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On the Sacrament of Penance

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VATICAN CITY (ZENIT) — Here is the translation of the Holy Father’s continuing catechesis on the sacraments to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his February 19 general audience.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
Through the Sacraments of Christian initiation — Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist — man receives new life in Christ. Now we have this life “in earthen vessels” (2 Cor. 4:7), we are still subject to temptation, to suffering, to death and, because of sin, we can even lose this new life. This is why the Lord Jesus wished His Church to continue His work of salvation to her members, in particular with the Sacrament of Reconciliation and that of the Anointing of the Sick, which can be united under the name of “Sacraments of Healing.” The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a sacrament of healing. When I go to confess myself, it is to heal myself, to heal my soul, to heal my heart, and anything that isn’t going well. The biblical icon that expresses best their profound bond, is the episode of the forgiveness and healing of the paralytic, where the Lord Jesus reveals Himself at the same time as doctor of souls and of bodies (cf. Mark 2:1-12; Matt. 9:1-8; Luke 5:17-26).
1. The Sacrament of Penance and of Reconciliation flows directly from the Paschal Mystery. In fact, on the very evening of Easter the Lord appeared to the disciples, locked in the Cenacle and, after greeting them saying ”Peace be with you!,” He breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven” (John 20:21-23). This passage reveals to us the most profound dynamic that is contained in this sacrament. First of all, the fact that the forgiveness of our sins is not something that we can give ourselves. I cannot say: I forgive my sins. Forgiveness is asked, it is asked of another and in Confession we ask for forgiveness from Jesus. Forgiveness is not the fruit of our efforts but it is a present, a gift of the Holy Spirit, who fills us with the purification of mercy and grace which flows incessantly from the wide open heart of Christ crucified and risen. In the second place, it reminds us that only if we allow ourselves to be reconciled in the Lord Jesus with the Father and with our brothers can we really be in peace. And we all have heard this in the heart when we go to confess ourselves, with a weight in the soul, a bit of sadness; and when we receive the forgiveness of Jesus we are in peace, with that peace of the soul that is so beautiful that only Jesus can give, only Him.
2. In time, the celebration of this sacrament passed from a public to a personal and reserved form of Confession. This, however, must not make us lose the ecclesial matrix, which constitutes the vital context. In fact, the Christian community is the place in which the Spirit is rendered present, who renews hearts in the love of God and makes all brothers one in Christ Jesus. See then how it is not enough to ask forgiveness from the Lord in our own mind and heart, but it is necessary to confess one’s sins humbly and confidently to the minister of the Church.
In the celebration of this sacrament, the priest not only represents God but the whole community, which recognizes itself in the fragility of each of its members, which is moved on hearing one’s repentance, which reconciles with one, which encourages and accompanies one in the path of conversion and of human and Christian maturation. One may say: I only confess with God. Yes, you can say to God “forgive me” and say your sins, but our sins are also against the brothers, against the Church. For this it is necessary to ask forgiveness from the Church, from the brothers, in the person of the priest. “But Father, I am ashamed. . . .” Even shame is good, it is healthy to have a bit of shame; to be ashamed is healthy. When a person doesn’t have shame, in my country we say that he is a “sin vergüenza” (without shame). But even shame does us well, because it makes us more humble, and the priest receives with love and tenderness this confession and in the name of God, forgives.
Even from a human point of view, to vent, it is good to talk with a brother and tell the priest these things, that weigh heavily in my heart. And one feels that they vent in front of God, with the Church, with the brother. Do not be afraid of Confession! When one is in line to confess, they feel these things, even shame, but then when Confession is ended, they feel free, great, beautiful, forgiveness, white (clean), happy. And this is the beauty of Confession! I would like to ask you — but don’t answer out loud, each one responds in their heart — : when was the last time you confessed, that you have confessed? Each one think about it. . . . Has it been two days, two weeks, two years, twenty years, forty years? Everyone takes count, but everyone ask themselves: when was the last time that I confessed? And if a long time has passed, don’t miss another day, go, the priest will be good. Jesus is there, and Jesus is much better than the priests, Jesus receives you, He receives you with so much love. Be courageous and go to Confession!
Dear friends, to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation means to be wrapped in a warm embrace: it is the embrace of the infinite mercy of the Father. Let us remember that beautiful, beautiful parable of the son who left his home with the inheritance money; he squandered all the money, and then, when he didn’t have anything, he decided to return home, not as a son, but as a servant. So many faults he had in his heart and so much shame. The surprise was when he began to speak, to ask forgiveness, the father did not let him speak, he embraced him, he kissed him and made a feast. But I tell you: every time we confess, God embraces us, God makes a feast! Let us go forward on this path. May God bless you!

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