2014-02-19 Vatican - At the General Audience, Pope Francis continued his series of catechesis on the Sacraments. After having discussed the Sacraments of Christian initiation — Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist — Pope Francis moved on to the Sacraments of Healing, speaking on Wednesday about the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

“When I go to Confession, it is to be healed,” he said. “To heal the soul, to heal the heart because of something I have done that is not going well.”

The Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Pope said, “flows directly from the Paschal Mystery.” He referred to the Jesus gift of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles when He appeared to them in the evening of the first Easter. Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” This passage, the Pope Francis explained, “reveals the deeper dynamics contained in this Sacrament.”

First, he said, it shows that we cannot forgive ourselves. Forgiveness must be requested: “it is a gift, a gift of the Holy Spirit, who fills us with the washing of mercy and grace that flows from the opened heart of the crucified and risen Christ.”

Second, it reminds us that we can only truly be at peace if we are reconciled with the Father and with our brothers, in and through Jesus. “And we have heard this in the heart, when we go to make our Confession, with a weight on our soul, a little sadness... we hear the forgiveness of Jesus, we are at peace, with that peace of soul that is so beautiful, that only Jesus can give, only Him!”

Pope Francis noted that, over time, the Sacrament of Confession, which had been a more public celebration, took on a more private form that we are familiar with today. We must not, however, lose site of the Sacrament’s ecclesial aspect, “which constitutes it’s vital context.” In fact, the Pope said, “The Christian community is the place in which the Spirit is made present, who renews our hearts in the love of God and makes us all brothers in one thing, in Jesus Christ.” This is why one cannot simply “ask the Lord’s forgiveness in your own mind and in your heart, but it is to confidently and humbly confess your own sins to the ministry of the Church.” In the Sacrament, the priest represents not only God, but also the whole Church, “which recognizes the fragility of its members, listens to their heartfelt repentance, is reconciled with them, and heartens them and accompanies them along the path of conversion and human and Christian maturity.”

“Don’t be afraid of Confession,” Pope Francis said. When someone is in line for Confession, he might feel all these things, even fear and shame. “But then, when you have finished your confession, you go out free, great, beautiful, forgiven, white, happy. And that’s the beauty of Confession.”

The Pope then asked the crowd when they had last been to Confession. “Don’t say it in a loud voice!” he said. “When was the last time you went to confession?... Two days? Two weeks? Two years? Twenty years? Forty years?... And if a lot of time has passed, don’t lose a day! Go ahead, the priest will be good! Jesus is there, right? And Jesus is better than the priest, it is Jesus who receives you. He receives you with great love. Be courageous, and go to Confession!”

Pope Francis concluded, “Dear friends, celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation means being wrapped in a warm embrace. It is the embrace of the infinite mercy of the Father.”