It is seven o’clock in the morning when Capuchin friars begin to fill St. Peter’s Basilica. They are the same ones who accompanied the relics of Padre Pio and San Leopoldo to Rome, in accordance with Pope Francis’s wish. At half past seven, Bergoglio himself presides the holy mass at the Altar of the Chair. Taking a cue from today’s readings, the Pope emphasizes the beauty of forgiveness and the importance of mercy. In the liturgy of the word can be found “two attitudes.” Greatness before God, “which finds expression in King Solomon’s humility” and meanness, “which is described by Jesus himself: as the doctors of law did, everything was precise, leaving the law aside, to observe their small traditions”.
“Capuchin traditions – the Pope says – is a tradition of forgiveness.” If among the friars there are so many good confessors “it is because they feel like sinners. And before God’s greatness they constantly pray: ‘Listen, oh Lord, and forgive’ (cf. 1 Kings 8:30). “Praying this way, they know how to forgive. On the contrary, “when someone forgets that they need forgiveness, (s)he slowly forgets God.” If you move away from Him, you do not remember how to ask for forgiveness anymore, and inevitably, you know not how to forgive. “The humble, the one who feels like a sinner, forgives abundantly. The others, like these doctors of law who feel ‘pure’ and ‘masters’ only know how to condemn.”
Bergoglio makes an appeal to all priests: “I talk to you as a brother,” through the friars, he wants to reach “all the confessors, especially this Year of Mercy: confession is needed to forgive.” Then, a warning: “If you cannot give absolution (I make this assumption) please do not ‘go hard on them”. The person in front of you “comes in search of comfort, forgiveness, and peace in his soul; let him or her find a father who will offer an embrace and say: ‘God loves you’. Sorry to say, but how many people – I think most of us heard it – say: ‘I never confess because I was asked these questions once.”
However, Francis recalls that the Capuchins have received a special gift from the Lord: “Forgive. I ask you: never get tired of forgiving.” Bergoglio remembers to have met a “friar of the government who, when his time as a guard and provincial, at age 70, was sent to a sanctuary to confess.” Everybody went to confess with him, outside the confessional box. There were many people waiting, “priests, faithful, rich, poor, everybody! He was a great forgiver. He always found a way to forgive, or at least to leave one’s soul in peace with an embrace. Once I went to see him and told me: ‘Look, you are a bishop and you can tell me: I think I sin because I forgive too much and mow I get this scruple’. ‘Why?’ ‘I do not know, but I always find a way to forgive’. ‘And what do you do when you feel like that?’. ‘I go to chapel in front of the tabernacle, and tell the Lord: Forgive me, Lord, forgive me, I think today I have forgiven too much. Yet, you gave me this bad example!’ Here it is. Be men of forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace.
The Pope reminds that there are so many languages in the world, besides words. “If a person approaches me, in the confessional box – Francis says – it is because there is something heavy on their heart, something they want to get rid of. Maybe (s)he does not know how to say it, but this is his gesture. If this person comes to me it is because (s)he wants to change, to be another person. There is no need to ask questions: ‘But do you…?’. If a person comes, it is because in their soul. (s)he does not want to do it anymore. But many times it is not possible because they are conditioned by their psychology or their lives. Ad impossibilia nemo tenetur“.
Every confessor must have a “wide heart. Forgiveness is a seed, God’s caress. Have faith in the Lord’s forgiveness. Be great forgivers because who does not forgive ends as these doctors from the Gospel, always to blame… Who is the great accuser in the Bible? The devil! One either follows Jesus who forgives giving life, prayer, sitting there for so many hours there, like those two (pointing at the display cases containing St. Leopold and St. Pius); or follows the devil that condemns and accuses. I tell it to every priest who confess people. If they do not feel like it and are humble and say: ‘No, no, I will celebrate Mass, clean the floor, I will do everything except confessing because I am not good at it’. I ask the Lord for this grace – he concludes -, for each one of you, for all of you, for all the confessors, and even for me.”