For many believing adults, confessing to a priest is an unbearable effort – that often leads one to avoid the Sacrament – or such a painful process that it transforms the moment of truth into an exercise of
fiction. Pope Francis, commenting on the Letter to the Romans, says that Saint Paul does exactly the opposite: he admits publically to the community that “good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh.” He acknowledges that he is a “slave” who does not do the good that he wants to do, but the evil that he does not want to do. This happens in the life of faith, the Pope said, that “when I want to do good, evil is close to me”:
“This is the struggle of Christians. It is our struggle every day. And we do not always have the courage to speak as Paul spoke about this struggle. We always seek a way of justification: ‘But yes, we are all sinners.’ But we say it like that, don’t we? This says it dramatically: it is our struggle. And if we don’t recognize this, we will never be able to have God’s forgiveness. Because if being a sinner is a word, a way of speaking, a manner of speaking, we have no need of God’s forgiveness. But if it is a reality that makes us slaves, we need this interior liberation of the Lord, of that force. But more important here is that, to find the way out, Paul confesses his sin to the community, his tendency to sin. He doesn’t hide it.”
Confession of sins, done with humility, is something the Church requires of all of us, Pope Francis noted, citing the invitation of Saint James: “Confess your sins to one another.” Not to get noticed by others, the Pope explained, “but to give glory to God,” to recognise that it is God Who saves me. That, the Pope continued, is why one goes to a brother, a “brother priest” to confess. And one must do as Paul did – above all, confessing with the same “concreteness”:
“Some say: ‘Ah, I confess to God.’ But it’s easy, it’s like confessing by email, no? God is far away, I say things and there’s no face-to-face, no eye-to-eye contact. Paul confesses his weakness to the brethren face-to-face. Others [say], ‘No, I go to confession,’ but they confess so many ethereal things, so many up-in-the-air things, that they don’t have anything concrete. And that’s the same as not doing it. Confessing our sins is not going to a psychiatrist, or to a torture chamber: it’s saying to the Lord, ‘Lord, I am a sinner,’ but saying it through the brother, because this says it concretely. ‘I am sinner because of this, that and the other thing.’”
Concreteness and honesty, Pope Francis added, and a sincere ability to be ashamed of one’s mistakes. There are no shadowy lanes that can serve as an alternative to the open road that leads to God’s forgiveness, to the awareness, in the depths of the heart, of His forgiveness and His love. And here the Pope explained we must imitate little children:
“Little children have that wisdom: when a child comes to confess, he never says something general. ‘But father, I did this and I did that to my aunt, another time I said this word’ and they say the word. But they are concrete, eh? They have that simplicity of the truth. And we always have the tendency to hide the reality of our failings. But there is something beautiful: when we confess our sins as they are in the presence of God, we always feel that grace of shame. Being ashamed in the sight of God is a grace. It is a grace: ‘I am ashamed of myself.’ We think of Peter when, after the miracle of Jesus on the lake, [he said] ‘Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinner.’ He is ashamed of his sins in the presence of the sanctity of Jesus.”
Concrete specificity and honesty in confession. Keys to a good one according to il Papa.
I’ll remember this the next time. The next time needs to be sooner rather than later.
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