Pope tells priests: ‘Don’t ask too much’ during confession, forgive always


CONFESSION: Pope Francis hears a man's confession during a Lenten penance service March 8, 2024, at the parish of St. Pius V in Rome. (Credit: CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

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By Justin McLellan

ROME — Catholics should not be afraid to bear their sins before God whose mercy is a model for the Church’s ministers, Pope Francis said.

“Put this in your mind and heart: God never tires of forgiving,” the pope said during a Lenten penance service March 8. He then asked the approximately 600 people gathered at the parish of St. Pius V in Rome to repeat his words with him: “God never tires of forgiving!”

Before putting on a stole to personally hear confessions in the church, Pope Francis asked priests to “forgive always, like God who never tires of forgiving.”

“Don’t ask too much” during confessions, he told the priests, instructing them to “forgive everything.”

“Let us always grant forgiveness to those who ask for it and help those who feel fear to confidently approach the sacrament of healing and joy,” he said. “Let us put God’s forgiveness back at the center of the Church.”

The pope was spirited while reading the entirety of his lengthy speech, frequently stopping to add personal anecdotes and to solicit participation from the crowd. He had an aide read his speeches earlier in the day and said earlier in the week that he had persistent cold symptoms.

Hundreds of people crowded outside the parish entrance to greet Pope Francis upon his arrival. Inside, pews were filled as the visibly animated pope engaged with the crowd.

Pope Francis asked people during his homily to “look at your sins, look at the bad things you have said and done.”

“In silence, say to the Lord: ‘Lord, if You wish, You can make me clean.’ And He can,” the pope said, quoting the leper who asks Jesus for healing in St. Mark’s Gospel.

Pope Francis said he could imagine someone saying, “Oh, Father, I’ve committed a sin that is surely unforgivable.”

“Listen,” the pope responded, “God forgives everything because He does not tire of forgiving,” rather, “we tire of asking for forgiveness.”

After his homily, the Eucharist was placed in a monstrance on the altar and Pope Francis went to a corner where two chairs were set up for him to hear confession. The Vatican said 20 priests heard confessions in the church and that the pope offered the sacrament to nine people.

In his reflection, the pope said that Lent is the time to return to the path of God’s forgiveness which begins with baptism and never ends.

“There is no retirement from this, nobody on this journey retires, they must always go forward,” he said.

Yet after traveling some distance on the path toward God, “perhaps we have lost sight of this holy life that flows within us,” he said.

“Day after day, immersed in a repetitive rhythm, caught up in a thousand things, dazed by so many messages, we look everywhere for satisfaction and novelty, stimulation and positive feelings, but we forget that there is already new life flowing within us,” he said.

“When we are busy with so many things, do we think about the Holy Spirit that is within us?” the pope asked. “Many times, I don’t think about it and that’s bad.”

Being overly caught up in work can cause people to “forget the true path we are walking in the new life,” he said.

Pope Francis also called out the “bad habit” he said people often have of “transforming our companions on the journey into adversaries.”

“Our neighbor’s faults seem exaggerated to us and their merits hidden,” he said. “How often we are inflexible with others and indulgent with ourselves.”

The pope urged Christians to welcome their new lives in God by confessing “the leprosy of sin (that) has stained our beauty.”

Encouraging the crowd to repeat after him, Pope Francis told them when they are being duplicitous, when they neglect prayer, are dishonest, false and judgmental, to say to God: “Lord, if You wish, You can make me clean.”

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