Here is the translation of Pope Francis’ address to participants of the Course on the Internal Forum sponsored by the Apostolic Penitentiary.
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I am particularly happy to meet with you, during this Lenten Season, on the occasion of the annual Course on the Internal Forum, organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary.
I give a cordial greeting to Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Major Penitentiary, and I thank him for his courteous expressions. I greet the Regent, Monsignor Krzysztof Nykiel, the Prelates, the Officials and the Staff of the Penitentiary, the Colleagues of the Ordinary and Extraordinary Penitentiaries of the Papal Basilica in the city, and all you participants in the Course, whose pastoral objective is to help new priests and candidates to Holy Orders to administer correctly the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
As we know, the Sacraments are the place of God’s closeness and tenderness for men. They are the concrete way that God willed to come to meet us, to embrace us, without being ashamed of us and of our limitations.
Among the Sacraments, certainly that of Reconciliation renders present with special efficacy the merciful face of God: it concretizes and manifests it continually, without stopping. Let us never forget, be it as penitents or as confessors: there is no sin that God cannot forgive! None! Only what is subtracted from Divine Mercy cannot be forgiven, as one who withdraws himself from the sun cannot be illuminated or warmed.
In the light of this marvelous gift of God, I would like to underscore three exigencies: to live the Sacrament as a means to educate to mercy; to allow ourselves be educated by what we celebrate; to guard the supernatural gaze.
To live the Sacrament as a means to educate to mercy means to help our brothers to have the experience of peace and understanding, human and Christian. Confession should not be a “torture,” but all should leave the confessional with happiness of heart, with a face radiant with hope even if, sometimes, — we know it — bathed by the tears of conversion and of the joy that stems from it (Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 44). The Sacrament, with all the acts of the penitent, does not imply that it should become a heavy interrogation, annoying and invading. On the contrary, it must be a liberating encounter rich in humanity, through which one can educate to mercy, which does not exclude but rather includes the just commitment to repair, as far as possible, the evil committed. Thus the faithful will feel invited to confess frequently, and will learn to do so in the best of ways, with that delicacy of spirit that has done the heart good – also the heart of the confessor! In this way we priests make the personal relation with God grow, so that his Kingdom of love and peace is dilated in hearts. And it is precisely to you confessors that I say: allow yourselves to be educated by the Sacrament of Reconciliation! How many times it happens that we hear confessions that edify us! Brothers and sisters who live a genuine personal and ecclesial communion with the Lord and sincere love of brethren. Simple souls, souls poor in spirit, who abandon themselves totally to the Lord, who trust the Church and, therefore, also the confessor. We have been given, often, to witness true and proper miracles of conversion. Persons, who for months, sometimes for years have been under the dominion of sin and that, as the Prodigal Son, return to themselves and decide rise again and return to the House of the Father (Cf. Luke 15:17), to implore forgiveness. How good it is to receive these repentant brothers and sisters with the beneficent embrace of the merciful Father, who calls us so much and rejoices over every child that returns to Him with his whole heart! How much we can learn from the conversion and repentance of our brothers! They push us also to make an examination of conscience: Do I, a priest, love the Lord like this, who made me a minister of His mercy? Am I, a confessor, ready to change and convert as this penitent, at whose service I have been placed? When we hear the sacramental confessions of the faithful, we must always have our interior gaze turned to Heaven, to the supernatural. First of all we must revive in ourselves the awareness that no one is placed in this ministry because of his merit, or his theological or juridical competence, or for his human and psychological treatment. We have all been constituted ministers of Reconciliation by the pure grace of God, gratuitously and out of love, rather, better still, by mercy. We are ministers of mercy thanks to the mercy of God. We must never lose this supernatural gaze, which renders us truly humble, welcoming and merciful toward every brother and sister who asks for confession. The way of listening to the accusation of sins must also be supernatural, respectful of the dignity and the personal history of each one, so that he or she can understand what God wants from him or her. Therefore, the Church is called to “initiate her members — priests, Religious and laity — in the “art of accompaniment,” so that all will always learn to take off their sandals before the sacred earth of the other” (Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium,169). Every penitent faithful who approaches the confessional is “sacred earth,” to be “cultivated” with dedication, care and pastoral attention.
Dear brothers, I hope you will take advantage of the Lenten Season for personal conversion and to dedicate yourselves generously to the listening of Confessions, so that the People of God can come purified to the celebration of Easter, which represents the definitive victory of Divine Mercy over all the evil of the world.
Let us entrust ourselves to the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy and Refuge of Sinners. I give you my heartfelt blessing and ask you, please, to pray for me.[Translation by ZENIT]