Pope Francis told hundreds of priests and seminarians on Friday that when they are hearing confessions, they should strive to accompany penitents along the path to greater holiness.
“The confessor always has as his goal the universal call to holiness, and to accompany discreetly to it,” the pope said on March 25, speaking about the Sacrament of Reconciliation, when a penitent Catholic discloses his or her sins to a priest or bishop, who acts in persona Christi, Latin for “in the person of Christ,” to grant God’s pardon and forgiveness.
“To accompany means to take care of the other person, walking together with him or her,” he continued. “It is not enough to indicate a goal, if you are not willing to walk even a stretch of road together.”
“However brief the confessional interview may be, from a few details you can understand the needs of the brother or sister: we are called to respond to them, accompanying them above all to the understanding and acceptance of God’s will, which is always the way of the greatest good, the way of joy and peace,” the pope stated.
Pope Francis addressed around 800 priests and seminarians at the end of an annual course on the seal of confession and the internal forum, which is an extra-sacramental form of secrecy, or confidentiality, applied to spiritual direction.
The course, in its 32nd edition, was held in person and online. It was organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary, the office of the Roman Curia responsible for issues related to the sacrament of confession, indulgences, and the internal forum.
“Dear brothers, I thank the Lord with you for the ministry which you carry out, or which will soon be entrusted to you — for there are [transitional] deacons here — a ministry at the service of the sanctification of the faithful People of God,” Pope Francis said.
He reminded priests that though they are ministers of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, they should also receive the graces of the sacrament themselves.
“You go to ask forgiveness for your sins, do you not? This is very healthy. It is good for us confessors to do so,” he said.
Francis also advised priests to “inhabit” the confessional, always being ready to welcome, listen, and accompany those who come to seek God’s forgiveness. Everyone needs forgiveness, he said, “that is, to feel that they are loved as children by God the Father.”
“The words we say: ‘I absolve you of your sins’ also mean ‘you, brother, sister, are precious, you are precious to God; it is good that you are there.’ And this is a most powerful medicine for the soul, and also for the psyche of everyone,” he said.