Make confession more available, God's heart is always open, pope says

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Hear confession every time someone
asks, Pope Francis said, and don’t ever put limited hours on the sacrament of reconciliation.

“Please, let there never be those signs that say, ‘Confessions:
Mondays and Wednesdays from this time to that time,'” he told hundreds of
confessors and other participants attending an annual course sponsored by the
Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican court that handles issues related to the
absolution of sin.

“Hear confession every time someone asks you. And if
you are sitting there, praying, leave the confessional open because God’s heart
is open,” he said March 17.

Confession “is a pastoral priority,” and is a
daily call to head to the “peripheries of evil and sin, and this is an ugly
periphery,” he said.

“I’ll confess,” he told his audience, that the
Apostolic Penitentiary “is the tribunal that I really like because it is a
‘tribunal of mercy,’ where one goes to get that indispensable medicine for our
souls, which is divine mercy.”

A good confessor, he said, has begged God for “the
gift of a wounded heart, capable of understanding others’ wounds and of healing
them” with God’s mercy, he said.

Accompany men and women “with prudent and mature
discernment and with true compassion for their suffering, caused by the poverty
of sin,” he said.

So much harm is done to the church and human souls when a
confessor is not guided by prayer and the Holy Spirit in discerning what God
wants to be done, he said.

“The confessor never follows his own will and
doesn’t teach his own doctrine,” but is called to be God’s servant in full
communion with the church.

Be ready to use confession as an opportunity to
evangelize and remind people of the basic, essential truth of faith and
morality. Pray to God for the gift of humility and the recognition of one’s own
sins that God fully pardoned, he told them.

This kind of prayer is not only “the prime guarantee
for avoiding every harsh approach that fruitlessly judges the sinner and not
the sin,” he said, it also reminds confessors they are “simple,
albeit necessary, administrators” of God’s free gift. “And he will
certainly be pleased if we make extensive use of his mercy.”

Pope Francis also asked confessors to be very careful in
discerning whether a person may be suffering from a mental disorder,
“which must be verified through a healthy cooperation with” experts,
or from demonic influence or possession.

Whenever a confessor recognizes the presence of evil
spirits, he said, never hesitate to refer to an exorcist, who is charged with
“this sensitive and necessary ministry” in each diocese.


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