One of the last things Jesus did on earth after his Resurrection and before his Ascension into heaven was to give his Apostles his authority to forgive sins (John 20:21-13).
The Sacrament of Reconciliation, like all Sacraments, was instituted by Christ. It was given to us as a gift to restore our relationship to him after we damage or break it through sin.
Often the Sacrament is made use of only infrequently, and mainly during the penitential seasons of Lent and Advent. But Pope Francis has clearly been trying to encourage his flock to appreciate the Sacrament on a deeper level in hope that they will make use of it much more frequently.
However, making the decision to go back to confession can be difficult, especially if it’s been a while. Confessing all of our sins and shortcomings can seem humbling, even overwhelming. Pope Francis knows this.
This is why he focused so much during the season of Lent on confession, which you can read in one of his Wednesday audiences, even making a public display of making his own confession (see photo above). He urged his flock to, “Go to confession,” along with giving good reasons why we should do so.
“First, the fact that the forgiveness of our sins is not something we can give ourselves. I cannot say: I forgive my sins. Forgiveness is asked for, is asked of another, and in Confession we ask for forgiveness from Jesus. Forgiveness is not the fruit of our own efforts but rather a gift, it is a gift of the Holy Spirit who fills us with the the wellspring of mercy and of grace that flows unceasingly from the open heart of the Crucified and Risen Christ.”
“Secondly, it reminds us that we can truly be at peace only if we allow ourselves to be reconciled, in the Lord Jesus, with the Father and with the brethren. And we have all felt this in our hearts, when we have gone to confession with a soul weighed down and with a little sadness; and when we receive Jesus’ forgiveness we feel at peace, with that peace of soul which is so beautiful, and which only Jesus can give, only Him.”
However, for any of us who are uncomfortable with confessing, the Pope had loving words of encouragement.
“Do not be afraid of Confession! When one is in line to go to Confession, one feels all these things, even shame, but then when one finishes Confession one leaves free, grand, beautiful, forgiven, candid, happy. This is the beauty of Confession!”
Pope Francis made it clear that confession is not a punishment but in fact a great spiritual gift, a very real form of medicine for the soul. “The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a Sacrament of healing,” he said. “When I go to confession, it is order to be healed, to heal my soul, to heal my heart and to be healed of some wrongdoing.”
Finally, the Pope issued a challenge to the Church:
“I would like to ask you – but don’t say it aloud, everyone respond in his heart: when was the last time you made your confession? Everyone think about it … Two days, two weeks, two years, twenty years, forty years? Everyone count, everyone say ‘when was the last time I went to confession?’ And if much time has passed, do not lose another day. Go, the priest will be good. Jesus is there, and Jesus is more benevolent than priests, Jesus receives you, he receives you with so much love. Be courageous and go to Confession!”
Do the words of our Holy Father encourage you to go the Sacrament of Reconciliation more frequently?