By Kerri Lenartowick for Catholic News Agency
Vatican City, Feb 19, 2014 / 04:57 am (CNA).- During his Wednesday audience, Pope Francis encouraged the pilgrims filling St. Peter’s Square to receive the sacrament of reconciliation.
“Everyone say to himself: ‘When was the last time I went to confession?’ And if it has been a long time, don’t lose another day! Go, the priest will be good. And Jesus, (will be) there, and Jesus is better than the priests – Jesus receives you. He will receive you with so much love! Be courageous, and go to confession,” urged the Pope on Feb. 19.
Acknowledging a popular objection to the sacrament, Pope Francis noted, “someone can say, ‘I confess my sins only to God.’ Yes, you can say to God, ‘forgive me,’ and say your sins. But our sins are also against our brothers, against the Church. This is is why it is necessary to ask forgiveness of the Church and of our brothers, in the person of the priest.”
“While the celebration of the sacrament is personal, it is rooted in the universality of the Church,” which “accompanies us on the path of conversion,” he explained.
“Forgiveness is not something we can give ourselves,” cautioned the Pope. “One asks forgiveness, one asks it of another person, and in confession, we ask forgiveness from Jesus.”
“Forgiveness is not a result of our efforts, but is a gift. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit who showers us with mercy and grace that pours forth unceasingly from the open heart of Christ crucified and risen.”
The Pontiff went on to recognize that many people feel ashamed at the idea of confessing their sins and might say, “but Father, I am embarrased!”
“Even embarrassment is good. It’s healthy to have a bit of shame… it does us good, because it makes us more humble.”
“Don’t be afraid of confession,” Pope Francis stressed. “When someone is in line for confession he feels all these things – even shame – but then, when he finishes confessing, he leaves (feeling) free, great, beautiful, forgiven, clean, happy.”
“The sacrament of reconciliation is a sacrament of healing,” he pointed out.
“When I go to confession, it’s for healing: healing the soul, healing the heart because of something that I did to make it unwell.”
The Pope pointed to the biblical story of Jesus healing a paralyzed man, which expresses the “profound link” between “forgiveness and healing,” since “the Lord Jesus is revealed at the same time as the physician of soul and body.”
He also recounted the parable of the prodigal son, who sought his father’s forgiveness and was welcomed home with open arms.
“But I say to you,” he stressed to the many pilgrims, “every time we go to confession, God embraces us.”