Pope Francis warned against treating the confessional like the dry cleaners, a place to make a quick transaction, wipe away our sins and steal a false pardon. He also stressed the need for Christians to be truly ashamed of their sins.
The Pope’s words came during his homily at his Tuesday morning Mass in the Santa Marta residence.
The Pope drew on the morning’s readings at Mass, beginning with the book of Daniel, which emphasized mankind coming before God with a humble and contrite spirit.
“Here is the shame of sins, a grace which we cannot attain by ourselves.”
Moving on to the Gospel, where Jesus tells Peter to forgive his brother “not seven times, but seventy-seven times” the Pope reminded the congregation that being forgiven and understanding that forgiveness, gives us, in turn, the ability to forgive others. This is shown in the actions of the debtor who is forgiven by his master, but who himself could not forgive another person who was in debt to him.
“He has not understood the mystery of forgiveness” the Pope said.
He went on to explain that this mystery is not like a transaction in a bank and sounded a warning against those who confess their sins like a sort of checklist:
“ If I ask ‘Are you all sinners? – Yes Father, all of us – and to obtain pardon for our sins? – We confess – And how did the confession go? – I go there, I say my sins, the priest forgives me, I’m given three Hail Mary’s to pray and I leave in peace.’ You have not understood! You have only gone to confession to carry out a banking transaction or an office task. You have not gone to confession ashamed of what you have done. You have seen stains on your conscience and have mistakenly believed that the confessional box is like the dry cleaners that removes those sins. You’re unable to feel shame for your sins.”
Entering into this mystery helps us to reform our lives, the Pope continued. “The marvel enters your heart. You have the power to enter into its knowledge. Otherwise you leave the confessional, meet a friend, begin to talk and gossip about someone else and continue sinning.”
If we don’t have this knowledge, the Pope reminded his congregation, we will be like the servant in the Gospel, who thought he could get away with not forgiving others, when he himself had been forgiven.
“I can only forgive when I feel forgiven. If you don’t have the knowledge to be forgiven, you will never be able to forgive. This attitude affects how we deal with others. Forgiveness is total. But I can forgive only when I feel my sins, my shame. I am ashamed and I call on God for forgiveness. I feel forgiven by the Father and in that way I can forgive others. If not, I cannot forgive, and we are unable to do so. For this reason forgiveness is a mystery.”
The Pope concluded by urging the congregation to always forgive others, just as they have been forgiven.
“Today, let us ask the Lord for the grace to understand this, seventy times seven. Let us ask for the grace to be ashamed before God. It is a huge grace. To feel ashamed of our sins and then receive forgiveness and the grace of generosity to give it to others, because the Lord has forgiven all, so who am I to not forgive?”