The forgiveness of sins, with reference to the so-called “power of the keys”, biblical symbol of the mission Jesus gave to the Apostles, was the theme of the Pope’s catechesis during a general audience in St. Peter’s Square this morning.
“The agent of the forgiveness of sins is the Holy Spirit”, said Pope Francis, explaining that in his first appearance before the Apostles, the risen Christ performed the gesture of breathing on to them, saying “’Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’. Jesus, bodily transfigured, is now a new man, who offers the Paschal gifts, the fruit of his death and resurrection: peace, joy, forgiveness of sins, the mission, and above all the Holy Spirit that is the source of all this. The breath of Jesus … indicates the transmission of life, the new life regenerated by forgiveness. But before this gesture … Jesus shows the wounds on his hands and his side: these wounds represent the price of our salvation. The Holy Spirit brings us God’s forgiveness, ‘passing through’ Jesus’ wounds”.
In turn, the Church is “the depository of this power. God forgives all men in his sovereign mercy, but He Himself wishes for them to belong to Christ and His Church, receiving pardon through the ministers of the Community. … In this way, Jesus calls us to experience the ecclesial and community dimension of reconciliation. … The Church … accompanies us along the path of conversion throughout our lives. The Church is not the ‘owner’ of the power of the keys, but is rather the servant of the ministry of mercy”.
“Many people nowadays perhaps do not understand the ecclesial dimension of forgiveness, as individualism and subjectivism dominate”, observed the Pope. “Certainly, God forgives every repentant sinner, personally, but the Christian is bonded with Christ, and Christ is united to the Church. For us, as Christians, it is an extra gift, but it is also an extra commitment; to pass humbly through ecclesial ministry. We must value this. … I go to my brother priest and say, ‘Father, I have done this…’ and he answers, ‘But I forgive you; God forgives you’. In that moment I am sure that God has forgiven me”.
The Pope’s final point of reflection was the figure of the priest as a ‘tool’ in the forgiveness of sins. “The priest, a man who, like us, is in need of mercy, truly becomes an instrument of mercy, bringing us the limitless love of God the Father. … At times we hear of those who claim to confess directly to God … yes, as I said before, God always listens, but in the Sacrament of Reconciliation he sends a brother to bring forgiveness to you, the certainty of forgiveness, in the name of the Church”.
The service that the priest offers as a minister of God in forgiving sins requires that “his heart is at peace; that he does not mistreat the faithful, but rather is humble, benevolent and merciful; that he knows how to sow hope in hearts and, above all, is aware that the brother or sister who seeks the Sacrament of Reconciliation seeks forgiveness and does so in the same way that many people sought Jesus, in order that he might cure them. When a priest who does not have this disposition of spirit it is better if, until this is corrected, he does not administer this Sacrament. The penitent faithful have the right to find, in priests, the servants of God’s forgiveness”.
“Let us not forget that God never tires of forgiving us; through the ministry of the priest he holds us in a new embrace that regenerates us and enables us to get up again and continue anew on our path”, the Holy Father concluded.