VATICAN CITY — Leading his annual penitential service on Friday, Pope Francis told attendees to stand tall and be open to forgiveness — and not to let themselves remain under the heavy burden of sin.
“Let us cast off ... all that prevents us from racing towards him, unafraid of leaving behind those things which make us feel safe and to which we are attached,” the Pope said March 4.
He told attendees not to “remain sedentary, but let us get up and find our spiritual worth again, our dignity as loved sons and daughters who stand before the Lord, so that we can be seen by him, forgiven and re-created.”
Pointing to the word “re-created,” Francis said it arrives to the heart of each person present, because it’s a reminder of what God said when he created man: “Rise! God has created us to stand — arise.”
The Pope’s homily was part of the annual “24 Hours for the Lord” event, which takes place the fourth Friday and Saturday of Lent inside St. Peter’s Basilica.
A worldwide initiative led by Pope Francis, the event points to confession as a primary way to experience God’s merciful embrace. It was launched in 2014 under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.
Cardinals, bishops, priests and religious are invited by the Vatican to participate in the event by gathering around the Altar of the Confession inside the basilica.
As part of the penitential service, Pope Francis went to confession himself, before administering the sacrament to a number of individuals.
Following the service in the Vatican, Churches throughout Rome will remain open for 24 hours to give pilgrims the opportunity to go to confession and take part in Eucharistic adoration.
In his homily, the Pope focused on the Gospel passage from Mark Chapter 10, in which a blind man named Bartimaeus hears that Jesus is passing by and calls out to him. As those around try to silence him, Bartimaeus cries out even louder.
Jesus hears him, stops and asks his disciples to bring Bartimaeus to him. When Bartimaeus arrives and asks to receive his sight, Jesus heals him immediately.
Pope Francis said the passage “has great symbolic value for our lives,” since each person finds themselves in the place of Bartimaeus.
“His blindness led him to poverty and to living on the outskirts of the city, dependent on others for everything he needed,” the pontiff said, explaining that sin has the same effect: “It impoverishes and isolates us.”
The blindness of sin leads us little by little to concentrate on what is superficial and to be indifferent to others, he said, noting that there are many temptations that have the power “to cloud the heart’s vision and to make it myopic.”
The Pope admitted that it is easy to be misguided, but cautioned that when we give into the temptation of only looking at ourselves, “we become blind, lifeless and self-centered, devoid of joy and true freedom.”
Jesus, however, passes by us and stops to listen in the same way that he did in the Gospel, the Pope said, explaining that, like Bartimaeus, “our hearts race, because we realize that the Light is gazing upon us ... which invites us to come out of our dark blindness.”
The closeness of Jesus makes us realize that something is missing when we are far away from him, Pope Francis said, adding that it is the presence of God that makes us feel the need for salvation and which “begins the healing of our heart.”
However, Francis lamented that there are always people like those in the Gospel who don’t want to stop when they see someone else suffering. These people, he said, prefer “to silence and rebuke the person in need who [they think] is only a nuisance.”
Francis said that by brushing these people off, we not only keep ourselves far from the Lord, but others as well. He prayed that everyone would realize that “we are all begging for God’s love and not allow ourselves to miss the Lord as he passes by.”
The Pope then turned to role of pastors in the confessional, saying they are called in a special way “to hear the cry, perhaps hidden, of all those who wish to encounter the Lord.”
He encouraged them to re-examine behaviors that can get in the way of helping others draw close to Jesus and to ask themselves if they are putting schedules, programs and regulations ahead of the desire for forgiveness.
Touching on the topic of God’s tenderness, the Pope said pastors must “certainly not water down the demands of the Gospel,” but at the same time, they can’t risk “frustrating the desire of the sinner to be reconciled with the Father,” he said.
“We have been sent to inspire courage, to support and to lead others to Jesus,” he said, adding that their ministry “is one of accompaniment, so that the encounter with the Lord may be personal and intimate” and without fear.
Pope Francis concluded by noting how, at the end of the Gospel, Bartimaeus immediately received his sight after speaking with Jesus, and then he followed him.
When we draw near to Jesus like Bartimaeus did, “we, too, see once more the light that enables us to look to the future with confidence” and which gives us the strength and courage to move forward, he said.
Francis encouraged attendees to follow Jesus “as faithful disciples,” so that they help everyone they meet to have the same experience of joy in receiving God’s his merciful love.
After “the embrace of the Father, the forgiveness of the Father,” in confession, the Pope told attendees to “celebrate in our hearts, because he is celebrating.”