VATICAN CITY, March 28, 2014 (Zenit.org) – Addressing members of the Apostolic Penitentiary, Pope Francis offered a reflection on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a ministry of reconciliation whose protagonist is the Holy Spirit.
Those present were attending the ‘Course on the Internal Forum’, an annual meeting that focuses on the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the ministry of Confessors.
The Holy Father began his discourse by thanking those present for their service in contributing to the formation of good confessors. “I thank you for this valuable service and I encourage you to take it forward with renewed commitment, building on experience gained and with skilful creativity, to always help the Church and confessors to better carry out the ministry of mercy, which is so important!” he said.
Reflecting on the Sacrament itself, the Pope began by explaining that the forgiveness that comes from Reconciliation “is the new life sent by the Risen Lord by means of His Spirit.”
“You are called to always be ‘men of the Holy Spirit,’ witnesses and heralds, joyful and strong, of the resurrection of the Lord,” the Pope said. “This testimony is read on the face, is heard in the voice of the priest who administers with faith and with ‘unction’ the Sacrament of Reconciliation.”
The Pope reminded those present that the heart of a priest is not moved by sentimentality or emotion, but by “the tender mercy of the Lord.”
Another aspect of Reconciliation, he continued, is the task of the priest to transmit the new life of the Risen Lord “generously to others.”
“A priest who does not attend to this part of his ministry, both in the amount of time spent and in the spiritual quality, is like a shepherd who does not take care of the sheep that were lost; he is like a father who forgets the lost son and neglects waiting for him,” the Pope said.
“But mercy is the heart of the Gospel! It is the good news that God loves us, that He always loves the sinner, and with this love draws him to Himself and invites him to conversion.”
The Holy Father reminded them that for either practical reasons or difficulty of confessing one’s sins to another, the faithful can find it hard to approach the sacrament. The Pope encouraged them “never to be an obstacle but always to favour drawing near to mercy and forgiveness.”
“Confession,” he exclaimed, “is not a court of condemnation, but an experience of forgiveness and mercy!”
Concluding his address, Pope Francis emphasized the need to make the Sacrament of Reconciliation available to all those who need it. The faithful in every parish, he stressed, need to know when they can find priests available.
“To the Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy, we entrust the ministry of priests, and every Christian community, that they might always grow in understanding the value of the Sacrament of Penance. I entrust all of you to our Mother and I bless you from the heart,” he concluded. (J.A.E.)