From a reader…
You always [write] about going to confession and that’s great! But I read in a Catholic Herald article that in a speech about confession Pope Francis said that God ‘forgets’ our sins. How can that be? Is this heresy?
What’s up with that? In a Catholic Herald article we read what Francis said during the Sunday Angelus address (15 Sept 2019). Here’s the text (no English) HERE. Also, I went to see the video. He says this at about 10:20 – HERE. Let’s see the Catholic Herald [my emphases and comments].
‘God, when He forgives, loses His memory,’ the Pope said [Ummm…]
Pope Francis said on Sunday that God forgets sins absolved within the confessional.
“How do you defeat evil? Accepting God’s forgiveness … It happens every time we go to confession; there we receive the love of the Father who overcomes our sin. It is no longer there, God forgets it,” Pope Francis said in his Angelus message on September 15.
“God, when He forgives, loses His memory. He forgets our sins, forgets. God is so good with us,” he added in a departure from his prepared remarks. [NB that the account says he went off script. Indeed, that’s why I posted the video link. He is speaking off the cuff. Whenever he does that… well… results vary.]
In the sacrament of confession, God completely erases the evil confessed, making one new inside, reborn in joy, Pope Francis explained. [YAY!]
“Brothers and sisters, have courage. With God, no sin has the last word,” the pope said. [It does with us if we don’t ask for forgiveness and amend our lives!]
Pope Francis reflected upon Sunday’s Gospel from Luke in which the Pharisees complain that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” [And tells us, as he did the adulteress, to sin no more.]
“Jesus ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ This is what happens to us, in every Mass, in every church: Jesus is happy to welcome us to his table, where he offers Himself for us,” Pope Francis said. [So let’s do our part and be properly disposed to receive Him.]
“It is a phrase that we could write on the doors of our churches: ‘Here Jesus welcomes sinners and invites them to his table,’” he added. [GO TO CONFESSION!]
God forgets. God loses His memory.
No and No.
God cannot forget, just as God cannot learn or be surprised. God’s being and His knowledge are the same. He doesn’t “forget” in the strict sense.
However, speaking off the cuff like this, I think we can chalk up to well… him, speaking off the cuff. I don’t think that he is trying to teach something that’s false.
There are times when people do awful things to us, then apologize and we say, “Fuggedaboutit. I have.” We haven’t forgotten, but we intend to put the person at ease. We are not going to hold it against him, or harbor a grudge. I think Francis was just being avuncular and folksy (probably not a great idea very often, if you think about it). “God forgets your sins” means he won’t hold your sins against you.
He got it right on when he said, “It is no longer there”. That’s just before he goes off script.
When we confess our sins, with sincerity and intention of amendment, and the priest gives us absolution, we are not just unbound from the guilt of that sin, we are washed clean of it. It is washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb, in the river of mercy from Christ’s side, the sacramental laver of baptism and of the sacrament of penance. By Christ’s own authority and with His own power, the priest takes that sin away so completely from your soul that, though the memory of it remains, it is no longer that dark blotch, as it were, on your soul. God does not cover up or white wash that sin, so that it is still there, but he’s just going to “forget about it” and not hold it against you. He “forgets” in the sense of “forgives” with a mending, healing forgiveness. Sin is an evil and evil is a deprivation, a diminishing of being. God doesn’t leave the wound and ignore it. He heals it and completes you again so that the sin no longer removes you from Him. It is gone. In that sense you might say that God forgets.
But God does not forget. Remember that, in justice, there is still something owed after sin has been forgiven. We must make amends. We make “amends, amendments”, in our life to set it straight, and in our relations with those whom we harmed by our sin, principally God, but also others – we are in this together and even private sin hurts everyone – and ourselves. That’s why the sacrament of penance reconciles us also with the Church. Our sin hurt all the members of the Church. We, in justice and in religion, owe reparation to neighbor and to God. If we don’t do reparation here, we will have to do it in Purgatory, provided we die in God’s favor.
BTW… the profundity of how sin breaks us and our relationships is reflected in the deep and ancient forms of absolution that come from the genius of the Roman Rite. Think of the subtleties of meaning, nuances in “indulgentiam, absolutionem et remissionnem peccatorum” that the priest pronounces. Each term has a nuance of meaning for logical phases and, with each term, we are reconciled with the Church, ourselves and God in a different way – those different ways being all one way.
In trying to say something that average people can get, using human analogies to describe God or anything God does can go off the rails pretty easily if we want to pick on it. Anthropomorphic language for God goes only so far.
So, just forget about what Francis said about “God losing His memory”.
And GO TO CONFESSION!
Oh… and another thing…
Whenever Church figures say something that doesn’t sound right or that it, in fact, wrong, use the opportunity. That is one of the good things about this chaotic time: people who haven’t cracked a good book of Catholic doctrine or a catechism for looooong time have started to ask questions and to look things up. “THAT didn’t sound right. I wonder what the Catechism says about it.” A good thing that will come from this chaos is that the smaller, leaner Church will be better educated and formed in the Faith.