Pope Francis today called on pastors to be careful so that schedules and programs don’t inhibit people from approaching the sacrament of confession.
The Pope said this during one of two addresses he gave today on the sacrament of reconciliation.
In the morning, he met with participants in an annual conference sponsored by the Apostolic Penitentiary on the “internal forum,” or confession. Then in the afternoon, he gave a homily at a penitential service in St. Peter’s that began the “24 Hours for the Lord” initiative held now all across the world.
In his address to the internal forum conference, the Pope said that the celebration of mercy is almost part of the sacrament itself — celebrating the “feast of the encounter with the Father.”
“We forget this last aspect [of celebration] with such ease,” he said. “I go, I ask for forgiveness, I feel the embrace of forgiveness and I forget to celebrate. This is not theological doctrine but I would say, forcing somewhat, that the celebration is part of the Sacrament: it is as if penance is also part of the celebration I must have with the Father who has forgiven me.”
God’s mercy can be encountered in many places, Francis noted, but it is the sacrament of confession that is the “‘sure way’ of mercy.”
“After the priest’s absolution, every repentant faithful has the certainty, through faith, that his sins no longer exist. They no longer exist! God is Omnipotent. I like to think that He has a weakness: a bad memory. Once He forgives He forgets. And this is great! The sins no longer exist, they were cancelled by divine mercy. Every absolution is, in a certain way, a jubilee of the heart, which rejoices not only the faithful and the Church but, especially, God Himself.”
Thus, said the Pope, the confessor has to be a “channel of joy.”
“Let us put back at the center – and not only in this Jubilee Year! — the Sacrament of Reconciliation, true space of the Spirit in which all, confessors and penitents, can experience the only definitive and faithful love, that of God for each of His children, a love that never disappoints.”
Crying out for God
Then, at this afternoon’s service, where the Pope went to confession and also heard confessions, he spoke of the Gospel passage of Bartimaeus, the blind man.
In the context of that passage, the Holy Father said that “today more than ever, we Pastors are especially called to hear the cry, perhaps hidden, of all those who wish to encounter the Lord.”
“We need to re-examine those behaviours of ours which at times do not help others to draw close to Jesus; the schedules and programmes which do not meet the real needs of those who may approach the confessional; human regulations, if they are more important than the desire for forgiveness; our own inflexibility which may keep others away from God’s tenderness.”
“We must certainly not water down the demands of the Gospel, but we cannot risk frustrating the desire of the sinner to be reconciled with the Father,” Francis said. “For what the Father awaits more than anything is for his sons and daughters to return home.”
On ZENIT’s Web page:
Text of address to internal forum conference: https://zenit.org/articles/popes-address-to-course-on-internal-forum/
Homily at penitential service: https://zenit.org/articles/popes-homily-at-penitential-service-for-24-hours-for-the-lord/