Confessor of the Basilica of St. Mary Major Reflects on Sacrament
By José Antonio Varela Vidal
ROME, 14 MARCH 2012 (ZENIT)
In his recent address to the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Pope emphasized that the “New Evangelization begins also in the confessional.”
ZENIT spoke with Father Hernán Jiménez, a confessor in the basilica of Saint Mary Major of Rome, who forms part of the ancient tradition that entrusted to the Dominican Order the task of attending the penitents of one of the four papal basilicas.
ZENIT: It seems that these days there is a greater number of people going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Father Jiménez: There are many because at Easter, Christians want to be reconciled with the Lord. The Church reminds them that they can take up again the path to the Father who awaits the son, who acknowledges his error and returns as a son to ask for his forgiveness. This is the most favorable time for our conversion.
ZENIT: Why is Lent a privileged time to receive this Sacrament?
Father Jiménez: Because through prayer, moral more than corporal penance, and works of charity we participate more profoundly in the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord. It is a preparation for Easter, which makes us aware of the need to see ourselves loved by God, our Father. Every believing Christian must live and feel the need for his conversion.
ZENIT: Does God always forgive? Does God forgive everything?
Father Jiménez: As a good, compassionate and merciful Father, God always forgives our faults and sins. God forgives everything if man humbly acknowledges himself a sinner, as Matthew 18: 21ff says.
ZENIT: What is the best way to prepare for Confession?
Father Jiménez: By examining one’s conscience regarding the Commandments, the precepts of the Church, the precept of fraternal charity. And also on all our duties as Christians, as real and practicing believers.
ZENIT: Can there be, perhaps, direct confession with God as some argue? What is the difference between “going straight to God” and the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
Father Jiménez: There is direct communication with God in prayer and interior meditation, but never the remission of grave sins. According to the Lord’s mandate, only the Apostles and their successors, priests, can do it.
ZENIT: What is the biblical basis for the forgiveness of sins exercised by a priest before a penitent?
Father Jiménez: We find the basis in the Gospels, in John 20:22-23. The priest acts in the name of God and he does so by the mandate of the Church, which he receives in priestly ordination. The priest remits all sin with the formula: “… in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
ZENIT: Did the Apostles go to Confession?
Father Jiménez: We don’t have documentary evidence on this and it is not in the Gospels, but it is deduced from the weakness of our nature. They were also as the rest, poor men and sinners.
ZENIT: When did Confession, as we know it today, begin in the Church?
Father Jiménez: From the early times of the Church, in which it was public. Then, in the 4th century, it began to be private.
ZENIT: From what age and until when must a Catholic go to Confession?
Father Jiménez: At any age, but the Church counsels to practice it with one’s First Communion and until one has the use of reason, because one must be conscious of his moral life and his life as a believer.
ZENIT: In what way could the Sacrament of Reconciliation be an important element for the New Evangelization desired by the Pope?
Father Jiménez: Reconciliation is very important and indispensable for every Christian, especially in this historical period in which people seek to distance themselves from the Sacraments. And because when one becomes aware, and recognizes with great humility, the misery and weakness of one’s human nature before God and others, it makes one more human and sensitive to the other and in a special way to that Other who is God.
ZENIT: Is it the case there is an ancient tradition that confessions in the papal basilica of Saint Mary Major of Rome are the responsibility of the Dominican Fathers?
Father Jiménez: It is an ancient tradition since the foundation of the Apostolic Penitentiary by Pope Pius V, who entrusted it to the Dominicans in 1568.
ZENIT: How many times a day do you hear confessions? Do you do so every day of the week?
Father Jiménez: All of us are dedicated to this ministry of Reconciliation at least 23 hours a week. It depends on the day, with one day and a half of weekly rest.
ZENIT: Who are the ones who go to confession most often, men or women, the elderly or the young?
Father Jiménez: All categories of persons without any distinction. Many are young, women and the elderly.
ZENIT: It is said that the Popes go to Confession very often, and that Blessed John Paul II went weekly. Has Benedict XVI followed this practice?
Father Jiménez: Of course, as every Christian and good pastor of the universal Church: no one is without sin and perfect in this world. The present Pope also goes to Confession regularly.
ZENIT: What would you say to some of our readers who do not have the courage to go to Confession even during this Lent?
Father Jiménez: To confront themselves humbly with the Word of God and to follow every divine inspiration to come to a genuine life of conversion. Take advantage of every help that the Lord in his patient mercy puts within our reach.
[Translation by ZENIT]