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VATICAN CITY — Christian hope is built on patiently enduring everything life brings and knowing how to see God's presence and love everywhere, Pope Francis said.
God "never tires of loving us" as He "takes care of us, dressing our wounds with the caress of His goodness and His mercy, meaning, He consoles us and He never tires of consoling us," the pope said at his general audience in St. Peter's Square March 22.
The pope invited all Catholics to "rediscover the sacrament of reconciliation" during the Lenten season by taking part in the "24 Hours for the Lord" initiative, being held March 23-24 in many dioceses and parishes worldwide. The pope asked people to make time for confession to "experience the joyful encounter with the mercy of the father," who welcomes and forgives everyone.
In his main audience talk, the pope continued a series of reflections on how St. Paul describes the nature of Christian hope. In the apostle's Letter to the Romans (15:1-5), he wrote that it's "by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope."
This endurance or perseverance, the pope said, is the patient ability to remain faithful and steadfast even when dealing with the most unbearable burdens. It's persevering even when "we would be tempted to judge unfavorably and give up on everything and everyone."
The encouragement or consolation St. Paul talks about, the pope said, is "the grace to know how to grasp and show the presence and compassionate action of God in every situation, even in one greatly marked by disappointment and suffering."
When St. Paul states, "We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak," he isn't separating the Christian community into a special class of those who are "strong" and a group of "second-class citizens" who are weak, the pope said.
In actuality, the strong are those who experience and understand their fragility and know they need the support and comfort of others, he said. And when people are experiencing their fragility and vulnerability, they "can always offer a smile or hand to a brother or sister in need," showing them strength.
It's about people offering one another what they can and knowing that the truly strong one is Christ, who takes care of everyone. "In fact, we all need to be carried on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd and to feel surrounded by His tender and caring gaze," Pope Francis said.
That strength to endure and find encouragement all comes from God and His sacred Scriptures, the pope said, not from one's own efforts.
People will realize they are "a 'channel for broadcasting' the Lord's gifts and, in that way, concretely become a sower of hope," the pope said.
Planting seeds of hope "is needed today. It's not easy," Pope Francis said. But with Christ at the center of one's life, it will be Him who "gives us the strength, the patience, the hope and the consolation" needed to live in harmony.
VATICAN CITY — The confessional is a place where one can go to humbly seek forgiveness; it isn't 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 March 21 in his homily at 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," 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.
— Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service
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