By Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR
We are the soldiers of peace, we are the army of the peacemakers, fighting for God and peace, Deo et paci militantibus. Persuasion, good example, loyalty to God are the only arms worthy of the children of the Gospel. (Sermon of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) preaching in defense of the Jews.)
Now without a doubt I have to start by clarifying something that is a common misunderstanding. In the terminology of the Church’s tradition, the title “Confessor” does not refer strictly to a priest who hears confessions, although that is one application of the term. A “Confessor” is one who “confesses” (or “professes”) the Catholic Faith in a public way without being killed. He is a pastor, teacher, missionary, or preacher of some sort, but not a martyr. Clearly some of these Confessors of the Church may have come close to martyrdom themselves, but God did not grant them that specific grace. These are the men who have stood up in the public forum to defend and explain the Catholic Faith in a heroic way to their particular generation. As one very current and well-known example, I believe that Pope John Paul II, when he is canonized, will find himself in the Church’s gallery of “Confessors.” There has been no one in our contemporary world who has so explained, clarified, and defended the Catholic Faith from all attacks and confusions as he.
I would hard-pressed to think of a category of saints that is more important for evangelization than this. Perhaps the Martyrs have a greater number of canonized saints, but the spread of the Faith throughout the world has come primarily through preaching and teaching, at least that is how St. Paul describes it. That is the essence of the vocation of the Confessor saint: he does not hide his light under a bushel basket but holds it proudly aloft in the darkness of his day and age so that others may be guided by it. In fact, we often use images related to light to describe what Confessors do. We say that they enlighten our minds, inflame our souls, and illuminate our paths to the truth. The Confessors are bold men who confront heresies, rebuke sinners, refute errors, and patiently explain the mysteries of the Faith to all who will listen. I never cease to be inspired by these true heroes.
I am sure that the names of some of the greatest Confessors are very familiar to you. Virtually every founder of a religious order, unless he died a martyr, is considered a Confessor. St. Francis, St. Dominic, St. Benedict, St. Alphonsus Liguori, St. Ignatius Loyola, and the like are in the ranks of Confessors. Some of the greatest champions of the Faith are familiar names to us. The list of these great men in the life of the Church stretches back through all ages and cultures, and believe it or not, many of them were actually bishops: St. Augustine (North African), St. Thomas Aquinas (Italian), St. Francis de Sales (French), Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman (English), St. Columban and St. Patrick (Irish), St. Martin de Porres (Peruvian/African), St. Charbel (Lebanese), Fr. Damian of Molokai (Belgian), and the list goes on. Padre Pio too was officially canonized a Confessor.
As a priest and a preacher, I can appreciate the very grave need for Confessors of the Faith in every day and age. God does not hesitate to raise up some of the best men of each generation and endow them with great gifts for spreading the Faith. However, not one of these men would ever claim that his gift for the work belongs to himself. Whether it be his natural talent, intelligence, dynamic personality or just plain charisma to change hearts, he knows that everything he has comes from the “Light of Confessors,” Jesus Christ. There is no other source of Light for the mission.
We are all “confessors” in some way, are we not? Whether we hand on the Catholic faith to our children, teach catechism, witness to others from our life’s experience, or actually preach the Gospel in public, Christ is the Light of our confession of faith! And because they have a very hard job, let us never forget to pray for priests and bishops whose vocation is to bear public witness to the Faith. With the shadows of moral confusion deepening in the modern age, more than ever they will really need the “Light of Confessors” to help keep the world from falling into the darkness of sin and error.
“Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (Mt 5:16)
Lord Jesus Christ, You are the Light of the world and the eternal “Light of Confessors” enlightening Your Church in every generation to spread the Catholic Faith. Give us the strength we need to bear witness to the truth and to bring Your Light to countless souls for the glory of God who lives with You and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.
[Excerpted from: Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Jesus and Mary: In Praise of their Glorious Names, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.: Huntington, Indiana, 2012.]