If you were chosen to have Pope Benedict XVI as your confessor during World Youth Day, how would you prepare?
Benedict will become the first Pope to hear confessions at the triennial gathering of young people from around the world.
This year’s celebration, in Madrid, Spain, is dedicated to Blessed Pope John Paul II, who began the tradition of World Youth Day in 1985. The Polish pontiff, who was beatified this spring, has been called the “Great Mercy Pope” for his promotion of the Divine Mercy devotion. Reconciliation is the sacrament of God’s great mercy. Blessed John Paul for many years heard confessions in St. Peter’s Basilica during Holy Week. He was said to have frequented the sacrament himself on a weekly basis.
So, how would you prepare to go to confession with a pope? Would you hold back certain information so as not to offend him? Try to think of the least embarrassing way to report something?
Whether it is the Pope or your parish priest, it is Christ you approach. Every confession should be made as if it were your last. In preparing for confession, we need to be brutally honest with God — and with ourselves — about ourselves. The first step is to recognize that we’ve done wrong and that we’ve failed to live up to the Gospel in our lives.
And then we need to express sorrow. But sorrow is not simply a feeling; it’s a decision to fix what is wrong. If we should make reparation for damages done, we look for ways to do so; if we need to make a firm resolution not to repeat our sinful patterns of behavior, we make that resolution and strive, with the help of God’s grace, to act differently next time.
In an address to the Apostolic Penitentiary earlier this year, Pope Benedict spoke of the “pedagogical value” of the examination of conscience. “It teaches us how to look squarely at our life, to compare it with the truth of the Gospel and to evaluate it with parameters that are not only human but are also borrowed from divine Revelation,” he said. “Comparison with the commandments, with the beatitudes and, especially, with the precept of love, constitutes the first great ‘school of penance.’”
The absolution dispensed by the priest, whether he is the Pope, a bishop or an ordinary pastor, is a gift of God. But it’s up to us to receive it. Those who prepare well for confession, who go to the sacrament with a humble and contrite heart, will be forgiven. And grow in grace.
The Holy Father is setting a great example for the young people streaming into Madrid this month. Let us, young and not so young, be moved by that example.