In the Gospel reading for today’s Solemnity, the angel Gabriel speaks three times in addressing the Virgin Mary. The first is when he greets her and says, “Rejoice, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28). The reason to rejoice, the reason for joy, is revealed in those few words: the Lord is with you. Dear brother, dear sister, today you can hear those words addressed to you. You can make them your own each time you approach God’s forgiveness, for there the Lord tells you, “I am with you”. All too often, we think that Confession is about going to God with dejected looks. Yet it is not so much that we go to the Lord, but that he comes to us, to fill us with his grace, to fill us with his joy. Our confession gives the Father the joy of raising us up once more. It is not so much about our sins as about his forgiveness. Our sins are present but the forgiveness of God is always at the heart of our confession. Think about it: if our sins were at the heart of the sacrament, almost everything would depend on us, on our repentance, our efforts, our resolves. Far from it. The sacrament is about God, who liberates us and puts us back on our feet. Let us recognize once more the primacy of grace and ask for the gift to realize that Reconciliation is not primarily our drawing near to God, but his embrace that enfolds, astonishes and overwhelms us. The Lord enters our home, as he did that of Mary in Nazareth, and brings us unexpected amazement and joy - the joy of forgiveness. Let us first look at things from God’s perspective: then we will rediscover our love for Confession. We need this, for every interior rebirth, every spiritual renewal, starts there, from God’s forgiveness. May we not neglect Reconciliation, but rediscover it as the sacrament of joy. Yes, the sacrament of joy, for our shame for our sins becomes the occasion for an experience of the warm embrace of the Father, the gentle strength of Jesus who heals us, and the “maternal tenderness” of the Holy Spirit. That is the heart of Confession.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us go forth and receive forgiveness. And you, dear brother priests who are ministers of God’s forgiveness, offer to those who approach you the joy of this proclamation: Rejoice, the Lord is with you. Please set aside rigidity, obstacles and harshness; may you be doors wide open to mercy! Especially in Confession, we are called to act in the person of the Good Shepherd who takes his sheep into his arms and cradles them. We are called to be channels of grace that pour forth the living water of the Father’s mercy on hearts grown arid. If a priest does not approach Confession with this attitude, it would be better for him to refrain from celebrating the sacrament. A second time the angel speaks to Mary. She was troubled by his greeting, and so he tells her, “Do not be afraid” (v. 30). The first time he says, “The Lord is with you”. Now, the second time, he says “Do not be afraid”. In the Scriptures, whenever God appears to those who receive him, he loves to utter those words: Do not be afraid! He says them to Abraham (cf. Gen 15:1), repeats them to Isaac (cf. Gen 26:24), to Jacob (cf. Gen 46:3) and so on, up to Joseph (cf. Mt 1:20) and Mary. Do not be afraid! In this way, he sends us a clear and comforting message: once our lives are open to God, fear can no longer hold us in thrall. For fear can truly hold us in thrall. You, dear sister, dear brother, if your sins frighten you, if your past worries you, if your wounds do not heal, if your constant failings dishearten you and you seem to have lost hope, please, do not be afraid [...]
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