The way Francis invites us to rediscover confession
The way Francis invites us to rediscover confession
When he can, the Pope kneels in the confessional and administers the sacrament: “The love of God precedes us. He sees beyond appearances, beyond sin, beyond failure and indignity”.
In the afternoon of Friday, March 17, the Pope is back to officiating the penitential liturgy as he focused on the sacrament of confession. Francesco as a priest, as well as bishop, has always confessed a lot. And, he is the first pope to kneel publicly before a confessional to receive forgiveness of sins before being himself the channel of God’s mercy for others. The image of the Bishop of Rome kneeling before a priest in the confessional is powerful also because it visually conveys what the Church believes and teaches: we all need mercy and forgiveness, because we are all sinners.
“I am a sinful man to whom the Lord has looked upon,” said Francis in his first interview with La Civilta’ Cattolica. To the inmates of Palmasola, Bolivia, met during the journey of July 2015 in Latin America, he said: “ The man standing before you is a man who has experienced forgiveness “ . “The Pope is a man who needs God’s mercy,” he repeated in his book The name of God is mercy. And when asked which advice should be given to someone approaching the confessional, he replied, “One should think about the truth of their life before God, their feelings, and their thoughts. One should look sincerely to oneself and to their sin. One must feel sinner and let yourself to be surprised by God. To receive His infinite gift of mercy, we must warn the need, feel our emptiness, our misery. We cannot be arrogant. “
The call of Matthew
The sacrament of confession has played a crucial role in Bergoglio’s life decision to become a priest. Recalling the importance of some priestly figures, he cited that of a religious met by chance one morning in the church of San José: “I think of Father Carlos Duarte Ibarra, a confessor I met in my parish on September 21, 1953, the day when the Church celebrates St. Matthew the Apostle and Evangelist. I was 17 years old. I felt welcomed by the mercy of God as I was confessing to him.” “It was a surprise, the wonder of a meeting – he told in the book-interview El Jesuita - I realized that they were expecting me. This is the religious experience: the wonder of meeting someone who is waiting for you. From that moment God became for me the one who “precedes.” You are looking for him, but He sees you first. You want to meet Him, but He comes to you first. “Francis recalls the Call, the meeting of faith, as a game of gazes during his homily at the Mass celebrated in the square in Holguín, Cuba, in September 2015: “His love precedes us. His gaze precedes our needs. He sees beyond appearances, beyond sin, failure and indignity. “He sees “our dignity as sons and daughters, sometimes smirched by sin, but always present in the depths of our soul. He came precisely to look for those who feel unworthy of God, unworthy of others. “
Not a “dry cleaner” nor a “torture room”
When asked what advice he would give to a Confessor, the Pope, reflecting on his personal experience, answered: “He should think of his personal sins, and listen with kindness, and pray the Lord to grant him a merciful heart like His, to never throw the first stone because he is also sinner in need of forgiveness. And to try to follow God in his mercy. “During his daily preaching in Santa Marta, Francis pointed out two possible risks, one for the penitent, and the other for the confessor. He explained that confession should not be approached like if it were a dry-cleaning service where to remove stains from a suit: “An image used to show the hypocrisy of those who believe that sin is like a stain; just a simple stain that can be easily removed by going to the dry-cleaner who will fix everything. You can clean a dress just by putting it in the washing machine. But sin is more than a stain. Sin is a wound that needs to be treated and medicated. “On another occasion he said that the confessional should not turn into a torture chamber: “Sometimes there may be someone whose curiosity is a bit too excessive, a sort of sick curiosity. I once heard of a married woman who had not been to confession in years because as a teenage girl she was asked to confess where she put her hands when she was asleep. There may be an excess of curiosity, especially in sexual matters. Or an insistence in asking explicit details that are not necessary. It is good for the penitent to feel ashamed for one’s own sin: shame is a grace to ask, it is a positive factor because it makes us humble. But in the dialogue with the confessor one must be heard, and not interrogated. Then the confessor says what he has to say, and shall give his advice with kindness. “
In front of someone else
Francis also explained the importance of approaching the confessional. Which is sometimes difficult. “Confession before a priest is a way to put one’s life in the hands and heart of someone else, who in that time is acting in the name and on behalf of Jesus. It is a way to be real and authentic: to literally face reality by looking at another person and not at oneself in a mirror.” “It’s true that I can speak with the Lord and immediately ask His forgiveness and beg Him. And the Lord will forgive, immediately - said the Pope - But it is important to go the confessional, to place oneself in front of a priest who embodies Jesus, to kneel in front of the Mother Church called to distribute the mercy of God. There is an objectivity within the gesture of kneeling in front of the priest, who at that time is channeling the grace that will reach me and heal me. I have always been moved by the gesture of the Churches of the Eastern tradition, when the confessor welcomes the penitent by putting the stole on their head and his arm around their shoulder, like a hug. It is a concrete representation of mercy. We shall recall that primarily we are not there to be judged. It is true that there is judgment in the confession, but there is something bigger than judgment that comes into play. It is to stand in front of someone who is acting in persona Christi to welcome you and forgive you. It is the encounter with mercy. “
Priest’s life nostalgia
In his first months of his pontificate, during the vigil of Pentecost on May 18, 2013, the Pope, speaking off the cuff, said: “When I go to confess – Here, I still can’t, because to get out of here and go confess ... you cannot get out, but this is another problem - when I used to confess in the previous dioceses ... “ One could perceive the Pope’s nostalgia for the past life as a priest who did not miss any opportunity to draw people closer, accept them and forgive them. Bergoglio, even as a bishop and cardinal, had never stopped being a confessor. Don Mario Peretti, a priest from Milan who lived for several years in Buenos Aires, soon after the election of Francis told Avvenire: “Once we had invited him to present a book, and I told him I was going to send a car, but he replied: “No, no, I’ll come on foot, it’s more comfortable.” When he arrived, he told me: “You see, in the street one saw me as a priest (because he was dressed without any episcopal sign) and asked me to confess him. I confessed him behind a newsstand; if I had come in the car with you, I would not have had this opportunity.”
Mercy is not an effort
For Francis mercy is not an effort, it is not the result of an effort, because humanly speaking the overflowing welcoming and forgiveness of God can appear even excessive. Especially to those who practice the “sport” vividly described by Jesus in Gospel of Luke: Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? We should be merciful to others just because we are sharing a gift that was first received. And it is only from experiencing mercy, from the experience of the forgiven sinner, that sinner to whom God has looked upon, that the mission of the Church as “a worker of mercy” in the world can rise.