During his daily Mass Pope Francis centered his homily on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, stressing that sin is an everyday struggle which requires accountability through “face-to-face” contact. “Confessing our sins is not going to a psychiatrist, or to a torture chamber: it’s saying to the Lord, ‘Lord, I am a sinner,’ but saying it through the brother, because this says it concretely. ‘I am sinner because of this, that and the other thing.’”
Pope Francis opened his homily by reflecting that for many believing adults, the idea of confessing one’s sins to a priest is either so unbearable that they completely avoid the Sacrament, or the process is so painful that the truth is transformed into a form of fiction. Recalling St. Paul’s words in his letter to the Roman’s from the day’s readings, the Pope noted that the apostle did the opposite, confessing publicly that “good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh,” and that he doesn’t do the good that he wants, but only the evil which he hates.
The Pope stressed that it often happens in the life of faith that “when I want to do good, evil is close to me.” “This is the struggle of Christians. It is our struggle every day. And we do not always have the courage to speak as Paul spoke about this struggle.” Often, noted the pontiff, we seek to justify our sins by making excuses and saying that “we are all sinners,” and that this fight “is our struggle.”
“If we don’t recognize this, we will never be able to have God’s forgiveness,” urged the Pope, “because if being a sinner is a word, a way of speaking, a manner of speaking, we have no need of God’s forgiveness. But if it is a reality that makes us slaves, we need this interior liberation of the Lord, of that force.”
Pope Francis then emphasized that the most important element for St Paul in finding a way out of this justification was to confess his sin to the community, noting that “he doesn’t hide it,” and that the confession of one’s sins with humility is something which the Church requires of us all.
“Confess your sins to one another,” he said, repeating the words of St James, not to be noticed by others, but rather “to give glory to God” and to recognize that it is only him who can save. This is why, stressed the Pope, we go to a “brother priest,” to confess, urging that when one confesses, it must be done with “concreteness.”
“Some say: ‘Ah, I confess to God.’ But it’s easy, it’s like confessing by email, no? God is far away, I say things and there’s no face-to-face, no eye-to-eye contact,” while “others (say)‘No, I go to confession,’ but they confess so many ethereal things, so many up-in-the-air things, that they don’t have anything concrete. And that’s the same as not doing it.”
Concreteness, honesty, and the genuine ability to be ashamed one’s mistakes are all qualities needed in order to be open to the forgiveness of God, as well as the deep awareness of his love, the Pope noted.
Concluding his reflections, Pope Francis stressed that in the face of confession, we should have the attitude of a small child, because “when a child comes to confess, he never says something general.” “‘But father, I did this and I did that to my aunt, another time I said this word’ and they say the word. But they are concrete, eh? They have that simplicity of the truth.” Although “we always have the tendency to hide the reality of our failings,” the Pope noted that “there is something beautiful: when we confess our sins as they are in the presence of God, we always feel that grace of shame.”
“Being ashamed in the sight of God is a grace. It is a grace: ‘I am ashamed of myself.’” When we think of this kind of shame, the Pope stressed, “We think of Peter when, after the miracle of Jesus on the lake, (he said) ‘Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinner.’”