Pope Francis Explains 3 Keys Words to Confessors which are Essential Dimensions of the Ministry - FULL TEXT


Paul VI Audience Hall
Friday, 25 March 2022



Dear brothers, good morning and welcome!

I am pleased to meet you on the occasion of the annual Course on the Internal Forum, organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary  and now in its thirty-second edition. These are constant, they are constant. Well done!

I greet Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Major Penitentiary, and I sincerely thank him for his introductory words. I greet the Regent, the Prelates, the Officials and Staff of the Penitentiary, the Colleges of Ordinary and Extraordinary Penitentiaries of the Papal Basilicas in the City, and all of you, participants in the Course, very numerous: about eight hundred clerics! This is a good sign, because today a widespread mentality struggles to understand the supernatural dimension, or even would like to deny it. Always, always the temptation to reduce them. Confession is a dialogue. And dialogue cannot be reduced to three or four psychological councils to go forward, this is taking away from the Sacrament the essential of the Sacrament.

It can be good not only for you, but for all confessor priests, perhaps taking advantage of the Lenten season, to reread and meditate on the Note on the internal forum and the inviolability of the sacramental seal , published by the Apostolic Penitentiary in 2019. actuality, and above all it helps us to rediscover how precious and necessary, even in our day, is the ministry of Reconciliation, which makes God's mercy visible and realizes it, realizes it.

In a recent interview, with an unusual expression, I stated that "forgiveness is a human right". We all have the right to be forgiven. Everyone. Indeed, it is what every man's heart yearns for most deeply, because, after all, being forgiven means being loved for who we are, despite our limitations and our sins. And forgiveness is a "right" in the sense that God, in the paschal mystery of Christ, gave it in a total and irreversible way to every man willing to welcome it, with a humble and repentant heart. By generously dispensing God's forgiveness, we confessors collaborate in the healing of men and of the world; let us cooperate in the realization of that love and that peace for which every human heart yearns so intensely; with forgiveness we contribute, allow me to speak,

I would like to offer you some ideas for reflection and life review around three key words: welcome , listening and accompaniment . Welcome, listening and accompaniment. Three essential dimensions of the ministry of the confessor; three faces of love, to which is added the joy, which always accompanies it.

Welcoming must be the first characteristic of the confessor. It is that which helps the penitent to approach the Sacrament with the right spirit, not to be turned in on himself and his own sin, but to open himself to the fatherhood of God, to the gift of Grace. Welcoming is the measure of pastoral charity, which you have matured in the path of formation to the priesthood and is rich in fruits both for the penitent and for the confessor himself, who lives his paternity, like the father of the prodigal son, full of joy. for the return of the son. Do we have this welcome and this joy? The serenity of a confessor who knows how to welcome, during the day or in the evening: "Take a seat", and let him speak. Create the climate of peace, even of joy.

The second element is listening . Listening - we know - is more than hearing. It requires an interior disposition made up of attention, availability, patience. You have to leave your thoughts, your patterns, to really open your mind and heart to listening. If, while the other is talking, you are already thinking about what to say, what to answer, then you are not listening to him or her, but yourself. This is a bad vice: the confessor who listens to himself: "What will I say?". He comes out purified, but you? Come out a sinner, because you do not do your service to listen in order to forgive. In some confessions, almost nothing should be said - I mean as advice or exhortation - but only one should listen and forgive. Listening is a form of love that makes the other feel truly loved.

And another thing I would like to say about listening: please remove all curiosity. Sometimes there are penitents who are ashamed of what they are saying, they don't know how to say, but they nod. The Major Penitentiary taught us one good thing: when we understand it, say: "I understand, go ahead, one more thing ...". Spare the pain of saying the things they don't know how to say, and don't fall into the curiosity of asking, “And how was it? And how many times? " Please! You are not a torturer, you are a loving father. Curiosity belongs to the devil. "No, I have to know to evaluate if I lose ...". If Jesus treated you like this!

And how many times does the penitent's confession also become an examination of conscience for the confessor! It happened to me. You too, I'm sure. Faced with certain faithful souls, we wonder: do I have this awareness of the living Jesus Christ? Do I have this charity towards others? This ability to question myself? Listening implies a sort of emptying: emptying myself of my self to welcome the other. It is an act of faith in the power of God and in the task that the Lord has entrusted to us. Only by faith do the brothers and sisters open their hearts to the confessor; therefore, they have the right to be listened to with faith, and with that charity that the Father reserves for his children. And this generates joy!

The third key word is accompaniment . The confessor does not decide in place of the faithful, he is not the master of the conscience of the other. The confessor simply accompanies, with all the prudence, discernment and charity of which he is capable, the recognition of the truth and the will of God in the concrete experience of the penitent. Sometimes say a word or two, but right, and not give a Sunday homily. The penitent wants to leave as soon as possible, this is understood. Say the right to accompany him, always. It is always necessary to distinguish the conversation of the real confession, bound by the seal, from the dialogue of spiritual accompaniment, also reserved, albeit in a different form.

And on this I would like to clarify one thing. I understood that in some group, in some association, a relativization of the sacramental seal is entering. For example, it is said: the seal is sin, but then everything that comes after sin or before sin, you can say. No! And there are some groups that support this; and then the confessor tells the superiors the other things. No. The seal is from the moment one begins to the moment of the end. But what if you half-talked about that thing ...? Nothing, everything is under seal. To be sure of this, I want confessors to all be listening specialists. What if something came out that even the penitent would like us to know? You have to ask permission on what you told me in confession: "Tell me again or tell me if I can talk about it". Be clear. Some theologians may say: “But that's not the case, it's wider”. It is common doctrine - at least in this Pontificate! - that the seal goes from the initial moment to the end. And this is the doctrine to follow, without going into these nuances "from here to there", which then serve to govern badly.

The confessor always has as his objective the universal call to holiness (cf. Lumen gentium , 39-42 ), and to accompany discreetly to it. Accompanying means taking care of the other, walking with him or her. It is not enough to indicate a destination, if then you are not willing to travel even a stretch of road together. No matter how brief the confessional conversation may be, from a few details one can already understand what the needs of the brother or sister are: we are called to respond to them, accompanying above all to the understanding and acceptance of the will of God, which is always the way of the greater good, the way of joy and peace.

Dear brothers, I thank the Lord with you for the ministry you carry out, or which will soon be entrusted to you - because there are deacons here -, a ministry at the service of the sanctification of the faithful People of God. And you too, please, confess yourselves. You are going to ask for the forgiveness of your sins, aren't you? This is very healthy. It is good for us confessors to do so. I recommend: live in the confessional willingly, welcome, listen, accompany, knowing that everyone, absolutely everyone, needs forgiveness, that is, to feel that you are loved as children of God the Father. The words we say: “I absolve you of your sins” also mean “you, brother, sister, are precious, you are precious to God; it's good that you are there ". And this is a very powerful medicine for the soul, and also for everyone's psyche.

And I would like to return to a detail that I have already mentioned before. Two testimonials. I have said the detail about the difficulty of saying sins, for which the penitent says a small part of them, but we understand that the thing is bigger. Then we must stop, not torture the penitent: "I understand, go ahead". “But I have to, I am a judge, I have to judge”. Did you understand? Forgive what you understand. Point. Sometimes it is true that it is a judgment, but one of mercy. It's a beautiful pop opera that they did three or four years ago, one of those groups of musicians of today's young people, with this music that I don't understand, but they say it's beautiful. It is a work on the parable of the prodigal son. After the whole story, in the final part, the son, poor fellow, already soiled by so many sins, by so many things, even defeated by all those things, he feels the need to return to the Father and says to a friend: “But I don't know if my father will receive me…”. And they sing this: “Will he receive Me? Will he receive me? ... ". The friend gives advice: "Send a letter to your father and say: Dad, I want to repent and tell you to your face, but I'm afraid to come to you, whether you will be able to receive me or not ... I just want to come to ask forgiveness, I don't deserve to call myself your son, just for this ". And following his friend's advice, he wrote this: “If you are willing to do this, please put a white handkerchief at the window, so when I approach the house, I will see the handkerchief and I will come. If I don't see the handkerchief, I'll go back ”. He continues the work and then the last act is when the son enters the road that leads to the house. He looks at the house: it's all full of white handkerchiefs, all full! That is, God's mercy has no limits. The mercy of a confessor the same. Think of the white handkerchiefs! This is beautiful, I liked it.

Then, two testimonies from two confessors I met. One, good, a sacrament, a good boy, died at 92! He was the confessor of all the clergy of Buenos Aires. Everyone went to him, many lay people… It was like that. A great confessor. Even as a provincial - he was provincial of his own Order - he always found a place in that basilica where he lived, to confess. When I was a provincial, I used to go to confession to him - so as not to confess to a Jesuit, so that they might not know things -; he always said: “Okay, okay… Come on, come on!”. And he forgave you. One Easter Sunday - I was already vicar general - I went down to the secretariat to see if there was any fax - at that time there was still no e-mail -, I saw a fax at 11.30, just before starting the Easter Vigil: “At 20. 30 Father Aristi died at 93 years of age ". I used to go to lunch with the priests of the retirement home, at Easter and at Christmas, and I thought: after lunch I will go there. And so I did. I enter the basilica, there was no one, there was an open coffin. Two old ladies there praying the Rosary. I walked over to the coffin. No flower. "But you who have forgiven the sins of all ... So?". I went out, I went to the street, there are florists, I bought the flowers, I came back. And when I was arranging the flowers, I saw the Rosary and I had a great temptation and I fell: I stole the Rosary Crucifix from him. He left without a Crucifix. At that moment I said, "Give me half of your mercy," thinking about Elijah and Elisha and all that story. I asked him for that grace. And that cross I carry in here, always with me, and I ask the Lord to give me mercy. I would like to share this.

The other is a Capuchin, 96 years old now, a great confessor. He keeps doing it! He is at the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii in Buenos Aires. Always the queue in front of the confessional: lay people, priests, bishops, nuns, young, old, poor, rich, everyone. A real river of people. And this man came to see me here, at the beginning of the Pontificate, because he had a conference. This man, when I was archbishop, was 86-87 years old at that time, he came to me and said: "Take away this torture that I have" - ​​"Why?" - "But you know I always forgive, I forgive everything, I forgive too much" - "This is why people look for you" - "Yes, but sometimes I feel the scruple" - "And tell me, what do you do when you feel the scruple of having forgiven too much? " - “I go to the chapel and ask the Lord for forgiveness and I say: 'Lord, excuse me, today I have forgiven too much. But immediately I feel something inside:

These are testimonies of great confessors. I found the Superior General of the Capuchins a few months ago and he told me: "Tell me Holy Father, if you need it, I will bring his confessor friend here". As we know, even the Pope needs to be forgiven for bad things that he is unable to tell others. A beautiful thing, a beautiful testimony. You have before you the testimony of the great confessors, of these who know how to forgive well with a sense of the Church, with justice, but with great love. With great love.

The Jubilee of 2025 is approaching. I take this opportunity to invite the Penitentiary, to whose care is entrusted, so to speak, the "deep core" of each Jubilee, to arrange, in agreement with the other bodies concerned, what is necessary. so that the next Holy Year may be as fruitful as possible. And I encourage you to use all the creativity that the Spirit suggests, so that God's mercy can reach everywhere and to everyone: forgiveness and indulgence!

And thank you for your service to Divine Mercy, under the sweet protection of Mary Refuge of sinners. She is Mother, and She always tries to save her children. When you have any doubts, think of Mamma, as the legend of the village of the so-called “Madonna dei Mandarini”, also nicknamed the patron saint of thieves, says. In southern Italy there is a legend that Our Lady forgives everything, and that if they pray to Our Lady, She will save them. And it is said that the Madonna from the window looks at the queue that is in front of the door of Heaven. And St. Peter judges who enters and who does not enter. And when Our Lady discovers one of these devotees of her, she signals him to hide, because St. Peter will certainly not let him in. And then when, later, darkness begins, before night, the Madonna lets them in through the window. Pray to Our Lady to give you this paternal and also maternal heart, to forgive and integrate the people into the Church. She is the refuge of sinners.

I bless you all from my heart. And please, remember to pray for me too, because today I too have to confess. Thank you!

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