As master of spiritual life, Don Orione reminded the need and benefits of frequent confession to a group of priest gathered during their annual retreat. His advice and teachings are always valid.
My dear Priests, may the grace of Our Lord and His peace be always with us!
I am following on from my letter, which I sent yesterday, and I am using the knowledge that you are gathered together in that House of religious formation for our novices in order to tell you a few things about the practices that there should be in the Congregation, in respect of the Sacrament of Penance.
We, who are called by the goodness of God to serve Our Lord and the Holy Church in the Little Work of Divine Providence, must go to Confession at least once a week. The more careful we are in examining our consciences, the more frequently we will feel the need to approach the Sacrament of Penance. Our Constitutions say clearly: "Religious will go to Confession at least once a week," (Paragraph II. Clause 105).
It must therefore be a special duty for the Superiors of the Houses to see that all our religious, as well as the staff working in the Institutions of Divine Providence, have every possibility of going to Confession regularly once a week. And the Superiors must be the first to go to Confession, giving even in this a good example of edification and observance of the rule. And it will be a good thing if it is known in the House, to whom the Director goes to Confession, and even better if he is seen to be going to Confession with recollection and devotion. This is what Fr. Bosco and Fr. Rua did, as well as other saints and true servants of God.
Confession is always very useful, even if we do not have grave matter, which God forbid. Fr. Bosco used to recommend saying a Hail Mary beforehand, invoking the motherly help of Mary Most Holy, in order to make a good Confession and also to draw a great benefit of spiritual life from the Sacrament.
Let us also do this, my dear priests. This practice of saying a Hail Mary before Confession was encouraged by me to our pupils from the very first year when San Bernardino was opened, and also to the boys of the first Sunday School. Oh how happy I would be if the directors of the Houses and all our priests would encourage such a good practice, especially in our young people.
Before confessing, do not take offence, my dear sons and brothers, if I humbly exhort you to a feeling of repentance and living faith in the power of the Keys. We must sincerely and with a deep humility confess our weaknesses, and the Lord, who knows how brittle we are, will have compassion on us and His Fatherly mercy will come down generously on us and on our labours. He will renew us with His holy grace and strengthen us in His own divine power.
What a good spirit we have, after Confession! How much more enlivened we feel for the battle, as good soldiers of Christ, against our passions! We have so much more of a desire to advance in virtue and in the observance of the religious life!
As regards the choice of a confessor, we should go to the one who is best able to enlighten us in our duties and encourage us to live well, according to the heavenly vocation that God has given us. When our bodies are ill we want to have the best doctors. Why then, in order to heal the sicknesses of our souls, do we not look for the best confessors? Although we give our dependents, or let them retain, the full freedom of going to Confession, as an exceptional measure, to other priests that we have not chosen, we use as far as possible, and advise our people for spiritual direction to go to, confessors belonging to our Congregation, or at least, to those suggested by the superiors because, even though they may not belong to our Congregation, they have such a spirit of piety and have such wisdom as to give the best guarantee of confidence.
So, my dear people, with wise sensitivity and good manners, you must exhort your colleagues, especially if priests, to avail mainly of confessors from the Little Work, the same also for seminarians under vows. Unity of spirit and of direction is of such benefit for a religious community that any sacrifice to obtain it should not seem grave.
Having chosen a good confessor we should not lightly or easily change him. A person who changes confessors, without a true and grave necessity, does not benefit from religious life, on the contrary, he generally goes astray. Similarly, whoever is always changing doctors ends up not knowing what medicine to take and runs the risk of coming to a premature end. Thus, my brother priests, exhort our seminarians and pupils.
Every four months then - that is to say, three times a year - priests, seminarians, novices, candidates and all those belonging, or wishing to belong, to our Congregation, must obtain from their confessor a certificate saying that he has heard their confession weekly. Through the respective directors the certificates must be sent to Don Sterpi. This obligation will begin for everyone at the start of this coming September, beginning with me. Thus the first certificates must be sent during the first ten days of next January. At the four occasions, as I have already said, I advise you to go to another confessor.
Of what use is a frequent but unfruitful Confession? Faber says: For want of purity of intention we must set our sights wholly and solely on God. A day of the week must be arranged, preferably not a Saturday, and we must go to Confession in order to become more acceptable to God, to increase in grace, generosity and steadfastness.
Superiors must take care not to probe those dependent on them for the feelings of their conscience. However, the priests, seminarians, and candidates of the Little Work must with the greatest filial confidence be open to their directors and to the superior. It is also desirable, if not strictly necessary and an actual duty, for them to speak to them about any doubt or anxiety of conscience. This is apart from the monthly Reports, which particularly concern external matters of health and the rule.
During our Spiritual Exercises, and in those given to the young people of our Houses, it is good if the Confessions begin early, so that each one may have the time that he needs, and so that the word of God may immediately find hearts that are ready and that the heavenly seed may fall on good ground and not among thorns.
I am with you in these Exercises, dearly beloved, and I pray greatly for you. Remember me and these brothers of yours who, though far away, are united with you in spirit.
I encourage you and bless you with all my heart in Jesus and Mary Most Holy.
Yours most affectionately,
Fr. Orione O.D.P.
Letter to the Priests of the Congregation who attended their Annual Retreat. Buenos Aires, 4th August 1935. A Priceless Treasure, Sons of Divine Providence, London, 1995, volume two, p. 150-153.