THE GREAT POWER OF THE PRIEST
"Whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven; whose sins you retain, they are retained." These
powers to forgive and retain are Divine Powers that belong to God alone. God
shared it with His priests but His priests must use them according to His
mind and not in any way they want.
Firstly, the priest must know
what sins the penitent has committed. Which means he must know all the
commands of Christ and how to observe them, since sin is disobedience to the
commands of Christ. It is possible that a penitent had obeyed a command of
Christ, like helping the poor, but did not do it in the exact way that
Christ wants it but more according to his own way. There is still
disobedience and, therefore, sin. If the priest is ignorant of
Christ's commandments, he has no competence to judge anyone's act.
Secondly, he must be one who is
conscious of all his sins, has judged himself guilty of his sins and has
amply repented for his sins. A priest who cannot find out his sins and does
not know how to judge himself surely cannot judge others. He will end up
retaining when he should forgive and forgive when he should retain.
St. Thomas reminds such priests
that they are merely the mouth and hands of God. They should only say what
God wants them to say. If they do not know what God wants to say, they
should remain silent.
The priest, at least, must know
what are the fruits of repentance as exemplified in the just read parable of
the prodigal son. By the fruits he can be certain that the soul is penitent
and, therefore, worthily absolved. For the priest to see the fruits of
repentance in others, he, himself, must have produced fruits worthy of
repentance. He must have repented for all his sins.
The priest must remember that he
merely shares this power from God and therefore must dispense it according
to the mind of the Giver and not in any way he wants.