Priests who are good confessors must recognize their own sins in order to forgive and comfort penitents, Pope Francis said one day before the start of the Lenten season.
“I speak to you as a brother, and through you I would like to speak to all confessors, especially in this Year of Mercy: the confessional is for forgiveness,” the Pope said in his homily Feb. 9 in St. Peter’s Basilica. He celebrated the Mass with Capuchin Franciscan friars from around the world.
Even if priests cannot give absolution in some cases, the Pope told them, “please, do not beat up on the penitent.”
Someone who comes to the confessional is seeking “comfort, pardon, peace in his soul.”
“Let him find a father who embraces him and says, ‘God loves you,’ and makes the penitent feel that God really does,” the Pope said.
Reflecting on the Capuchin Franciscan tradition as one of giving forgiveness, he cited the many well-known Capuchin confessors like St. Leopold of Mandic and St. Pio of Pietrelcina, more commonly known as Padre Pio.
Relics of both saints, including the body of Padre Pio, have been brought to Rome as a special initiative for the Catholic Church’s Year of Mercy. The Pope’s Tuesday morning Mass marked these special events.
He said these saints are good confessors “because they feel like sinners” — they are forgiven when they know how to ask for it in prayer.
When someone forgets the necessity of being forgiven, they slowly forget God, the Pope explained. They forget to ask for forgiveness and they don't know how to forgive. The humble priest, the one who feels like a sinner, is a great forgiver in the sacrament of Confession. Others who wrongly feel themselves pure “only know how to condemn.”
“I ask you: don’t get tired of forgiving!” the Pope exhorted. “Be men of forgiveness, reconciliation, peace.”
Pope Francis suggested that a penitent’s coming to the confessional is a telling gesture.
“If a person comes to me in the confessional, it’s because they feel burdened by something heavy, and they want to remove it,” he said. “Maybe they don't know how to say it, but the gesture is there.”
“If this person comes it's because they want to change, not to do it again, to be another person,” he continued.
He noted that many times penitents cannot change because of their psychological conditions, their lives or their situation.
He encouraged confessors to be “great forgivers,” not condemners. He noted that the Bible depicts Satan as “the great accuser.”
“Forgiveness is a seed, a caress of God. Trust in the forgiveness of God,” the Pope told priests.