In 1953 at the age of 17, Pope Francis had a life-changing experience in confession.
More than 50 years later, Pope Francis described his experience of a general confession of his sins. He was “moved by the depth of the priest’s understanding and compassion.“ The experience had a powerful impact on him.
What has he said about confession as pope some 60-plus years later?
Speaking to priests
And you, dear brother priests who are ministers of God’s forgiveness, offer to those who approach you the joy of this proclamation: Rejoice, the Lord is with you. Please set aside rigidity, obstacles, and harshness; may you be doors wide open to mercy!
Especially in Confession, we are called to act in the person of the Good Shepherd who takes his sheep into his arms and cradles them. We are called to be channels of grace that pour forth the living water of the Father’s mercy on hearts grown arid. If a priest does not approach Confession with this attitude, it would be better for him to refrain from celebrating the sacrament.
Priests and bishops, too, have to go to confession, we are all sinners. Even the Pope confesses every 15 days, because the Pope is also a sinner (video). And the confessor hears what I tell him, he counsels me and forgives me, because we are all in need of this forgiveness.
What he tells us
Stopping at an intellectual level
… recognition of sin cannot be just to make a list of intellectual sins, to say …This would be like making a list of things I have to do or that I have to have or that I did wrong, but it stays in my head.
He reminds us what children often say.
‘Father, I did this, and I did this to my aunt, I did this to someone else, and to someone else …. They are real, they possess the simplicity of truth. And we always tend to hide the reality of our weakness and poverty.
Forgiveness is not one way
Let us not live a one-way faith, a faith that receives but does not give, a faith that accepts the gift but does not give it in return. Having received mercy, let us now become merciful.
… do you want proof that God has touched your life? See if you can stoop to bind the wounds of others. Today is the day to ask, “Am I, who so often have received God’s peace, his mercy, merciful to others? Do I, who have so often been fed by the Body of Jesus, make any effort to relieve the hunger of the poor?” Let us not remain indifferent.
To those who refuse to speak with a priest under the pretense that they confess directly to God. “It’s easy. It’s like confessing by email … God is there, far away; I say things, and there is no face to face, there is not face to face encounter.
We have fallen down, like little children who constantly fall, toddlers who try to walk but keep falling and need, time and time again, to be picked up by their father. It is the Father’s forgiveness that always sets us back on our feet. God’s forgiveness – confession is the first step on our return journey.
Our journey then is about letting him take us by the hand. The Father who bids us come home is the same who left home to come looking for us; the Lord who heals us is the same who let himself suffer on the cross.
- What has been your experience?
- Any of Francis’ words speak to you?
I thank God for having put on my road a couple of priests whom I define “the angels” who came to support me when around me there was a desert made of ice.
After coming out of a traumatic experience in a religious movement and community life, while trying to rebuild my life in a foreign Country, far away from my family and friends, the most difficult thing for me was going to Confession.
Even if at times I had found rigidity and harshness, I kept looking and, finally, God help me find two priests, in two different moments of my life, who have been and still are “doors wide open to mercy”.
Thank you, God!