This morning in the Hall of Blessings Pope Francis received in audience the six hundred participants in the annual course of the internal forum of the Apostolic Penitentiary. For a quarter of a century this dicastery has offered the course, especially to recently ordained priests and deacons, to contribute to the formation of good confessors.
In his address, the Holy Father encouraged those present to “treasure the experience acquired with wise creativity, to further help the Church and confessors to perform their ministry of mercy, which is so important”, and reflected on three key points related to confession.
“Firstly, the agent of the ministry of Reconciliation is the Holy Spirit”, he said. “The forgiveness that the Sacrament confers is the new life transmitted by the Risen Lord by means of His Spirit. … Therefore, you are required always to be “men of the Holy Spirit”, witnesses and proclaimers, joyful and strong, of the resurrection of the Lord”. The Bishop of Rome encouraged them to welcome penitents “not with the attitude of a judge or even that of a mere friend, but with God's charity. … A priest's heart is a heart that is able to be touched. … If it is true that tradition suggests the dual role of doctor and judge for confessors, we must never forget that the doctor cures and the judge absolves”.
Moving on to the second aspect, he explained, “If Reconciliation transmits the new life of the Risen Lord and renews baptismal grace, then your task is to give this generously to your brethren. A priest who does not take care of this part of his ministry … is like a shepherd who does not take care of his lost sheep. … But mercy is at the heart of the Gospel! It is the good news that God loves us, that He always loves man the sinner, and with this love he draws man towards Him and invites him to convert. We must not forget that the faithful often struggle to receive this Sacrament, both for practical reasons and for the natural difficulty of confessing one's own sins to another man. Therefore, it is necessary to work hard upon ourselves, on our humanity, so as never to be an obstacle to but rather to facilitate an approach to mercy and forgiveness. … Confession is not a sentencing court, but rather an experience of forgiveness and mercy!”.
Finally, Pope Francis referred to the difficulties that may frequently be encountered in confession. “There are many reasons, both historical and spiritual. However, we know that the Lord wished to offer this immense gift to the Church, offering the baptised the security of the Father's forgiveness. For this reason, it is very important that particular care is taken in the celebration of this Sacrament of forgiveness and salvation in all dioceses and parish communities. It is essential that in every parish the faithful know when they can find available priests: when there is trust, the fruits can be seen”.