Pope Francis on Tuesday evening (february 9) met with the Missionaries of Mercy, who are priests given special faculties to absolve even sins reserved to the Holy See.
The Missionaries of Mercy are being commissioned by the Holy Father during the Ash Wednesday Mass to be a living sign of the Father’s welcome to all those in search of his forgiveness, and will be preaching mercy and hearing confessions in dioceses around the world during the Jubilee of Mercy.
Pope Francis, meeting with the Missionaries the day before their commissioning, told them they are a “sign of special importance” which characterizes the Jubilee of Mercy, and offered some brief reflections to give practical help in their task.
“First of all, I would like to remind you that in this ministry you are called to express the maternal nature of the Church,” Pope Francis said.
“The Church is a Mother because she always creates new children in faith; the Church is a Mother because she nourishes this faith; and the Church is a Mother because she offers the forgiveness of God, regenerating to a new life, the fruit of conversion,” he continued.
The Holy Father also told the priests they must know how to “look into the desire of the heart of the penitent,” which through grace is the beginning of conversion.
“The heart turns to God acknowledging the evil which has been done, but with the hope of obtaining pardon,” Pope Francis said. “This desire is reinforced when the person decides in his heart to change his life and does not want to sin again. It is the moment when we trust the mercy of God, and you have complete confidence you will be understood, forgiven and supported by Him.”
The final point brought up by the Pope was one he said “was often not spoken about,” but is a crucial subject: Shame.
“It is not easy to accuse yourself before another man, knowing that he represents God, and confess your sin,” he said. “A person feels shame both for what he has done, and for having to confess it to another person.”
He called on confessors to have “an attitude of respect and encouragement” when encountering a person’s shame.
“Do not forget: in front of us there is no sin, just the repentant sinner,” – Pope Francis said – “A person who feels the desire to be accepted and forgiven… Therefore, we are not called to judge, with a sense of superiority, as if we were immune from sin; on the contrary, we are called to act as Shem and Japheth, the sons of Noah, who took a blanket and put it over their father and hid his shame.”
He said the confessor is to “cover the sinner with a blanket of mercy,” so they can recover their dignity.
“It is, therefore, not with the club of judgment that we will bring back the lost sheep to the fold, but with the holiness of life which is the principle of renewal and reform in the Church,” Pope Francis said.