Pope Francis met with about 700 priests out of the 1,000 priests from around the globe, who have been chosen as Missionaries of Mercy. They gathered in an ornate hall of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican where the Pontiff addressed them, stressing the need to show the tenderness of God’s love to those who confess to them during the Jubilee Year of Mercy. The pope lamented that many people abandon confession because priests scold them or pry for embarrassing details.
He recalled the story in the Bible where Noah, after the flood, filled with excitement slumped in a drunken stupor and left himself naked in a state of near-unconsciousness. While his son Ham made mockery of him, Shem and Japheth, his other sons covered him up with a blanket.
Stressing the importance of the role of a confessor, Pope Francis said, “Before us there is a nude person, with their weaknesses and their limits, with the shame of being a sinner.”
It’s not easy to come before another man, a representative of God, and confess one’s sins. Shame he noted “is an intimate feeling that affects one’s personal life and requires an attitude of respect and encouragement on the part of the confessor.”
When speaking with those who come to the confessional, as priests and as missionaries “we are not called to judge with a sense of superiority, as if we were immune to sin,” he said, but are instead asked to take on the attitude of Shem and Japheth, protected their father from shame.
“To be a confessor according to the heart of Christ means to cover the sinner with the blanket of mercy, so that they are no longer ashamed and can recover the joy of their filial dignity.”
He urged the missionaries to always call to mind that it’s not sin that sits in front of them in the confessional, but someone who is filled with remorse and shame; a repentant sinner.
The Missionaries of Mercy selected from every continent will be given their official mandate in a special ceremony at St. Peter’s Basilica on Ash Wednesday. They’ve been given the power to absolve extremely grave sins in cases especially reserved for the Holy See.
Though there are several such sins, the Holy See has clarified that the faculties of the Missionaries of Mercy are “limited exclusively” to just four.
Namely, they are: Profaning the Eucharistic species by taking them away or keeping them for a sacrilegious purpose; the use of physical force against the Roman Pontiff; the absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the Sixth Commandment (“thou shall not commit adultery”) and a direct violation against the sacramental seal by a confessor.
Admonishing them he 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.
Speaking about the heart of the sinner who wants to turn to God, the Holy Father said, “The heart turns to God acknowledging the evil which has been done, but with the hope of obtaining pardon. 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.”
No matter what the sin is that’s been confessed, “Every missionary is called to remember their own sinful existence and humbly place themselves as a channel of God’s mercy,” he added.
He concluded his address by reassuring the missionaries of his prayers and pleaded on the Blessed Virgin to intercede on their behalf.