By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Confessors have two choices: to be like Jesus who readily forgave sins or like the devil who always condemns, Pope Francis said.
“You can either do the work of Jesus, who forgives, by giving your lives in prayer [and] through many hours seated there or you do the work of the devil who condemns and accuses,” the pope said during Mass Feb. 9 with Capuchin friars from around the world.
The Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica was held in conjunction with the veneration of the relics of two Capuchins, Sts. Padre Pio and Leopold Mandic; Pope Francis requested their relics be brought to the Vatican for the Year of Mercy.
Both saints, the pope told the friars, spent long hours in the confessional as ministers of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Recalling the day’s Gospel passage, in which the Pharisees and scribes condemn Jesus and his disciples for not observing traditions, the pope reminded the Capuchins that confessors are called to be “great forgivers in the confessional.”
“The confessional is for forgiving,” he said. “And if you cannot give someone absolution, please, do not ‘beat’ him.”
The pope repeated the story of a former Capuchin provincial who was sent to a shrine as a confessor after his retirement. The friar, who usually had a long line of people waiting for him, “always found a way to forgive or at least leave that person’s soul in peace with a hug.”
However, the priest expressed concern that he was forgiving too much. “And what do you do when you feel that way?” the pope recalled asking him.
“‘I go to the chapel in front of the tabernacle, and I tell the Lord: ‘I’m sorry Lord, forgive me, I think I forgave too much today. But Lord, it was you who gave me a bad example,'” the friar responded.
Forgiveness, the pope explained, is a “caress from God” and confessors who do not forgive become like the scribes in the Gospel “who are always there to accuse,” much like “the great accuser in the Bible: the devil.”
Pope Francis also called on the Capuchins to be humble and sincere if they are not up to the task of forgiving with mercy.
“If you do not feel it, be humble and say: ‘No, no, I’ll celebrate Mass, I’ll clean the floor, I’ll do everything except confess because I do not know how to do it well,” the pope said.