The Holy Father said that the teaching-learning aspect of confession is not sufficiently considered, despite its spiritual and pastoral importance.
"In what way does the sacrament of penance educate?" he asked. "In what sense does its celebration have a pedagogical value, first of all, for the ministers?"
To respond to these questions, he suggested starting with the recognition "that the priestly ministry constitutes a unique and privileged observation post, from which, daily, we are enabled to contemplate the splendor of divine mercy."
"Fundamentally," the Holy Father said, "to confess means to assist in as many 'professiones fidei' as there are penitents, and to contemplate the action of the merciful God in history, to touch the salvific effects of the cross and resurrection of Christ, at all times and for every man."
The Pontiff reflected how in the confessional, the priest in a sense visits the "abyss of the human heart, also in the dark aspects." And this, he said, also tests the "humanity and the faith of the priest himself."
"On the other hand," he continued, "it nourishes in him the certainty that the last word on the evil of man and of history is God's, it is his mercy, able to make all things new."
From confession, in fact, the priest can learn much, the Pope said, above all "from exemplary penitents by their spiritual life, by the seriousness with which they conduct their examinations of conscience, by the transparency in recognizing their sin and by their docility to the teaching of the Church and the indications of the confessor."
"From the administration of the sacrament of penance we can receive profound lessons of humility and faith," he assured. Confession is "a very strong call for each priest to the awareness of his own identity."
"Never, in the strength of our humanity alone, would we be able to hear the confessions of brothers," continued the Pope. "If they approach us, it is only because we are priests, configured to Christ, High and Eternal Priest, and made capable of acting in his name and in his person, of rendering really present God who forgives, renews and transforms."