Little saint, big fish

Little saint, big fish

Over the years, I have discerned certain patterns in confession. Some days of the week are consistently busier than other days. Extreme weather — hot or cold — will reduce the length of the queue. School holidays will increase the length of the queue.

But there is one variable which impacts not only quantity, but also quality. Sometimes, the queue at the confessional contains an unusual number of ‘big fish.’ Grois poisson is a term St Jean-Marie Vianney used, which denotes penitents who have returned to confession after years of complacency or indifference.

I have noticed that ‘big fish’ confessions often coincide with particular feast days. For instance, I recall hearing an unusually moving calibre of confessions on the feast of St Pio of Pietrelcina and on the feast of Bl Jacinta and Francisco Marto. I can add another saint to the list. Today is the feast of St Maria Goretti, and today I have heard very many ‘big fish’ confessions.

I often ask such penitents what brought them back to the sacrament. How did the Holy Spirit move you? Why today? Usually the answer is vague. So I advise them to learn about the saint who (it seems to me) has prayed for them.

Often the penitent is completely unfamiliar with the saint in question. This is very comforting to me. It suggests that just as we foster devotion to certain saints, and single them out, the saints can foster particular interest in us, their little brothers and sisters. They single us out too.

The celebration of saints’ feast days is a great tradition. It keeps the lives and the example of the saints before us. But the real genius of saints’ feast days lies in the graces which are available. Saints aren’t there only to inspire us; they also pray for us. Deo gratias.

  • Matt

    Hey Father , I was fortunate enough to go to confession today . So I was one of those big fish you absolved The great weight was lifted from my shoulder you are truly a holy man . The orthodoxy you showed me and guidance was greatly appreciated

    • Oh no! More than one priest – and, indeed, one deacon who will soon be a good and conscientious priest — has fraternally corrected me on this matter. “What if someone reads this blog, and thinks they are being referred to? That they are implicitly identified as a ‘big fish’?”

      It’s sailing close to the seal, that’s for sure. Too close I think. This is how seriously we priests must take the seal, which is divine law, not human. In this instance, I failed to think! There was a time when I would publish blog posts 24 hours after I wrote them. Perhaps I should return to that prudent practice.

      In any event, I have no recollection of your confession at all Matt. The Holy Spirit removes any memory I might have. What you confessed is between you and our Lord. I am grateful your were edified, and I’m sincerely sorry if you, or any other penitent, felt judged or compromised by this thoughtless post. God bless you!

  • Greg Kingman

    I pray to numerous saints everyday simply because they are my brothers and sisters in Christ, examples of the triumph of grace in the battle for the life of the soul. Grace which God has provided for us through holy Mother Church. Thank you for being a loving responsible priestly father, Fr John. Your parish is truly blessed.

    • Yes. I think St Maria, especially, demonstrates the triumph of grace. She is a great counter-witness to that common temptation that the enemy puts before us, of the inevitability of our fall, the futility of resistance. St Maria Goretti, pray for us!

  • Florence

    Fr John, I think this post is good, so long as you do not remember ones sins. This post would encourage others reading your posts no matter which country to go for confession. I consider regular confessions to be regular showers for the soul.

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