In 1984 as a seminarian I spent three months on pastoral placement in the parish of Pukekohe
, South Auckland. It was a very good experience for me. I recall attending a day clergy seminar at St. Ben’s
in Auckland on the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The day concluded with the opportunity for each of us, priests and seminarians, to receive the sacrament. At this service Fr. Eugene O’Sullivan OP
(d.1988) gave an inspiring reflections on the need for the minister of the Sacrament of Reconciliation to himself be a regular receiver of the sacrament.
The following year I was ordained a priest of the diocese of Christchurch and I now know, from my own personal experience, that Eugene was right: a priest, the minister of this sacrament, is a sinner, and needs to regularly receive this sacrament himself.
In the seasons of Lent and Advent each year, the priests of the Christchurch diocese gather to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance. After a communal preparation led by one of our number, we each have the opportunity to come forward to one of half a dozen of our brothers appointed as ministers of the sacrament for the gathering.
It is a powerful witness to see the priests of our diocese coming forward to humbly confess their sin, and receiving God’s forgiveness. There are few things as powerful as kneeling in front of your brothers, knowing that as they watch you confess your sin, they are praying for you.
After a communal thanksgiving, the time together concludes with a meal together. The food and drink is good, and the company superb since we are sinners, who together have confessed our sin, and once again have experienced the beauty of God’s mercy and love.