Pope Francis: Don't treat the confessional like the dry cleaners

A priest participates from his confessional as Pope Francis leads a Lenten penance service in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in this March 13, 2015, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) A priest participates from his confessional as Pope Francis leads a Lenten penance service in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in this March 13, 2015, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 

The confessional is a place where one can go to humbly seek forgiveness; it is not a dry cleaners where one goes to remove the occasional stain, Pope Francis said.

While forgiveness is "God's great work of mercy," Christians can take for granted the power of the sacrament of reconciliation and confess while being "unable to be ashamed" of their sins, the pope said on March 21 in his homily during morning Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae.

"You did not go there ashamed of what you did. You saw some stains on your conscience and you were mistaken because you believed the confessional was a dry cleaners to remove stains," he said.

Reflecting on the day's first reading from the prophet Daniel in which the people of Israel humbly beg God to pardon their sins, the pope said shame was "the first step" in seeking forgiveness.  

However, he noted, the Gospel reading from St. Matthew recounts Jesus' parable of the ungrateful servant who, although forgiven of a debt, refused to show the same mercy to another.

While forgiveness is "a difficult mystery" to comprehend, the Gospel helps Christians understand that going to confession is more than just making some kind of "bank transaction," the pope said.

"If you are not aware of being forgiven you will never be able to forgive, never."

"If you are not aware of being forgiven you will never be able to forgive, never," he said. "There is always that attitude of wanting to take others to task. Forgiveness is total. But it can only be done when I feel my sin, when I am ashamed and ask forgiveness of God and feel forgiven by the father so I can forgive."

Like the ungrateful servant in Jesus' parable, Christians can be tempted to leave the confessional thinking that "we got away with it." This feeling, the pope said, is "the hypocrisy of stealing forgiveness, a pretend forgiveness."

For this reason, he added, it is important to "ask for the grace of shame before God."

"It is a great grace! To be ashamed of our own sins and thus receive forgiveness and the grace of generosity to give to others because if the Lord has forgiven me so much, who am I to not forgive?" he said.

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Just about everyone is sick of the partisan rancor that radiates from Washington.
The EditorsJune 23, 2017
Beatriz Mejia of El Salvador speaks at a rally in front of the White House in Washington in March 2016 in support of immigrant families who are seeking asylum. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
Can a Catholic carry out his or her job duties in good conscience if they include the deportation of people facing imminent death in their home countries?
Callanan, a professor and novelist from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, will be awarded the $25,000 Catholic literary prize.
The EditorsJune 22, 2017
Retired San Francisco Archbishop John R. Quinn, left, is pictured in a 2004 photo in Saginaw, Mich. He died June 22 at age 88 in San Francisco. He headed the Northern California Archdiocese from 1977 until 1995. (CNS photo/Brett McLaughlin, Catholic Weekly)
Retired Archbishop John R. Quinn of San Francisco, who led the Northern California archdiocese for 18 years, died on June 22 after a long illness. He was 88.