Francis: The Church is Not the Master of Forgiveness, But Its Servant

Stresses The Ministry of Priests as Bringers of the Mercy of God

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The faithful do not have a duty but a right to find the forgiveness of God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation ministered through priests, Pope Francis stressed today at his weekly General Audience. 

Addressing tens of thousands of pilgrims who had braved the rain to listen to the Holy Father in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis dedicated his catechesis on the Creed to the forgiveness of sins.

He focused on the “powers of the keys”, referring to Christ’s words in the Gospel of John: “And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’”

The act of Jesus’ breathing on the apostles, the Pope said, indicates that Christ is transmitting the new life that comes from forgiveness. However, before breathing on apostles, the Holy Father noted that Christ first showed his wounds to them.

“These wounds represent the price of our salvation. The Holy Spirit brings us the forgiveness of God that ‘passes through’ the wounds of Jesus,” the Pope said.

Following this, the Holy Father told the faithful that Jesus then gives his disciples the power to forgive sins. God, he said, wished for those who belong to Christ and his Church to receive forgiveness through the ministries of the community.

“In this way, Jesus calls us to live reconciliation in the ecclesial dimension as well, the community. And this is very beautiful,” he said.

“The Church, that is holy and also in need of repentance, accompanies our path of conversion our whole life. The Church is not the master of the power of the keys, it is not the master, but rather a servant of the ministry of mercy and rejoices every time that it can offer this divine gift.”

Pope Francis said that because individualism dominates in today’s world, many people, even Christians, do not understand the ecclesial dimension of forgiveness. While God does forgive all repentant sinners, there is a special bond that exists between Christ and his Church.

“For us Christians there is an extra gift, as well as another commitment: to humbly pass through the ecclesial ministry,” he said. The Pope said that while some may be embarrassed to confess their sins to a priest, it is “better to be red (blushed) for one day than yellow for a thousand days.”

Priests: Instruments of the Forgiveness of Sins

Pope Francis highlighted the role of priests, men who «like us are in need of mercy and become true instruments of mercy”, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Referring to those who say they can confess to God directly rather than a priest, the Holy Father said that while God always listens to us, He sends a brother to personally bring us forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

The Holy Father also stressed that priests, bishops and even the Pope must confess because we are all sinners. “Even the Pope confesses every 15 days because the Pope is a sinner as well. The confessor listens to what I tell him, he counsels me and he forgives me because we all need this forgiveness,” he said.

“The service that the priest gives as a ministry, from God, to forgive sins is very delicate, a very delicate service, and demands that his heart be at peace; that he does not ill-treat the faithful, but that he may be meek, benevolent and merciful; who knows how to sow hope in hearts, and above all, be aware that the brother or sister who approaches the Sacrament of Reconciliation is seeking forgiveness and does it like so many who approached Jesus in order to be healed,” the Pope stressed.

It is better for priests who do not have this disposition, he added, to not administer the Sacrament. All faithful have a right to find in “priests a servant of the forgiveness of God.”

Concluding his address, Pope Francis reminded the faithful that God never tires of forgiving us, calling on them to value the Sacrament of Reconciliation and gift of pardon that comes to all through the ministry of priests. (J.A.E.)

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