I found this really lovely article on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, about what a priest feels when he hears a person's confession:
So often, people will ask if I remember people’s sin from Confession. As a priest, I rarely, if ever, remember sins from the confessional. That might seem impossible, but the truth is, sins aren’t all that impressive. They aren’t like memorable sunsets or meteor showers or super-intriguing movies . . . they are more like the garbage.
And if sins are like garbage, then the priest is like God’s garbage-man. If you ask a garbage-man about the gross-est thing he’s ever had to haul to the dump, maaaaaaybe he could remember it. But the fact is, once you get used to taking out the trash, it ceases to be noteworthy, it ceases to stand out.
I am not over-awed by their sins; I am struck by the fact that they have been able to recognize sins in their life that I have been blind to in my own. Hearing someone’s humility breaks down my own pride. It is one of the best examinations of conscience.
But why is Confession a scary place for a priest? It is frightening because of the way in which Jesus trusts me to be a living sign of His mercy.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen once told priests that we scarcely realize what is happening when we extend our hands over someone’s head in absolution. We don’t realize, he said, that the very Blood of Christ is dripping from our fingers onto their heads, washing the penitent clean.
And something I did not know, which even now brings tears to my eyes:
One time, after college, I was returning to Confession after a long time and a lot of sin and the priest simply gave me something like “one Hail Mary” as my penance. I stopped.
“Um, Father…? Did you hear everything I said?” “Yes, I did.” “Don’t you think I should get a bigger penance than that?” He looked at me with great love and said, “No. That small penance is all that I’m asking of you.” He hesitated, and then continued, “But you should know . . . I will be fasting for you for the next 30 days.”
I was stunned. I didn’t know what to do. He told me that the Catechism teaches that the priest must do penance for all those who come to him for Confession. And here he was, embracing a severe penance for all of my severe sins.
I do not distrust Father when he wrote this, but I wanted to find the citation for my own - and your - edification.
And indeed, it is true:
1466: The confessor is not the master of God's forgiveness, but its servant. The minister of this sacrament should unite himself to the intention and charity of Christ. He should have a proven knowledge of Christian behavior, experience of human affairs, respect and sensitivity toward the one who has fallen; he must love the truth, be faithful to the Magisterium of the Church, and lead the penitent with patience toward healing and full maturity. He must pray and do penance for his penitent, entrusting him to the Lord's mercy.
Wow. This gives me even more respect for priests who are true to their vocation. I wonder how many priests see it as the weekly 3:30 pm to 4:30 pm grind and approach it as just another "to do" for a Saturday afternoon rather than approach it joyously as a victory for both penitent and confessor?