We celebrate St Jean Vianney. He is the patron of Parish Priests. He lived during the French Revolution that forced loyal priests to hide so they can perform their priestly duties. These priests became his heroes. When he was 20 years old, he went to presbytery school to study to be a priest but he had difficulty in his studies as his earlier education was interrupted due to the French Revolution. He was drafted to Napoleon’s army but for various reasons, he was not able to join his unit in the armed forces. He resumed his priestly formation after amnesty was given in 1810. The was considered too slow and would not have been accepted until the Bishop intervened. After the Bishop died, Vianney was appointed to a parish in Ars, a town with a population of 230. He saw the French Revolution resulted in ignorant and indifferent parishoners. Vianney did what a priest would do: give homilies and spent time in the confessional where he refused to give absolution if the penitent would not repent. By doing this, St John Vianney shows repentance is the key to being forgiven. In the last 10 years of his life, he spent 16 to 18 hours in the confessional. St John Vianney shows the importance of confession which is why he devoted much of his time to it. But why should we confess our sins to the priest? Can we not confess to God directly?
Yes we can. But then how sure are we that what happens next is from God? God could have spoken to his people directly. But he spoke through Jeremiah. In the same way, God speaks through the priest when we want to repent of our sins. Jeremiah spoke the truth, rebuking his people for their sins and comforting them when they repent. Jeremiah said, Your hurt is incurable, your wound is grievous... Your pain is incurable because your guilt is great, your sins are numerous. But then he gave them hope, a promise of restoration, where they will be God’s people and he will be their God.
The confessor does the same thing. He speaks the truth about sin, the condition of the one who repents and gives encouragement while at the same time, making sure the message gets across that sin is sin and there is no excuse for it. This is why we need to find a confessor who is grounded in Scripture and will not say what we want to hear but say what we need to hear. Confession is a powerful weapon for healing and holiness because Confession leads us away from sin and towards God. The only condition for authentic confession is true repentance, which is conversion of our heart to Jesus, surrendering ourselves to Jesus. When we repent, we are transformed from a state of sin to peace with God. John Vianney said: A person who is in a state of sin is always sad. Whatever he does, he is weary and disgusted with every thing; while he who is at peace with God is always happy, always joyous.
In the Gospel today, the Pharisees complained about the need to wash the hands before eating. For them, physical cleanliness is more important than what is in their heart. Jesus corrects them on this even if later on, the disciples tell Jesus Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said? A good confessor is not afraid of speaking the truth to offend the penitent, because this act of speaking the truth is an act of love. It aims to let the person know what they are doing is sin and there is a need for repentance. St John Vianney said Do not try to please everybody. Try to please God, the angels and the saints – they are your public. We are to speak the Truth of God to please God and not to please any human being.
Lord, cleanse my heart. Let my heart be solely devoted to you so I may glorify your name. Let my desire be to please you so I may be at peace with you. St John Vianney, pray that I may have that intense love for Confession. Pray that I may see what hinders me from coming to the Lord. May I have courage to come before God to confess my sins and be at peace with him.