By Roberta Sciamplicotti
ROME, JUNE 10, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The first day of the most numerous international meeting of priests in history was marked by the call to conversion and the need to approach the sacrament of reconciliation with God.
Addressing some 10,000 priests who had already arrived in the Eternal City on Wednesday to take part in the closing of the Year for Priests, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, archbishop of Cologne, affirmed that just as the "Church must always be reformed" (Ecclesia semper reformanda), so bishops and priests "must always be reformed" (semper reformandus).
In the meditation the cardinal gave Wednesday morning, before the celebration of Mass in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, he said that priests, like Paul on the way to Damascus, "must fall off their horse again, to fall into the arms of the merciful God."
"It is not enough in our pastoral work to correct only the structures of our Church so that it is more attractive. It isn't enough! What is lacking is a change of heart, of my heart," he stressed.
"Only a converted Paul was able to change the world, not an engineer of ecclesiastical structures," the cardinal clarified at the start of the international meeting of priests, convoked by Benedict XVI and organized by the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy.
The closing celebrations -- to which every priest of the world was invited -- conclude Friday, feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The culminating event will be a papal Mass in St. Peter's Square with the expected participation of 15,000 priests.
Importance of confession
Cardinal Meisner said that "one of the most tragic losses" the Church suffered in the second half of the 20th century was "the loss of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of reconciliation."
The lack of participation in this sacrament "[i]s at the root of many evils in the life of the Church and in the life of the priest," he contended. "When Christian faithful ask me: 'How can we help our priests?' I always respond: 'Go to confession with them.'"
According to the German cardinal, "whenever a priest stops hearing confession, he becomes a religious social agent" and "falls into a grave crisis of identity."
"A priest who is not found frequently on one side or the other of the confessional's grille, suffers permanent damages to his soul and his mission," the cardinal declared. "A confessional where a priest is present, in an empty church, is the most important symbol of God's patience, [God] who waits."
Confirming God's love
In the confessional, the cardinal continued, "the priest can cast a glance at the hearts of many persons, and from there arise motivations, encouragement, aspirations for his own following of Christ."
Confession, "allows us to access a life in which one can only think of God," he said. "To go to confession means to begin to believe again, and at the same time to discover that up to now we have not trusted in God in a sufficiently profound way and that, for this reason, we must ask forgiveness."
Cardinal Meisner proposed that "the spiritual maturity of a candidate to receive priestly ordination becomes evident in the fact that he receives regularly -- at least once a month -- the sacrament of reconciliation."
In fact, he concluded, one finds in this sacrament "the merciful Father with his most precious gifts, that is, his commitment, forgiveness and grace."