On the Forgiveness of Sins

«The Holy Spirit Brings us God’s Forgiveness ‘Passing Through’ Jesus’ Wounds»

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Here is a translation of Pope Francis’ continuing catechesis on the Creed from his weekly General Audience in St. Peter’s Square today.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Last Wednesday I spoke about the forgiveness of sins, referred in a particular way to Baptism. Today we continue with the subject of the forgiveness of sins, but in reference to the so-called “power of the keys,” which is a biblical symbol of the mission that Jesus gave to the Apostles.

First of all we must remember that the protagonist of the forgiveness of sins is the Holy Spirit. In his first apparition to the Apostles, in the Cenacle, the Risen Jesus made the gesture of breathing on them saying: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:22-23). Jesus, transfigured in his body, is now the new man who offers the paschal gifts, fruit of his Death and Resurrection: What are these gifts? Peace, joy, the forgiveness of sin, the mission but above all he gives the Holy Spirit who is the source of all this. Jesus’ breath, accompanied by the words with which he communicates the Spirit, indicates the transmission of life, the new life regenerated by forgiveness.

However before doing the gesture of breathing and giving the Spirit, Jesus shows his wounds, in his hands and on his side: these wounds are the price of our salvation. The Holy Spirit brings us God’s forgiveness “passing through” Jesus’ wounds. These wounds that He wished to preserve: even in this moment He is in Heaven and showing the Father the wounds which have saved us. Through the strength of these wounds, our sins are forgiven:this is how Jesus has given his life for our peace, for our joy, for the gift of the grace in our soul, for the forgiveness of our sins. And it is very beautiful to see Jesus this way!

And we come to the second element: Jesus gives the Apostles the power of forgiving sins; It is a bit difficult to understand how a man can forgive sins, but Jesus gives this power. The Church is depository of the power of the keys,of either opening or closing forgiveness. God forgives every man in His sovereign mercy, but He himself willed that all those who belong to Christ and to his Church, should receive forgiveness through the ministers of the Community. God’s mercy reaches me through the apostolic ministry, my faults are forgiven and joy is given to me. Thus Jesus calls us to live reconciliation also in the ecclesial, communitarian dimension. And this is very beautiful. The Church, which is holy and at the same time needy of penance, accompanies our journey of conversion for the whole of life. The Church is not owner of the power of the keys, she is not owner, but servant of the ministry of mercy and rejoices every time that she can offer this divine gift.

Many persons, perhaps, do not understand the ecclesial dimension of forgiveness, because individualism and subjectivism prevail, and we Christians also resent it. God certainly forgives personally every sinner who is repentant, but the Christian is tied to Christ, and Christ is united to the Church. For us Christians there is another gift, and it is also an added commitment: to pass humbly through the ecclesial ministry. We should value this; it is a gift, a cure, a protection and also a security that God has forgiven me. I go to a brother priest and I say, “Father, I have done this…” And he responds: “But I forgive you; God forgives you.” In that moment, I am sure that God has forgiven me! And this is beautiful, this is having that security that God always forgives us, he does not tire of forgiving. And we should not tire of going to ask forgiveness. It may be embarrassing to tell our sins, but as our mothers and grandmothers would say, it is better to become red (blushed) one time than yellow a thousand times. You become red once, but then we come forgiven of our sins and we go forward.

Finally, a last point: the priest instrument for the forgiveness of sins. The forgiveness of God which is given to us in the Church, is transmitted to us through the ministry of a brother of ours, the priest; a man, who like us is in need of mercy, becomes truly instrument of mercy, giving us the unbounded love of God the Father ….Yes, as I said earlier, God always listens to you, but in the Sacrament of Reconciliation he sends a brother to bring you forgiveness, the security of forgiveness in the name of the Church.

The service that the priest gives as minister, on behalf of God, to forgive sins is very delicate, a very delicate service, and calls for his heart to be in peace; that he not mistreat the faithful, but that he be meek, benevolent and merciful; that he be able to sow hope in hearts and, above all, that he be aware that the brother or sister who approaches the Sacrament of Reconciliation seeks forgiveness and does so as so many people approached Jesus to be healed. For the priest who does not have this disposition of spirit, it is better that, until he corrects himself, he does not administer this Sacrament. Do the penitent faithful have the duty? No! They have the right to find in priests servants of God’s forgiveness.

Dear brothers, as members of the Church, are we aware of this gift that God Himself offers us? Do we feel the joy of this healing, of this maternal care that the Church has for us? Are we able to appreciate it with simplicity and assiduity? Let us not forget that God never tires of forgiving us; through the ministry of the priest He clasps us in a new embrace that regenerates us and enables us to rise again and take up our journey again. Because this is our life: to continually rise up and return on the path. Thank you.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:  Today I would like to speak again on the forgiveness of sins by reflecting on the power of the keys, which is a biblical symbol of the mission Jesus entrusted to the Apostles.  First and foremost, we recall that the source of the forgiveness of sins is the Holy Spirit, whom the Risen Jesus bestowed upon the Apostles.  Hence, he made the Church the guardian of the keys, of this power.  The Church, however, is not the master of forgiveness, but its servant.  The Church accompanies us on our journey of conversion for the whole of our lives and calls us to experience reconciliation in its communal and ecclesial dimension.  We receive forgiveness through the priest.  Through his ministry, God has given us a brother to bring us forgiveness in the name of the Church.  Priests, who are the servants of this sacrament, must recognize that they also are in need of forgiveness and healing, and so they must exercise their ministry in humility and mercy.  Let us then remember always that God never tires of forgiving us. Let us truly value this sacrament and rejoice in the gift of pardon and healing that comes to us through the ministry of priests.

Pope Francis (in Italian):

I offer an affectionate greeting to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from England, Wales, Korea and the United States of America.  Upon all of you, I invoke God’s blessings of peace and joy!

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Tomorrow, November 21, in the liturgical memorial of the Presentation of Mary Most Holy in the Temple, we will celebrate the Day pro Orantibus, dedicated to the memory of the cloistered Religious Communities. It is an opportune occasion to thank the Lord for the gift of so many persons who, in monasteries and hermitages, dedicate themselves to God in prayer and industrious silence. We thank the Lord for the testimonies of cloistered life and let us not have these brothers and sister of ours lack our spiritual and material support, so that they can carry out their important mission.

This coming November 22 the United Nations “International Year of the Rural Family” will open, geared also to stressing that the agricultural economy and rural development find in
the family a respectful worker of creation and attentive to the concrete needs. In work also, the family is a model of fraternity to live an experience of unity and solidarity among all its members, blocking at birth eventual social conflicts. For these reasons, while expressing my pleasure for such an opportune initiative, I hope that it will contribute to appreciate the innumerable benefits that the family brings to the economic, social, cultural and moral growth of the entire human community.

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I give a warm welcome to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular I greet the faithful of Termoli-Larino with their Bishop, Monsignor De Luca and those of Urbisaglia, who have come on the occasion of the Year of Faith. I greet affectionately the Bergoglio families of Cortiglione Robella and of Casale Monferrato; the volunteers of the Focolare Movement; the participants in the Inter-Mediterranean Conference of Provincial Ministers of the Friars Minor Conventuals and the Confederation of Entrepreneurs and Businessmen of Catanzaro. In addition, I greet the parish groups and Associations present, in particular the Mary Mother of Providence Association of Turin and the Association that promotes the Sacred Representation of the Passion of Christ in Italy and Europe. I wish that for everyone the meeting with the Successor of Peter will give new impulse to the faith, reinforce hope and render charity active.

Finally my affectionate thought goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. In the month of November the liturgy invites us to prayer for the deceased. Let us not forget our dear ones, benefactors and all those who have preceded us in faith: the Eucharistic celebration is the best spiritual help that we can give to their souls, particularly to those most abandoned. We cannot forget the victims of the recent flood in Sardinia: we pray for them and their relatives and let us join in solidarity with all those who have suffered damages. Now let us say a little prayer in silence and then let us pray to Our Lady so that she may bless and help all our Sardinian brothers and sisters.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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