Theory and practice of the confessional by Caspar Erich Schieler, Richard Frederick Clarke
Finally, a prudent penitent will choose a suitable and virtuous confessor who unites real piety and prudent zeal to solid knowledge and a wide experience.
Not only is it advisable and wholesome to have a regular confessor, but it is absolutely necessary. Of course as far as the absolution is concerned it is always valid, provided that the priest who gives it has the requisite faculties; but as for the spiritual direction of the penitent, it is by no means an indifferent matter who the confessor is; if ever there is an occasion in which there is need of a trusty, reliable friend, guide, and adviser, it is in making a confession. On this point St. Francis of Sales writes: "When Tobias was about to send his son to Rages, and the latter explained that he did not know the way, 'Go, then/ said his father, 'and seek a man who knows the way, that he may guide you.' This is my advice to you, Philothea; if you really desire to tread the way of perfection, seek out above all things a man of experience to guide you and show you the way: this is the most important lesson of all." And after treating the subject in his usual way, he quotes the remarkable words which the great St. Louis shortly before his death addressed to his son: "Confess often, and choose for your confessor a man of experience, who has not only wisdom and science, but also zeal for souls, and learn from him what you ought to do." The priest as God's vicar is not a judge only, he is a physician, and it is not hard to understand how one physician can differ from another. For a soul which is anxious to get rid of sin, to be established in virtue, and to make progress in Christian perfection, as all Christians are bound to do, there is required not only the application of the Sacrament, but guidance as well. The direction of souls goes much farther than a mere dispensing of the Sacrament. There are many things in which a soul eager for salvation must be anxious for further instruction; the methods of combating with success different evil inclinations, the methods of prayer, the performance of certain good works, the way of carrying out the duties of one's state of life with more zeal and merit, and the attainment of perfection. An approved confessor and director is undoubtedly very useful, nay, necessary, and the penitent should pick out such a one. In a choice of this kind he should have no other object but his salvation and spiritual progress, and hence he should choose a well-instructed, experienced, and holy man to lead him in the way of God in the interior life, one who knows the penitent's condition, one whose heart is full of love, one who is as far removed from a feeble indulgence as from a repelling strictness. Firmness and gentleness should be united in him, a firmness which does not crush and a gentleness which will not allow presumption; he should inspire confidence so that the penitent has no difficulty in unfolding his heart to him. To seek an ignorant and inexperienced confessor is, as theologians express it, to choose a sure guide to hell; and, according to the teaching of Suarez, etc., it is a mortal sin when done with the intention of obtaining absolution by fraud. But a good confessor is a "faithful friend, a strong defense; and he that hath found him hath found a treasure;. . . and they that fear the Lord shall find him." St. Francis of Sales directs Philothea to make choice of a confessor after constant prayer, and assures her that God will grant her this most important of petitions and send her a man after his own heart.