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.
"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.
Hannah Brockhaus is Catholic News Agency's senior Rome correspondent. She grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and has a degree in English from Truman State University in Missouri.