an average of seven hours of confessions every day for five full days, was indeed both spiritually refreshing and rewarding. For one, it rejuvenated the priest in me; for another, it also made me, apart from listening to the echo of my own sinfulness, aware of the immeasurable misery of sin and the immense mercy of God's love. After the celebration of the Eucharist, I treasure most the ministry of the confessional. At times I broke down when strong he-men sobbed and shed tears as they repented of their sins. At other times I was chastened by the high degree of sanctity of some penitents who with such delicacy scrutinized and searched their conscience for the least of offences against God and others.
I realized, as I sat in the confessional listening to penitents, how God in His wonderful way was using me with all my brokenness to channel His pardon and peace to many a troubled spirit. After God, no one understands better a sinner than a fellow sinner. I recall what I was once told: "It is a good penitent that makes a good confessor!" It is when we as priests have personally drawn much spiritual profit from the sacrament of reconciliation and have sensed deeply the transforming power of God's merciful love, that we will be more than willing to sit for interminable hours in the confessional. There we engage in the 'ministry of the intangible'. We can provide no figures or statistics. The Cure of Ars sat for hours on end in the confessional. No one but God alone knew what was being created or recreated in the hearts of his penitents. As confessors we sense with awe God closely at work bringing about moral miracles and have the unique privilege of being trusted by penitents with their deepest struggles and secrets. We priests some-times lament the fact that confessions have dropped. Could this perhaps be also due to the fact that as confessors we have deserted the confessional?
I kept on consoling and comforting penitents as I invited them to behold Rembrandt's portrait of 'The Prodigal Son' that so aptly hung in my confessional box. Travel worn and weary as we might be from having strayed far from Him and wasted our lives in dissipation and dissolute living, God awaits and accepts us as we return home. There is forgiveness and festivity as He welcomes us. A banquet is arranged and there is music and dancing. And God's signature tune is: "I'll be loving you eternally"! For when He forgives, He also forgets for He never allows the memory of our past wrongs to come in the way of our present relationship with Him. My thoughts went back to Mary Magadalene from whom the Lord had cast out seven devils. She must have been steeped in evil! Mary Magdalene was given the privilege of being made an apostle to the apostles and commissioned to announce to them that Jesus had risen. The passion of evil was trans-formed into power for good, power to proclaim the Good News of the Resurrection! Only God knows how to use the strengths of our weakness and the weaknesses of our strengths.
The Tiber continued to flow as my heart sang "0 God! How great Thou art!" for it is in His mercy that God doth show best the greatness of His power and love.