On a day (March 28th) focused on the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) Pope Francis led the way by publicly going to confession in St Peter's Basilica.
Pope Francis surprised his aides by making his own confession.Over at Whispers, Rocco makes the point
As he was being escorted toward the confessional that had been reserved for him in the Vatican basilica, the Pope broke away from his aides and headed for an open confessional, where he knelt as a penitent. After a few minutes he then rejoined his aides, took his assigned seat in the confessional, and heard confessions of others.
Vatican journalists could not recall any previous occasion when a Roman Pontiff had made his confession in public view.
The Pope was participating in a a "festival of forgiveness" in the Rome diocese, during which priests were available for confessions all day in several churches
- Catholic Culture
The footage is indeed unprecedented – while John Paul II routinely heard the confessions of 12 laymen every Good Friday in St Peter's and B16 spent some time administering the sacrament in a Madrid park at World Youth Day 2011, no Pope has ever been seen as a penitent.
After his turn on the other side of the sacrament, Francis spent another 40 minutes hearing confessions.
The exercise wasn't just one for the Vatican – the penance service doubled as the global kickoff of "24 Hours for the Lord," an initiative of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization that asked the dioceses of the world to provide round-the-clock opportunity for confession in at least one church at some point over this fourth weekend of Lent.
At Mass that morning in the Chapel of the Casa Sancta Martha, Pope Francis reminded the congregation that "God always forgives and does not know how to do otherwise......The Lord always waits for us and forgives us, he said. He is “the God of forgiveness” and he celebrates every person’s return to him". (Vatican Radio)
The Pope went on to say that God longs for us when we distance ourselves from him. Drawing on the day’s first reading from Hosea, he observed that the Lord speaks to his people with tenderness.
Even when God invites us to conversion and uses stern words, God’s words always include “this loving longing” and the exhortation of the Father who says to the son: “Come back. It is time to come back home.”
“This is the heart of our Father,” he said. “God is like that: he does not tire, he does not tire. And God did this for many centuries, with so much apostasy… among the people. And he always returns because our God is a God who waits.
“Adam left paradise with a punishment but also with a promise. And … the Lord is faithful to his promise because he cannot deny himself. He is faithful. And, in this way, he waited for all of us, throughout all of history. He is the God who waits for us always,” the Pope added.
Francis then turned his thoughts to the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The Gospel of Luke, he said, tells us that the father saw the son from afar because he was waiting for him. The father, he said, “went onto the terrace every day to see if his son would return. He waited. And when he saw him, he went out in haste and ‘threw himself on his neck’. The son had prepared some words to say but the father did not let him speak; his embrace covered his mouth.”
“This is our Father, the God that waits for us. Always,” he said.
“‘But father, I have so many sins, I do not know if he will be happy’,” the Pope said, suggesting a conversation between a priest and a person fallen from God. “‘But try! If you want to know the tenderness of this Father, go to him and try. Then come and tell me.’”
The Pope insisted on the loving welcome of God: “The God who waits for us. God who waits and also God who forgives. He is the God of mercy; he does not tire of forgiving. We are the ones who tire in asking for forgiveness, but he does not tire.”
“Seventy times seven, always. Let us go forward with forgiveness. And from a business point of view, the balance is negative. He always loses: he loses in the balance of things but he wins in love,” he said.
God “is the first to fulfill the commandment of love,” he continued. “He loves and does not know how to do otherwise.”
“The miracles that Jesus did with many sick people were also a sign of the great miracle that every day the Lord does with us when we have the courage to get up and go to him,” he added. When people return to God, God celebrates “not like the banquet of the rich man, who had the poor Lazarus at his door,” he said. “He holds banquet, like the father of the prodigal son.”
Every person who has the courage to approach God “will find the joy of the feast of God,” he said. “May this word help us to think of our Father, who waits for us always and who always forgives us and celebrates our return.”
Pope Francis presided over the penitential service where he went to confession as well as heard confessions. Pope Francis delivered the homily at a penitential service over which he was presiding in St. Peter’s Basilica on Friday afternoon. The order of the celebration included Psalms, readings from Sacred Scripture, and hymns, all focused on the theme of repentance and God’s boundless mercy.
Text of the homily HERE.