No Confessional Required
If you find someone in sin, you who have the Spirit should restore them gently. Bear one another’s burdens. Thus you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:1-2 (adapted)
His seminary teachers thought John Vianney (1786-1859) was too stupid to be a priest. But his pastor said he was pious, so the bishop ordained him. Then he sent him to a backwater where he could do no lasting harm.
But in Ars, population 230, Vianney found his gift. He was good at hearing confessions. He could patiently inhabit a confessional for hours on end, listening and probing, encouraging and consoling, pardoning in God’s name every soul who came.
And come they did, from near and far. For forty years, up to eighteen hours a day, he absorbed every vice of the flesh, every grief of the heart, every disturbance of the soul they laid before him.
Some knocked down commandments like bowling pins, governed by habits they never succeeded in breaking. He was moved by their willingness to keep trying.
Others struggled angrily with God, having suffered terrible injustice. Yet somehow they still wanted to forgive God. He was stung by their greatness of heart.
And when the poor of the parish spoke gratefully about God’s many blessings, he wondered, “What blessings?”, and learned from them how great those blessings are.
Thus it was that John Vianney became Saint John Vianney, by listening to people’s lives, receiving their unexpected gifts, and bearing their burdens.
You can bear them, too. And you don’t have to sit in a confessional to do it.
Gracious God, give us the Spirit so that we may receive each other gently, listen to each other deeply, bear each other patiently, and fulfill the law of Christ.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.