Pope Francis said Friday that going to confession is an act of “abandoning oneself to Love,” allowing the God of love to heal and transform one’s heart.

“Experiencing confession in this way means letting oneself be transformed by Love,” Pope Francis said on March 12.

“It is the Love that was fully manifested in Jesus Christ and in his death on the cross for us,” he said in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.

Addressing more than 800 priests and seminarians participating in a course on the internal forum organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary, Francis underscored that a “good confessor is always called to see this miracle of change, to be aware of the work of grace in the hearts of penitents.”

“The penitent who encounters, in the sacramental conversation, a ray of this welcoming Love, allows himself to be transformed by Love, by Grace, beginning to experience that transformation of the heart of stone into a heart of flesh, which is a transformation that takes place in every confession,” the pope said.

Confession, also called the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation, 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.

Pope Francis said that the sacrament of penance is a mystery which can be characterized by three expressions: “‘abandoning oneself to Love’; the second ‘letting oneself be transformed by Love’; and the third: ‘corresponding to Love’”.

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“Abandoning oneself to Love means making a true act of faith,” he explained.

“Faith can never be reduced to a list of concepts or a series of statements to be believed. Faith is expressed and understood within a relationship: the relationship between God and man and between man and God ... God calls and man responds. The reverse is also true: we call God when we are in need, and He always answers.”

The pope said that the first step for a good confession is this act of faith and trust with which the penitent approaches God’s mercy.

“Experience teaches that those who do not abandon themselves to God's love sooner or later end up abandoning themselves to something else, ending up ‘in the arms’ of the worldly mentality, which in the end brings bitterness, sadness and loneliness, and does not heal,” he said.

Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has frequently encouraged Catholics to receive God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance.

Pope Francis’ prayer intention for the month of March is for a renewed experience of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

The pope emphasized that Lent is a time of penance and conversion. He told the clerics participating in this year’s virtual course on the internal forum that “the frequent celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation becomes, for both the penitent and the confessor, a way of sanctification, a school of faith, abandonment, change and correspondence to the merciful love of the Father.”

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“Being merciful does not mean being indulgent, Francis said. “It means being a brother, a father, a comforter.”

“Dear brothers, let us always remember that each of us is a forgiven sinner - if one of us does not feel this way … better not be a confessor,” he said.

“With this awareness, I encourage you to persevere faithfully in the precious ministry that you carry out, or that will soon be entrusted to you. It is an important service for the sanctification of the holy people of God. Entrust this ministry of reconciliation to the powerful protection of Saint Joseph, a just and faithful man.”