St. Michael's Parish - Cobourg

Pope Francis on the Sacrament of Reconciliation                       -Homily December 1, 2013

 

Today is the beginning of Advent, time of preparation for the coming of the Lord. Because it is such a special occasion, today we will hear not Fr. Andrew, but Pope Francis in his speech of November 20th. Let me share with you the contents of his reflection on the sacrament of reconciliation.

 

1. “First of all, we must remember that the principal agent in the forgiveness of sins is the Holy Spirit. In his first appearance to the Apostles, in the Upper Room, the Risen Jesus made the gesture of breathing on them saying: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20:22,23). Jesus, transfigured in his body, is already the new man who offers the Paschal gifts, the fruit of his death and resurrection. What are these gifts? Peace, joy, the forgiveness of sins, mission, but above all he gives the Spirit who is the source of all these.”

 

“But before making this gesture of breathing and transmitting the Holy Spirit, Jesus reveals the wounds in his hands and side: these wounds represent the price of our salvation. The Holy Spirit brings us God’s pardon “by passing through” Jesus’ wounds. These wounds he wished to keep; even now in Heaven he is showing the Father the wounds by which he redeemed us. By the power of these wounds, our sins are pardoned.” [Especially when we think that we cannot be forgiven because our sins look so big, we need to reflect: “Well, my sins are big, but the price Jesus paid to forgive me was also big. By his death on a cross I have been forgiven.”]

 

2. “And we come to the second element: Jesus gave the Apostles the power to forgive sins. It is a little difficult to understand how a man can forgive sins, but Jesus gives this power. The Church is the depository (or “trustee”) of the power of the keys, of opening or closing to forgiveness. God forgives every man in his sovereign mercy, but he himself willed that those who belong to Christ and to the Church receive forgiveness by means of the ministers of the community.” [So, it is not that God does not want to forgive, it is that he wants to forgive us in a certain way, in an ecclesial way.] “In this way Jesus calls us to live out reconciliation in the ecclesial, the community, dimension as well. And this is very beautiful… The Church is not mistress of the power of the keys, but a servant of the ministry of mercy and rejoices every time she can offer this divine gift.”

 

“Perhaps many do not understand the ecclesial dimension of forgiveness, because individualism, subjectivism, always dominates, and even we Christians are affected by this. Certainly, God forgives every penitent sinner, personally, but the Christian is tied to Christ, and Christ is united to the Church. For us Christians there is a further gift, there is also a further duty: to pass humbly through the ecclesial community. We have to appreciate it; it is a gift, a cure, a protection as well as the assurance that God has forgiven me. I go to my brother priest and I say: “Father, I did this...”. And he responds: “But I forgive you; God forgives you”. At that moment, I am sure that God has forgiven me!” [Our certainty of forgiveness comes from the word of God, since we read there that Jesus assured: “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven.”] And this is beautiful, this is having the surety that God forgives us always, he never tires of forgiving us. And we must never tire of going to ask for forgiveness.”

 

“You may feel ashamed to tell your sins, but as our mothers and our grandmothers used to say, it is better to be red once than yellow a thousand times. We blush once but then our sins are forgiven and we go forward.”

 

3. “Lastly, a final point: the priest is the instrument for the forgiveness of sins. God’s forgiveness is given to us in the Church, it is transmitted to us by means of the ministry of our brother, the priest; and he too is a man […]. 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.”

 

“The service that the priest assumes… is very delicate and requires that his heart be at peace, that he not mistreat the faithful, but that he be gentle, benevolent and merciful… The priest who is not of this disposition of mind had better not to hear confessions until he has resolved his problem.”

 

“Let us not forget that God never tires of forgiving us; through the ministry of priests he holds us close in a new embrace and regenerates us and allows us to rise again and resume the journey. For this is our life: to rise again continuously and to resume our journey.”

 

In another speech Pope Francis said that “With Baptism the door to a new life is opened…”, it opens for us the door to enter the Church and the Kingdom of God. But “even when the door that Baptism opens to us… is a little closed, due to our weaknesses and our sins, Confession reopens it” time and again. Confession is the sign that God knows we are weak, and wants to help us always, and to forgive us always, no matter how gravely or how often we may sin.

 

Dear parishioners, take courage and go to meet the embrace of the mercy of God. It is for our sake that God offers the sacrament of reconciliation to us. It is difficult sometimes, but it’s worth it. We will never repent of having done a good confession.    –Fr. Andrew