Pope Francis goes to confession during a penitential service at St. Peter’s Basilica on March 28, 2014. Credit: Vatican Media.
Pope Francis’ prayer intention for the month of March is for a renewed experience of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
In his video for the prayer intention, created by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, the pope asked for prayers that the Sacrament of Reconciliation would be experienced “with renewed depth, to taste the forgiveness and infinite mercy of God.”
Reconciliation also called the Sacrament of Penance or confession, is the means through which God grants pardon for sins.
In the sacrament, the contrite penitent discloses his sins to a Catholic priest who grants sacramental absolution. The penitent resolves to not sin again and performs an act of satisfaction, usually called a penance.
Through the priest, God grants his pardon and peace, and the penitent is reconciled to God.
Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has frequently encouraged Catholics to receive God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance.
In his March 2021 prayer intention video, the pope said: “When I go to confession, it is in order to be healed, to heal my soul. To leave with greater spiritual health. To pass from misery to mercy.”
He emphasized that “the centre of confession is not the sins we declare, but the divine love we receive, of which we are always in need.”
Jesus, who waits for us, listens to us, and forgives us, is the centre of confession, the pope said. “Remember this: in the heart of God, we come before our mistakes.”
Francis also encouraged prayers that God would give the Catholic Church “merciful priests and not torturers.”
In October 2013, Pope Francis spoke about the importance of confessing one’s sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, stressing that it is not the same as “going to a psychiatrist, or to a torture chamber.”
In 2016, Francis gave advice to priests about how to be good confessors, saying that even if they cannot give absolution in some cases, “please, do not beat up on the penitent.”
Someone who comes to the confessional is seeking “comfort, pardon, peace in his soul,” he said. “Let him find a father who embraces him and says, ‘God loves you,’ and makes the penitent feel that God really does.”
Pope Francis has often emphasized the importance of the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the life of the Church. In 2014, he instituted a Lenten tradition of “24 Hours for the Lord,” during which Catholics can find extra opportunities for Eucharistic adoration and for going to confession.
The day-long period usually begins with a penance service in St. Peter’s Basilica. At the 2014 liturgy, Pope Francis surprised a priest by approaching him for the Sacrament of Reconciliation himself before hearing the confessions of others.
The “24 Hours for the Lord” initiative began in Rome and is organized by the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, which encourages bishops to organize the event in their own dioceses.
During a general audience in February 2014, Pope Francis urged those present to ask themselves “when was the last time I went to confession?”
“And if it has been a long time, don’t lose another day!” he said. “Go, the priest will be good. And Jesus [will be] there, and Jesus is better than the priests — Jesus receives you. He will receive you with so much love! Be courageous, and go to confession.”
In the same catechesis, he noted that sometimes people felt ashamed at the idea of confessing their sins, but he explained that “even embarrassment is good. It’s healthy to have a bit of shame… it does us good because it makes us more humble.”
“Don’t be afraid of confession,” he stressed. “When someone is in line for confession he feels all these things — even shame — but then when he finishes confessing, he leaves [feeling] free, great, beautiful, forgiven, clean, happy.”