The Sacrament of Reconciliation makes the “merciful face of God” present to the faithful. These were the words of Pope Francis to participants of the Course on the Internal Forum.
The annual Course was organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary, one of three tribunals of the Roman Curia that is responsible for issues relating to forgiveness of sins, including absolution of excommunications, dispensations, and indulgences.
The Holy Father began by greeting Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, the Major Penitentiary as well as the participants of the course who reflected on the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Recalling the theme of their course, the Pope said that the Sacraments are the place of encounter between God and mankind. But Reconciliation, he noted, renders “with special efficacy the merciful face of God.”
“Let us never forget, be it as penitents or as confessors: there is no sin that God cannot forgive! None!” the Pope exclaimed. “Only what is subtracted from Divine Mercy cannot be forgiven, as one who withdraws himself from the sun cannot be illuminated or warmed.”
Continuing his address, the Pope said there are three main aspects of Sacrament of Reconciliation: to live it as a means to educate mercy, to allow ourselves to be educated by what is celebrated, and to guard “the supernatural gaze” towards Heaven.
Regarding the first aspect, the Holy Father said that in order to live the Sacrament as a way to educate mercy, confessors must help penitents to experience both the Christian and human understanding of peace and understanding.
“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,” he said.
The Holy Father went on to say that Confession should not turn into a “heavy interrogation” but rather a liberating encounter that frees one from sin through mercy.
The Pope moved on to his second point, saying that confessors should allow themselves to be educated by mercy, especially through hearing confessions that can edify them.
“We have been given, often, to witness true and proper miracles of conversion,” he said. “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 to implore forgiveness.”
The 78 year old Pontiff said that penitents can help confessors to “make an examination of conscience” as well as helping them to reflect on their own personal conversion.
Speaking on his final point, the Holy Father said that confessors must have their “interior gaze” towards Heaven. He called on confessors to be aware that no one is in the ministry of forgiving sins because of personal merit or theological competence.
“We have all been constituted ministers of Reconciliation by the pure grace of God, gratuitously and out of love, rather, better still, by mercy,” he said. “We are ministers of mercy thanks to the mercy of God.”
The Pope said that this “supernatural gaze” makes confessors humble as well as giving them the possibility to listen to confessions with respect towards the penitent’s dignity and personal history.
“The Church is called to “initiate her members — priests, Religious and laity — in the “art of accompanying,” so that everyone will always learn to take off their sandals before the sacred earth of the other,” he said.
Concluding his address, Pope Francis called on those present to take advantage of the Lenten season for their own personal conversion.
He also urged them to dedicate themselves 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.”
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On ZENIT’s web page:
To read the Holy Father’s address, go to: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/pope-francis-address-to-participants-of-the-course-on-the-internal-forum