Apostolic Penitentiary offered the 34th Course on the Internal Forum to Seminarians and Religious Photo: Vatican Media

The Pope’s Meditation on the “Act of Sorrow” of Confession in Three Good Points

Speech by the Pope to the participants in the course on the Internal Jurisdiction promoted by the Apostolic Penitentiary

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(ZENIT News / Vatican City, 08.03.2024).- From March 4-8, the Holy See’s Apostolic Penitentiary offered the 34th Course on the Internal Forum to Seminarians and Religious preparing to receive Priestly Ordination, or priests who wished to reflect further on the field of the Internal Forum in pastoral care. Pope Francis received them in audience on Friday, March 8. Instead of reading the address he had prepared, he wished to greet those present one by one and handed them the text. Given the latter’s value, Zenit translated it into English.

Here is the text of the Holy Father’s address.

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I’m pleased to meet with you on the occasion of the Annual Course on the Internal Forum, organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary. I cordially greet Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Major Penitentiary, the Regent, Monsignor Nykiel, the Prelates, officials and staff of the Penitentiary, the ordinary and extraordinary Colleges of Penitentiaries of the Pontifical Basilicas in the city, and all of you, participants in the Course.

In the context of Lent and, in particular, of the Year of Prayer in preparation for the Jubilee, I would like to propose that we reflect together on the simple and rich prayer that belongs to the patrimony of the Holy Faithful People of God, and which we recite during the Rite of Reconciliation: the Act of Sorrow.

Despite its somewhat old language, which could even be misinterpreted in some of its expressions, this prayer keeps all its validity, both pastoral as well as theological. After all, its author was the great Saint Alphonsus Maria of Liguori, teacher of Moral Theology, Pastor close to the people and man of great balance, far from rigorism and laxity.

I will pause on three attitudes expressed in the Act of Sorrow that I believe can help us to meditate on our relationship with God’s mercy: repentance before God, trust in Him, and resolution not to fall again.

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[1st Repentance]

First: repentance. It’s not the fruit of self-analysis or of a psychic feeling of guilt, but stems from the awareness of our misery before God’s infinite love, His limitless mercy. In fact, it’s this experience that moves our soul to ask Him for pardon, trusting in His paternity, as the prayer recites: “My God, I repent and am heartily sorry for my sins,” and, further on, adds: “because I have offended You, who are infinitely good.” In reality, a person’s sense of sin is, in fact, proportional to his/her perception of God’s infinite love: the more we feel His tenderness, the more we want to be in full communion with Him, and the more evident becomes the ugliness of the evil in our life. And it’s this awareness, described as “repentance” and “sadness,” which prompts us to reflect on ourselves and our acts and to convert. Let us recall that God never tires of forgiving us and, for our part, let’s never tire of asking Him for forgiveness!

[2nd Trust]

Second attitude: trust. In the Act of Sorrow, God is described as “infinitely good and worthy of being loved above everything.” It’s lovely to hear, on the lips of a penitent, the acknowledgement of God’s infinite goodness and the primacy, in one’s own life, of love for Him. To love “above all things, means, in fact, to put God at the center of everything, as light on the way and foundation of all order of values, entrusting everything to Him. And it is a primacy that encourages a whole other love: for men and creation, because  one who loves God loves his brother (cf. 1 John 4:19-21) and seeks his good, always, in justice and peace.

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[3rd Intention]

Third aspect: intention. The penitent expresses the will not to fall again into the sin committed (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1451), and enables the important step from attrition to contrition, from imperfect sorrow to perfect sorrow (cf. Ibid., 1452-1453). We manifest this attitude saying: “I propose, with your holy aid, never to offend You again.” These words express an intention, not a promise. In fact, none of us can promise God that we will not sin again, and what is required to receive forgiveness is not a guarantee of sinlessness, but a present intention, made with a right intention in the moment of Confession. Moreover, it’s a commitment that we always make with humility, as the words “with your holy aid” stress.” Saint John Mary Vianney, the Curé of Ars, used to repeat that “God forgives us even though He knows we will sin again.” And, moreover, without His grace, no conversion would be possible, against any temptation of old or new Pelagianism.

The Conclusion

Finally, I would like to call your attention to the beautiful conclusion of the prayer ”Lord, mercy, forgive me.” Here the terms “Lord” and “mercy” appear as synonyms, and this is decisive! God is mercy (cf. 1 John 4:8), His name, His face is mercy. It does us good to remember this always: in every act of mercy, in every act of love, God’s face shines.

Dear brothers, the task entrusted to you in the confessional  is beautiful and decisive, because it enables you to help so many brothers and sisters to experience the sweetness of God’s love. Hence, I encourage you to live every Confession as a unique and unrepeatable moment of grace, and to give the Lord’s pardon generously, with affability, paternity and I dare to say also, with maternal tenderness.

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I invite you to pray and to commit yourselves so that this year of preparation for the Jubilee sees the mercy of the Father flower in many hearts and in many places, so that God is ever more loved, acknowledged and praised.

I thank you for the apostolate you carry out — or that will soon be entrusted to some of you –. May the Virgin, Mother of Mercy, accompany you. I also keep you in my prayer and bless you from my heart. Please, don’t forget to pray for me.

Translation of the Italian original into Spanish by ZENIT’s Editorial Director, and, into English, by Virginia M. Forrester.

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