Guide to '24 Hours for the Lord'; Padre Pio and the Confessional

(photo: Screenshot)

Pope Francis will launch tomorrow what has become an annual event during Lent: the opening of parish churches for 24 hours to encourage the faithful to go to Confession. 

To coincide with this year’s observance, the Vatican has issued a pastoral guide to help each person prepare for the Sacrament and overcome any resistance he or she might have in going to Confession.

The guide, published by the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, is also for parishes and Christian communities so they can “experience the greatest possible fruitfulness during this special time of the Jubilee of Mercy.”

The short booklet, which can be read in PDF format here, is divided into four parts. The first draws on the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and offers assistance to the individual penitent to prepare for Confession.  It deals with the questions of why there is a need for the Sacrament, what it actually means, and what a penitent should do after receiving absolution.

The second part offers three testimonies of people who recount their conversion stories: the 20th century apologist, G.K. Chesterton, Pope Francis, and Leah Darrow, a former model who reverted to the Catholic faith.

“The Sacrament of Penance gives a new life, and reconciles a man to all living,” Chesterton wrote. “But it does not do it as the optimists and the hedonists and the heathen preachers of happiness do it. The gift is given at a price, and is conditioned by a confession.”

The third section presents “inspiring texts” for both reflection and to prepare for catechetical meetings so the reader can better understand Confession. They contain the words of St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, St. Leopold of Castenuovo, Blessed Mother Teresa and Pope Benedict XVI.

St. Pio was well known for his gift in hearing Confessions. “His confessional was a tribunal of mercy and firmness,” wrote Domenico Mondrone, while Padre Pio himself said: “If we put into [our Confession] all our good will and we have the intention to confess everything — all that we can know or remember — the mercy of God is so great that He will include and erase even what we cannot remember or know.”

Blessed Mother Teresa said Confession “makes the soul strong because a really good Confession — the Confession of a child in sin coming back to her Father — always begets humility, and humility is strength.”

Benedict XVI urged regular Confession “to foster the cleanliness and beauty of the soul, and to mature day by day in life.”  The Sacrament which Jesus gives us helps make “our consciences more alert, more open,” he said.

The fourth part of the booklet offers a program of Scriptural reading and prayer that can also assist the penitent in preparation, offering a spiritual itinerary based on the word of God that is “heard, meditated upon, and prayed.”

"24 Hours for the Lord" runs Friday evening of March 4 and all day on Saturday, March 5. Pope Francis will also be going to confession and hearing confessions on Friday.  


St. Padre Pio and the Confessional

St. Padre Pio had the ability to look within the souls of his penitents and became so well known for it, he attracted to the confessional people from the most lowly to the most famous from all over the world.

He could tell when someone was being deceitful or simply had forgotten a serious sin, perhaps through lack of an adequate examination of conscience. In such cases, he would often be able to identify the sin himself.

One of his famous visitors was the author Graham Greene who, so the story goes, waited years for the opportunity to confess to him, but fearing that the famous Capuchin friar might call him to an amendment of life, he left after attending one of Padre Pio’s Masses, along with his mistress.

A number of other stories surround Padre Pio and the many hours he spent in the confessional, sometimes 15 to 19 hours a day.

He urged all believers to confess at least once a week: “Even if a room is closed,” he once said, “it is necessary to dust it after a week.” He was also a firm believer that the Sacrament is profaned by people who confess a sin without repentance and wish to amend their lives.

It’s not clear exactly how many stories are completely genuine, embellished or false, but a common thread in each of them was his ability to read hearts, and his uncompromising stance that called for true conversion in the confessional: no excuses, no insincerity, but frankness, honesty and firm resolution.

Some famous quotes from Padre Pio about confession:

"It is a tremendous responsibility to sit in the tribunal of the confessional."

"God runs after the most stubborn souls. They cost him too much to abandon them."

After a day of confessions:  "Oh the souls! if you knew how much they cost!"         

"The sight of so many souls who wish to justify their evil ways pains me, exhausts my brain, and tears at my heart."

"Before reproaching a soul, I suffer it first. But it is not I who act, but He who is in me and above me."

"Among you I am your brother, on the Altar I am your victim, in the confessional I am your judge.

"Do not dwell on sins that have been already confessed. Jesus has forgiven them."

"The mercy of God, my son, is infinitely greater than your malice."

Photo: Veneration of St. Padre Pio in St. Peter's basilica last month — YouTube