The Pope: Confessors must not act like inquisitors nor shame those who repent

The Pope during his audience with the Missionaries of Mercy in the Vatican

The Pope: Confessors must not act like inquisitors nor shame those who repent

By Iacopo Scaramuzzi/ lastampa.it

To the Missionaries of Mercy, Francis reminds that “the prodigal son didn’t have to go through customs”. On Syria, depression and the question of God’s abandonment: “His love defeats every form of solitude”.

There is no need to “make those who know they have made mistakes feel ashamed”, there is no need to “inquire” where the grace of the Father has already intervened because “it is not permitted to violate a person sacred space in their relationship with God”. Pope Francis receives the Missionaries of Mercy and explain anew the profound meaning of the “sacrament of reconciliation” (confession), pointing to the example of two great confessors from Buenos Aires and a Vatican cardinal (”We speak so badly about the Roman Curia, but inside there are saints”).

The “prodigal son” of the Gospel parable “did not have to go through customs”, Francis recalls, insisting that the Church must not “create any barrier or difficulty that may hinder access to the Father’s forgiveness” nor neglect “the steps that a person is taking day after day” to “defend the integrity of the Gospel ideal”. And in the face of the tragedies that “give rise in many the question of God’s abandonment”, from the ongoing situation in Syria, to personal problems such as depression, the Argentinean Pontiff stresses that “mercy takes us by the hand, and infuses with certainty that God’s love defeats every form of solitude and abandonment.”

The Missionaries of Mercy, gathered these days at the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization led by Monsignor Rino Fisichella, are confessors appointed to carry out their task around the world specifically during the period of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy (8 December 2015-20 November 2016). “However”, the Pope told the 550 men whom he celebrated mass at St. Peter’s with, “reflecting on the great service you have rendered to the Church, and on how much good you have done and offered to so many believers with your preaching and above all with the celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation, I considered it appropriate to extend your term for a little longer. I have received many testimonies of conversions taking place through your service. And you are witnesses to this.”

“We must always, but above all with regard to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, reiterate that the Lord is the one who makes the first move; it is He who precedes us in love, but not in a universal form: case by case”, stressed Francis who recalled a Spanish neologism dear to him, that of “primear”, i.e. to preempt, “to express precisely the dynamics of the first act with which God comes to meet us”. For this reason, “when a penitent approaches us, it is important and of consolation to recognize that before us stands the first fruit of the encounter that already happened with the love of God, who with his grace opened their heart for conversion”, the Pope remarked. “Our task - and this is a second step - is not to make God’s action of grace vain, but to sustain it and allow it to bear fruit. Sometimes, unfortunately, it can happen that a priest, with his behavior, instead of approaching the penitent, he draws them away. For example – Francis stressed - to defend the integrity of the evangelical ideal, we neglect the steps that a person is taking day after day. This is not how the grace of God is nourished. To recognize the repentance of the sinner means to welcome them with open arms, to imitate the father of the parable that welcomes his son when he returns home, it means not even letting him finish his words”.

During his speech, Jorge Mario Bergoglio has often dwelt on the Gospel parable of the “prodigal son” the boy who was accepted despite his mistakes by the “merciful father”. “The prodigal son did not have to go through customs: he was welcomed by the Father, without obstacles”, he said, inviting the Missionaries of Mercy to be “a concrete sign that the Church cannot, must not and does not want to create any barrier or difficulty that hinders access to the Father’s forgiveness”. In the parable, “the father did not even let him finish his words, he embraced him. The son had prepared a speech, but (his father) embraced him. It means that he did not even let him finish apologizing, because the confessor has already understood everything, strong in the experience of being himself a sinner too. There is no need - the Pope said - to make those who have already acknowledged their sin feel ashamed. They know they have made mistakes, there is no need to inquire - those confessors who ask, and ask… ten, twenty, thirty, forty minutes ... “And how was it done? But how? There is no need to inquire where the grace of the Father has already intervened, it is not permitted to violate a persons sacred space in his relationship with God.

In this regard, the Latin American Pope made “an example of the Roman Curia”, which he had already mentioned in the past: “We speak so badly of the Roman Curia, but here inside there are saints. A cardinal, Prefect of a Congregation, is used to going to confess to Santo Spirito in Sassia two, three times a week - he has his fixed time - and one day, he said: when I realize that a person begins to struggle to say something, and I have understood what it is, I say: “I have understood. Go ahead. And that person “breathes”. It’s a good tip: when you know what it is about… “I understand, go ahead”.

Bergoglio then dwelt on the consequences of forgiveness born out of divine mercy. “God frees us from fear, anguish, shame and violence. Forgiveness is really a form of liberation that restores joy and gives meaning to life,” he said, and “by freeing, mercy restores dignity. The penitent shall not hesitate to feel sorry for the sin committed, and the priest shall not blame him for the evil of which he is repentant, rather, he shall encourage him to look to the future with new eyes, leading him “to the springs of water”. This means that forgiveness and mercy allow us to look back at life with confidence and commitment,” the Pope insisted and then quoted the founder of the Jesuits, Saint Ignatius of Loyola - “let me advertise my family a little” - recalled the concept of inner “consolation” that “drives away all disturbance and attracts all to the love of the Lord” that we run the risk of losing with a “spirituality of complaints”.

The Pope stressed that “sin is to abandon God, to turn our backs on him and look only at ourselves”. Francis admitted: “There are times when you really feel the silence and abandonment of God. Not only in the great dark hours of humanity in every age, which give rise to many questions about the abandonment of God. I am thinking now of Syria today, for example. It happens that even in personal events, even in those of the saints, one can experience abandonment.” “What a sad experience – he said -that of abandonment! It has different degrees, up to the definitive detachment for the arrival of death. Feeling abandoned leads to disappointment, to sadness, sometimes to despair, and to the various forms of depression that many suffer from today. And yet, every form of abandonment, paradoxical as it may seem, is inserted within the experience of love.”

The Pope recalled that “The cry of Jesus on the cross: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” gives voice to the abyss of abandonment. But the Father does not answer Him. The words of the Crucifix seem to resonate in the void, because this silence of the Father for the Son is the price to pay so that no-one may feel abandoned by God. The God Who loved the world to the point of giving His Son, to the point of abandoning Him on the cross, He will never abandon anyone: His love will always be there, close, bigger and more faithful than any abandonment”.

Then Francis said, apologizing for the length of his speech, “The Missionaries of Mercy are called to be interpreters and witnesses of this experience”. For this reason, he urged them not to “place themselves above others as if they were judges of their sinful brothers”, to have “a lifestyle consistent with the mission they have received”, and to those who in the meantime have been appointed bishops he hoped that “they have not lost the ability to have “mercy”.

Before concluding his speech, the Pope recalled, by way of example, two great confessors of whom he had already spoken in other speeches of his pontificate, Father José Aristi, of whom he “stole” the cross of the Rosary, and Father Luis Dri who, concerned for having granted too many absolutions, said before the crucifix: “Lord, forgive me, today I have forgiven too much. Forgive me... Yet, don’t’ forget it was you who gave me the bad example”.

Wed, 04/11/2018 - 11:11
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