Pope Francis: Only Those Who ‘Acknowledge Their Faults’ Receive Forgiveness

Pope Francis prays during a mass on Christmas eve marking the birth of Jesus Christ on December 24, 2016 at St Peter's basilica in the Vatican. / AFP / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)

The reception of God’s mercy in dependent upon a person’s acknowledgement of his sins, Pope Francis said Wednesday, because “the proud person is unable to receive forgiveness.”

“What can the Lord give to those whose hearts are full of themselves and their own success?” the Pope asked the thousands of pilgrims gathered in the Vatican for his General Audience. “Nothing, because the presumptuous person is unable to receive forgiveness, since he is full of his supposed justice.”

The Pope called to mind Jesus’s parable of the Pharisee and the publican, where only the publican, or tax collector, receives forgiveness for his sins and returns home justified.

“Those who are aware of their own miseries and lower their eyes with humility, feel the merciful gaze of God resting on them,” Francis said. “We know from experience that only those who can acknowledge their faults and ask forgiveness receive the understanding and pardon of others.”

In his catechesis, Pope Francis has been reflecting on the different parts of the celebration of the Eucharist, and on Wednesday considered the penitential act, when Catholic examine their consciences and ask for God’s mercy.

This act favors the correct attitude to worthily celebrate the holy mysteries, he said, by “recognizing our sins before God and our brothers, recognizing that we are sinners.”

At the beginning of Mass, “everyone confesses to God and to his brothers and sisters ‘to have greatly sinned in thoughts, words, deeds and omissions,’” Francis said.

Omissions matter too, the Pope insisted, by neglecting to do the good we could do. “We often feel good because we say ‘I didn’t hurt anyone,’” he said. “In reality, it is not enough not to harm others; it is necessary to choose to do good by seizing the opportunities to give good testimony that we are disciples of Jesus.”

A public confession that we are sinners before God and our brethren “helps us understand the dimension of sin that, while it separates us from God, also divides us from our brothers and sisters, and vice versa,” he said.

Out of fear or shame, we often point our finger to accuse others, Francis continued. “It’s hard to admit to being guilty, but it is good to confess it with sincerity.”

The Pope also held up biblical examples of penitence that are models for today’s Christians.

He mentioned King David, with his Psalms of repentance after his great sins, as well as the parable of the Prodigal Son and the petition of tax payer: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

He went on to speak of other biblical penitents, such as St. Peter, Zaccheus and the Samaritan woman, suggesting that acknowledging our personal weakness and sins strengthens us while disposing us to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Pope Francis has made the gospel message of mercy and forgiveness a central point of his pontificate, and declared the year 2016 to be a Holy Year of Mercy.

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