Don’t judge sinners who want to repent, help them come home, pope says

| February 9, 2016 | 3 Comments

On the eve of sending off “missionaries of mercy” to all corners of the globe, Pope Francis told his specially appointed men that the reassuring strength of God’s love — not the “bludgeon of judgment” — will bring the “lost sheep” back to the fold.


Pope Francis blesses a clergyman during a Feb. 9 meeting with “missionaries of mercy” at the Vatican. CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano

“Being a missionary of mercy is a responsibility that is entrusted to you because it asks you to be a firsthand witness of God’s closeness and his way of loving, not our way, which is always limited and sometimes contradictory,” he said Feb. 9.

Meeting with hundreds of missionaries who came to Rome to receive in person their special papal mandate on Ash Wednesday, Pope Francis said he wanted to highlight the unique aspects of their new ministry so they would carry it out properly and be “a real help” to the people they encounter.

The pope designated 1,142 religious and diocesan priests from all over the world to preach and teach about God’s mercy and serve especially as confessors during the Year of Mercy, which ends Nov. 20. The men were to receive their special mandate during a ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica Feb. 10.

He told the missionaries that they need to recognize that people’s desire for forgiveness might be obscured by their inability or embarrassment to talk about their sins.

“It’s not easy to go before another person, knowing he represents God, and confess one’s sins,” he said. Confessors should be respectful and encouraging, he said, because the penitents can easily feel exposed and vulnerable “with their weakness and limitations, with the shame of being a sinner.”

“Do not forget, there isn’t a sin before you, but a repentant sinner,” a person who wants to be listened to, forgiven, and brought home again, he told them.

With the little strength they have on their own, sinners want to do everything to be a child of God again, therefore, do not be a judge “with a sense of superiority, as if we were immune from sin,” or be too invasive with inappropriate or prying questions, the pope said.

Help the sinner — who may be feeling the same shame of nakedness Adam and Eve felt in the Garden of Eden when they recognized the evil they had done — by “covering the sinner with the blanket of mercy, so they will no longer be embarrassed and can regain the joy of their filial dignity,” he said.

He said he wants the missionaries to be a living expression of “the church who, like a mother, welcomes anyone who approaches her,” knowing that through her they will become one with Christ.

In the confessional, the pope said, they must remember that it is Christ who welcomes, listens, forgives and grants peace. “We are his ministers and we always need to be forgiven by him first,” he said.

The pope said whatever sin a priest hears, he must always remember his own sinful nature and be a humble channel of God’s mercy.

He said he still feels the joyful, life-changing moment he experienced as a teenager Sept. 21, 1953, after he went to confession.

Speaking off the cuff, he said, “I don’t remember what the priest said” because what he said was not as important as his smile and the overwhelming sense of God’s presence.

“It was like being received by a father,” he said.

Tags: , ,

Category: From the Pope

  • Charles C.

    I’m asking this because I honestly don’t know. Is the problem that there are many repentant sinners who are being scared away from the confessional and the Church because they think the Church will be too harsh with them?

    Or is the problem that there are too many people who don’t believe that what they are doing is sinful, thus they have no need of repentance?

    It’s Biblical to be convicted of sin first, then to search for forgiveness and salvation. The person who believes he is sin-free is in very desperate condition.

    So, which is the problem?

  • Nancy

    Hi Charles,

    Good to chat with you again.

    Both situations exist in our world, it seems to me.

    Jesus never stops loving the sinner and many theologians use the term “hound of Heaven” to express how God continually seeks after those who have strayed or whom are lost sheep. Yet I think this article is addressing those coming for Reconciliation. It is referring to those whom have felt some recognition and conviction of sin in their hearts and are coming for Reconciliation. And I do believe many are anxious about coming out of the shadows and confessing their sins. As the article mentions, one always feels exposed when opening up about our failings and sins before another person. When we feel shame, we may indeed fear God may not forgive us, or a priest may not be as forgiving as we know God will be towards us. Those outside of the Catholic Church do not understand the role of the priest in the confessional and fear exposing their sins to a stranger. They may indeed fear the priest would be legalistic and not full of grace. That fear may keep them from coming close to God and seeking reconciliation.

    As the parable of the prodigal son shows us, the son came with a rehearsed speech to try to convince his father to forgive him but before the son even got close enough the father was running towards the younger son. And before the son got the entire speech out of his mouth the father was forgiving his son. Yes, it is important for people to attempt to express themselves in the confessional but words never fully and accurately express the depths of the heart (even when we pray we are told the Holy Spirit helps us when are words are inadequate). It seems to me this article is emphasizing that a person coming in repetenance need not have a polished, lengthy delineation of how they have missed the mark of living as God desires. We need not turn it into a man made court of law and hold a trial.

    We, as members of the Body of Christ need not second guess the worthiness of our neighbor to receive absolution. We need to convey to those inside and outside the Church that we are desiring souls to draw close to to God and we won’t nitpick and critique their every step towards the Father. We need to help pave the way to the Father, out of love for our neighbors and love for God.

    If this seems to be some tangent of thinking which strays from what you were asking, please overlook my failure to help.

    • Charles C.

      Dear Nancy,

      Thank you, and thank you again. You’ve helped me to understand the article more clearly. What I missed was the point you make that the article was dealing only with people who were convicted of sin and wanted to come to the Church for absolution.

      Those people have an understanding of themselves, God, and the Church that I wish more people had.

      Within the confessional itself, I fall into the school of letting my grief and shame come out completely and honestly. I agree that the form is of less importance than the sincerity and completeness of the repentance.

      One thing I will run from as fast as I can is deciding whether my neighbor is worthy of absolution. That, to quote a well-known politician, “is above my pay-grade.” I don’t want to be involved in that, I don’t have the authority to be involved in it, I don’t have the grace and the gifts to be involved in it.

      I just had a thought. Could it be that what is keeping people away from Confession isn’t fear of what the priest might say, rather it’s that they have to surrender some pride by announcing that they are sinners and have done bad things? After all, we are in a society that teaches that everyone can decide right and wrong for themselves. Going to Confession means that you have to accept God’s idea of right and wrong, leaving your own ideas behind.

      Anyway, thank you dear Nancy. I’m grateful to you again.