Pope Francis says: GO TO CONFESSION!

Pope Francis is nothing if not interesting.   When he goes off text or speaks off the cuff… anything can happen.  The usual result is that we are left stopped in our tracks and scratching our heads, trying to figure out what he is talking about.  Sometimes he seems to contradict Catholic teaching or practice (he doesn’t).  The MSM grabs his somewhat artless sound bites and trumpets them, with the result that many Catholic faithful are left confused.   One need only call to mind his remarks on nearly every airplane presser he has given.

However, if we breathe deeply and think, we eventually sort out what Francis is talking about.

Today, however, Francis spoke extemporaneously in one of his non-magisterial morning sermonettes about a topic on which he is rock solid: the need to GO TO CONFESSION.

This Pope often talks about the sacrament of penance.   Francis talks about confession more than his predecessors, as a matter of fact… and that’s a big win.

From the Vatican Radio account we learn:

Pope Francis said confession is not a judgment but a meeting with God who forgives all our sins, without exception. His words came during his homily at his morning Mass on Friday celebrated in the Santa Marta residence. [I would put it a little differently.  Confession is judgment but it is also an exercise in mercy.   In the tribunal of confession we are our own prosecutors.]

Basing his reflections on an extract from St Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, the Pope said our God forgives all our sins, always and without exception and He rejoices when somebody asks him for pardon.  [That’s a key: we must ask.] This God who pardons us, he continued, choose Jesus to set up a new pact with humanity and the cornerstone of this pact is forgiveness for our sins.

“First of all, God always forgives us.  He never tires of this.  It’s we who get tired of asking for forgiveness.  But HE does not tire of pardoning us.   When Peter asked Jesus: ‘How many times must I forgive? Seven times?’ – ‘Not seven times: seventy times by seven.’ Namely always.  That’s how God forgives us: always.  But if you have lived a life full of so many sins, so many bad things, but in the end, a bit repentant, you ask for forgiveness, He will immediately pardon you!  He always pardons us.”

Pope Francis said a doubt can arrive in a person’s heart over how far God is prepared to forgive us. But, he stressed, all you have to do is repent and ask for forgiveness and you don’t have to pay because Christ has already paid on our behalf. [Keep in mind that Christ established the sacrament of penance as the ordinary means by which God desires us to obtain forgiveness for our sins.]

There is no sin which He won’t pardon. [We little finite mortals cannot commit a sin that is so bad that our infinite and all-powerful God cannot forgive.] He forgives everything.  [Provided we ask.] ‘But father, I don’t go to confession because I have committed so many really bad sins, so many that I can’t be pardoned.’  No, this is not true.  He forgives everything.  If you go (to confession) repentant, He will forgive everything. [And all the sins you have forgotten are forgiven as well, provided you make your confession sincerely and completely as you are able at the time.]  When… so many times He doesn’t even let you speak! You start to ask for forgiveness and He lets you feel that joy of forgiveness before you have even finished confessing everything.”

The Pope went on to describe how God rejoices when somebody asks for forgiveness and at the same time He “forgets” or wipes out from his memory our sins.  [An important point! But note that Francis used ” “. God cannot forget.  That said, once we have confessed our sins and obtained absolution, it is as if they never were on our soul.  They are gone, eradicated, taken away, washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb.  They are not merely “ignored” by God, or “covered over”.  That is an error non-Catholics make.  On the contrary, they are so thoroughly forgiven that they are, quite simply, no more.  We remember them, but the sins will not be “remembered” against us at our judgment.] The reason for this, he explained, is because what matters for God is for us to meet with him. Confession is not a judgment but a meeting with God. [Well… it’s also a judgment, but one in which mercy is exercised.]

“Confessions often seem like a procedure, a formality.   Everything is mechanical!  No!  Where’s the meeting in this? [Well… the process, the formality can free a penitent and help her get past the jitters.  Also, there is nothing wrong with formality in a moment which is so profound as submitting oneself to God for, yes, judgment and mercy.  But the Pope is surely meaning to be encouraging.] The meeting with the Lord who pardons you, hugs you and rejoices.  [Maybe the Lord hugs you, but don’t expect me to, not in the confessional.] And this is our God who is so good.  We too need to teach (others): teach our children, our youngsters to make a good confession, because going to confession is not like going to the dry cleaners to get a stain removed.  No!  It’s about going to meet with our Father who pardons us, who forgives us and who rejoices.”


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Bosco says:

    Yours is a marvellous and edifying commentary. Thank you, Father Z.

  2. mariadevotee says:

    I have a handy how-to card that has penitent says/priest says to take with me into confession, so I’m not worried about ‘doing it wrong’ or forgetting the prayers, and it has a grid to write the date of my last confession. I got it at confessioncard@gmail.com. Really stress relieving. Now I just worry about my sins.

  3. Joe in Canada says:

    can free a penitent and help her get past the jitters O tempora o mores!

  4. Boanerges says:

    My biggest concern is of the not-so-astute that take even “catholic” reports of the pope-on-a-plane comments as gospel. Sad to say, many and I mean MANY (c)atholics in positions of authority read the Fishwrap article (http://ncronline.org/news/vatican/dont-breed-rabbits-was-pope-francis-breaking-new-ground-birth-control). The collateral damage/fallout emboldens these naysayers and shoves teetering catholics on the wrong side of moral absolutes. Somewhere a good priest is counseling someone who is on the verge of a vasectomy, tubal ligation or even an abortion (God forbid!). To have the Holy Father speak in nebulous terms on topics of deep moral consequence unnecessarily shakes foundations and scatters the sheep. That’s the boots on the ground reality. Clarity, Just give us clarity!

  5. Imrahil says:

    Carrying around that little complication factor with me that I am, you know, male…

    somehow Confession is so healing precisely because it is judgment.

    No, it is not counseling. I am a sinner, but not mental. I need a judge, not a shrink. Quite apart from virtue, I would much rather be thought a criminal than a criminal lunatic. As a point not of virtue but of vanity, I should be less insulted by the title of a murderer than by the title of a homicidal maniac. (Chesterton, “Come to think of it” XXVII) I know that nowadays they all tell you you must not look down on mental people, that it’s not a shame to seek for help etc, but apart from that I can’t sort out how much of that is the true Christian virtue of humility and how much of it is rather disrespect for the very idea of personal freedom and individuality (which, yes, is a Christian idea), I’m not anyway responsible for my mere feelings anyway, as long as they aren’t attitudes, and I can’t suppress this one. (Oh yes, didn’t the same psychology they speak for say you shouldn’t suppress feelings? But I digress…)

    Anyway, we’ve got a way how to honestly deal with offenses. Judgment. The fine thing is that it really is judgment, and that the outcome really is an acquittal.

    Now, in any civilised court process, there is a judge, an attorney and a prosecutor. Who is the judge? The confession-father, by virtue of delegation from God Most High. Which is why we call him a confession-father. (The English practice of calling him “confessor” is a slight abuse of Latin grammar. In Latin, “confessor” is of course he who confesses.)

    The attorney? That’s our Lord Jesus Christ on the merits of his sorrowful passion.

    Which leaves my own humble person to fulfil the rôle of prosecutor. But of course, I’m not an “adversarial” prosecutor according to what is reported to be the common-law style, but I am a civil-law-style prosecutor who is bound to investigate in an objective and neutral manner and also present mitigating circumstances (cf. German Penal Court Proceedings Order [StPO], § 160 sct. 2).

    And while I’m aware that there is “meeting” in this as in any Sacrament, and as there was “meeting” in the merciful father running towards and hastily pardoning the prodigal son, somehow the real meeting, in relaxed atmosphere and all that, comes afterwards, when you kneel down in front of the Tabernacle and make your thanksgiving, or hear Mass, etc.

  6. Supertradmum says:

    As one grows older, one is aware of what is called “the matter of sin”, the leftover bad habits and faulty ways of thinking. Going to Confession sheds light on the matter of sin and helps one deal with the predominant faults one has, underlining all one’s sins.

    It has been a joy to be able to get to weekly confession in Malta, France, and Ireland. I never had this option in America except now and then. I shall miss this great grace.

    The more one goes to Confession, the more one can be freed of imperfections as well.

  7. mysticalrose says:

    Ok, so I have a question for anyone here more knowledgeable than I. If God “forgets” our sins, why is there [God cannot forget.] 1) temporal punishment for confessed sins in purgatory [Sins may be forgiven, but we must make reparation/do penance for the harm we have caused.] and 2) wounds of sin that remain in our souls? [Sin has consequences. But there are no “wounds” to the soul that are not healed in the sacrament of penance, keeping in mind that we remember the sins and we must deal with the consequences.] I am asking in sincerity, I’m not arguing against the point. Thanks!

  8. xavierabraham says:

    “Keep in mind that Christ established the sacrament of penance as the ordinary means by which God desires us to obtain forgiveness for our sins.”

    Dear Father,

    Isn’t Eucharist too an ordinary means to obtain forgiveness for our sins ? [Not mortal sins, and that is what we are concerned with here.]


  9. Boniface says:

    I won’t hold my breath waiting to see this reported in the MSM… or even the old and new liberal “c”atholic media like “Cr*x.” It just doesn’t (like many actually verifiable and correctly translated/reported statements or actions from the present Holy Father) fit the “the Pope is on our side” narrative.

  10. Shamrock says:

    As a cradle Catholic, I understand the points you make in this blog; and that really you and the Pope are on the same page. However, where does all this leave the sinner who is neither Catholic
    or even Christian? How do they receive forgiveness without the sacrament? Would this also apply
    to so -called fallen away Catholics? I recall reading somewhere, that God does have other means
    for forgiving sins outside the Confessional. For those who are truly repentant and trying to amend
    their sinful lives.

    [God is not limited to one method. He is beyond all of them. He can do as He pleases. We Catholics are happy to have the sacrament of penance in order to be sure about what God does in the soul. We don’t have to doubt.]

  11. Suburbanbanshee says:

    mysticalrose – If you start a rock rolling down the hill in order to smash your little brother’s toy car, the car is still smashed after Confession and you’ve still created a habit of thought and action in yourself. God doesn’t violate our free will by abolishing cause and effect. So you would have to try and make it up to your brother and maybe get him a new toy car, and you would have to try to work on being virtuous instead of destructive and nasty.

    In the same way, sins do things to our souls that require repair and reparation, as well as forgiveness and cleansing.

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  13. Charles E Flynn says:

    I was given this prayer on a small piece of paper in confession this morning in Boston. I cannot find a reference to who wrote it, or a holy card with its text:

    Daily Prayer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus # 1

    Sacred Heart of Jesus today I wish to live in You, in Your grace, in which I desire at all costs to persevere. Keep me from sin and strengthen my will by helping me to keep watch over my senses, my imagination, and my heart. Help me to correct my faults which are the source of sin. I beg You to do this, O Jesus, through Mary, Your Immaculate Mother.

  14. Father P says:

    “when somebody asks for forgiveness and at the same time He “forgets” or wipes out from his memory our sins.”

    With the attacks on the Sacramental seal it is good to keep in mind that it is this is what the seal signifies (“sacramentalizes” in a sense) and is not primarily about “confidentiality” (though that it is certainly a welcome result)

  15. mysticalrose says:

    Thanks for the response, Fr. Z! And good example, Suburbanbanshee. Much appreciated.

  16. mysticalrose: Our esteemed host and a few other commenters have offered clarification, but here are my $0.02 to add to the pile. ;)

    If Junior deliberately tramps mud all over my freshly-mopped kitchen floor and then apologizes, I’ll forgive him immediately. He still gets to sweep up the mess afterwards, though.

  17. marcelus says:

    Confessions often seem like a procedure, a formality. Everything is mechanical! No! Where’s the meeting in this? [Well… the process, the formality can free a penitent and help her get past the jitters. Also, there is nothing wrong with formality in a moment which is so profound as submitting oneself to God for, yes, judgment and mercy. But the Pope is surely meaning to be encouraging.

    When he mentions “formality”, PF does not refer to “formal” or “procedure”.It is to be understood as we use it in Argentine spanish:

    A mere actor result that is taken for granted and already obtained,in this case, forgiveness. You go, kneel , say a few things, and the Lord has already forgiven you,. That’s it.

    Also, an interesting note on sins that I heard some exorcists mention is that the devil is not aware of sins that have been confessed and forgiven.

  18. Stephen Matthew says:

    Another way of looking at temporal punishment:
    Consider all of the various punishments, plagues, etc. that God provides in the Old Testament. Consider all the sentences to be carried out under the law. These were just sentences. These were in addition to the eternal consequences of sin. Our sins are just as bad, and merit just as much punishment in this life. Yet, God stays his hand and the Church provides another way of satisfying justice. This is in part why in old times there was an Order of Penitents for those who did the worst of sins (denying Christ and renouncing the Church for example) that required sometimes a year of public penance before being reconciled fully with the Church.

    Now on the issue of confession:
    I don’t go as often as I should, or even need to. I have a thousand excuses I make for why it is difficult, etc.
    Yet, the main reasons I find I don’t go, when I am honest:
    I am ashamed/embarrassed, not only of going to a priest, but even wish to hide from God (occasionally angry with God about something, too).
    I also doubt my own sincerity, my resolve to sin no more, especially as regard deeply habitual sins, so think it is more honest just not confess since I haven’t managed to avoid the sin after the last however many times I confessed it.
    I doubt God’s mercy and His grace, either thinking He won’t forgive, or thinking He won’t provide the graces needed to live as He intends.
    I also at times have some imbalance, call it emotional or psychological, but at times it is very difficult to carry on any form of relationship (with God or man), very difficult not to reach irrational conclusions about how I relate to others and they to me.

    It is all too easy to believe the lies of the devil.

  19. tominrichmond says:

    Understanding that the Pope’s comments are extemporaneous, but there is little balance. While it is true, and wondrous, to recall that God blots out our sins, and forgives without limit or number… still, what of repentance and firm purpose of amendment? Without this, our fallen nature is tempted to abuse the sacrament and just sin routinely knowing that forgiveness awaits in the confessional. It’s possible to do this without explicit intent, and while hardly noticing it; at what point does an oft-confessed, habitual sin result in an invalid confession because of lack of “firm purpose of amendment?” I guess this is where the “judgment” part comes in on the part of the priest; though it seems like it would be very rare to hear a confessor conclude: “no, you don’t have a firm purpose of amendment, since you’ve been here every week confessing the same sin and the same frequency of sin.”

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