Pope Francis Lays Hints for New Evangelization
Pope Francis seems to be the kind of guy to jump right into action. It’s no surprise, then, that several of the threads of his papacy already seem to be forming. One of them is mercy.
Mercy is important to the New Evangelization. All of us stand in need of God’s mercy. All of us likewise have a fundamental need – for the sake of the Church and for the sake of our own salvation – to show mercy.
Enshrined in the American Catholic experience since at least the time of Cardinal Bernardin has been an emphasis on the corporal works of mercy. It’s not an overemphasis per se. You can’t really overemphasize something that is inherently good, but you can emphasize it to the detriment of other goods. The corporal works of mercy have been emphasized to the detriment of the spiritual. When Pope Francis was elected, the mass media as well as the (for lack of a better term) leftist wing of the American Church began cheering the prospect of the poor man’s pope. What they’ve quickly discovered is that – to their terror – he takes the spiritual works of mercy just as seriously as the corporal. Admonish the sinner? Instruct the ignorant? Really? Do we have to do all that?
Pope Francis has already stated that this faulty, one-sided view of mercy leads many to view the Church as an NGO (non-governmental organization). The corporal works of mercy and the spiritual works of mercy need to go together.
From a pope who clearly tries to lead by example, what can we expect in the implementation of a plan of mercy in the New Evangelization?
Check out this account of his Sunday Angelus:
He told a story, of an elderly widow he encountered during a Mass for the sick celebrated in connection with a visit of the image of Our Lady of Fatima. “I went to confession during the Mass,” he said, “and near the end – I had to go to do confirmations afterward, and an elderly lady approached me – humble [she was] so very humble, more than eighty years old. I looked at her, and said, ‘Grandmother,’ – where I come from, we call elderly people grandmother and grandfather – ‘would you like to make your confession?’ ‘Yes,’ she said – and I said, ‘but, if you have not sinned…’ and she said, ‘we all have sinned.’ [I replied], ‘if perhaps He should not forgive [you]?’ and, sure, she replied, ‘The Lord forgives everything.’ I asked, ‘How do you know this for sure, madam?’ and she replied, ‘If the Lord hadn’t forgiven all, then the world wouldn’t [still] be here.’ And, I wanted to ask her, ‘Madam, did you study at the Gregorian (the Pontifical Gregorian University, founded in 1551 by St Ignatius Loyola, the oldest Jesuit university in the world)?’ – because that is wisdom, which the Holy Spirit gives – interior wisdom regarding the mercy of God. Let us not forget this word: God never tires of forgiving us,” he repeated, “but we sometimes tire of asking Him to forgive us.” Pope Francis went on to say, “Let us never tire of asking God’s forgiveness.”
Do we have a pope who made a practice of hearing confessions during Mass? Is he subtly mentioning the idea to spur discussion? Is he laying hints for his vision of the New Evangelization?
At my childhood parish in Omaha, Nebraska, Confession during Mass was a regular occurrence. The two Confession lines were always long. As a teenager who didn’t drive, there weren’t many ways for me to get to Confession aside from going during the Mass I attended with my family. I imagine it also cut down on sacrilegious Communions, since the those in mortal sin who still went to Mass would be regularly confronted with an opportunity to receive God’s mercy, rather than having to commit to come early on a Saturday or to schedule an appointment.
Is it possible for a priest to hear confessions during another priest’s Mass? Yes. In fact, it’s encouraged. (I suspect it would also give many a concelebrant a better use of their time.)
Mercy is important to the New Evangelization. The corporal works of mercy are important and so are the spiritual. Confession is a great locus of the spiritual works of mercy, particularly instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, admonishing sinners, forgiving offenses willingly, and comforting the afflicted. If the New Evangelization is to be successful, Confession must be central as a great means of gaining God’s mercy.
Dear fathers, please consider hearing Confessions during Masses in your parish. You will see a tremendous benefit for your parish.