'Return home' through the sacrament of confession, Pope Francis urges

Pope Francis prays in the chapel of Casa Santa Marta March 16 2020 Credit Vatican Media Pope Francis prays in the chapel of Casa Santa Marta March 16, 2020. | Vatican Media.

Pope Francis spoke Friday about the importance of returning to God, the loving Father, in the sacrament of reconciliation.

"But think of this: to return to God is to return to the embrace, the embrace of a father," the pope said March 20.

"He is capable of transforming us, he is capable of changing the heart, but he wants to give us the first step: to return," he said. "It is not going to God, no: it is returning home."

Pope Francis' daily Mass at the Santa Marta guesthouse March 20 was offered for doctors in northern Italy, especially in the towns of Bergamo, Treviglio, Brescia, and Cremona, who have reached the limits of their capabilities in treating coronavirus patients, he said.

"They are giving their own lives to help the sick, to save the lives of others," he added.

The pope also prayed for the authorities trying to manage a difficult situation. "[Whether] they are doctors, hospital staff, health volunteers or the authorities, at this moment they are pillars that help us move forward and defend us in this crisis. Let us pray for them."

In his homily, Pope Francis recalled a song which Italian families in Buenos Aires would listen to when he was a child.

He quoted two lines of the 1936 song, "Torna Piccina Mia," by Italian singer Carlo Buti.

"Torna dal tuo papà. La ninna nanna ancora ti canterà," he said, which means, "return to your daddy. I will sing a lullaby for you once again."

"Return: but it is your dad who tells you to return. God is your dad; not a judge, he is your dad: 'return home, listen, come,'" Francis emphasized.

He said the words of this song remind him of the father in the parable of the prodigal son, who "'saw the son coming from afar,' that son who had gone away with all the money and had wasted it."

The father, the pope said, "was climbing to the terrace – how many times a day! – during the days, months, perhaps years, expecting his son."

"Return to your father, he waits for you," Francis urged. "The God of tenderness will heal us; he will heal us from many, many of life's wounds and from the many bad things we have done."

It would be nice if today this 'return,' 'return to your dad, return to your father,' resounded in our ears," Francis said.

"He is waiting for you and he will throw a party."

"Lent always focuses on this conversion of the heart which, in Christian practice, takes shape in the sacrament of confession," he argued.

The pope also noted that during this time, if people are confined to home, they may be unsure of how to reach a priest to receive the sacrament of penance.

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"You do what the Catechism says," he stated. "It is very clear: if you do not find a priest to hear your confession, speak to God, he is your father, and tell him the truth."

Enumerate your sins, ask the Lord for forgiveness with all your heart, and make an act of contrition, the pope explained. "Promise him: 'Later I will confess, but forgive me now.' And immediately you will return to the grace of God."

Pope Francis referred to paragraphs 1451, 1452, and 1453 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which speaks about contrition and forgiveness for one's sins.

"Contrition," the catechism says, "is 'sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again.'"

When this contrition arises from "a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called 'perfect.'"

The catechism states that perfect contrition "remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible."

Imperfect contrition, which is based on the consideration of sin's ugliness or the fear of eternal damnation or other punishment, is also a gift of God, however, it is not enough to obtain the forgiveness of mortal sin without sacramental confession to a priest, the catechism explains.

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In Italy and across the United States, many priests and dioceses are finding creative ways to offer confessions while maintaining recommended distances to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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