Monday, December 08, 2014

"Merry Christmas – Go To Confession": The Pope's Tree-Lighting Message

As 2014 begins to wrap up, one of the year's indelible images bears recalling: the moment at the Lenten penance service in St Peter's when the Pope stunned his MC – and everyone else – by going to Confession himself before heading to his own box to conduct the sacrament for others.

Indeed, it was an unprecedented public sight of a Roman pontiff. And as was said at the time, having made Reconciliation his most frequent and urgent cause among the sacraments over 21 months in office – not to mention doing so infinitely more than his recent predecessors – Francis' affinity for the confessional stands as a principal proof that the reality of Jorge Bergoglio is far from the caricature accepted either by his champions or his castigators.

In the latest instance of the push, the Pope issued an appeal for penitents last night, while following in the footsteps of B16 at lighting the mega-tree of Gubbio – the evergreen-shaped display along a side of Mt Ingino that's won the Perugian town the distinction of "world's largest Christmas tree," even if it isn't one per se.

As his predecessor did in 2011, Francis lit the tree via a tap on a tablet... and here, video of his pre-lighting remarks with English translation:

Buona sera! I wish you a holy and happy Christmas.

When we turn on the lights of the creche [sic – he said "Presepio" but meant "albero" (tree)], we want the light of Christ to be in us. A Christmas without light isn't Christmas. So let there be light in our souls, in our hearts; let there be our forgiveness for others; and let there not be hatred, for this are darkness. Let there be the light of Jesus, which is so beautiful. This is my wish for all of you. Many thanks for your gift – it's beautiful. And I give you my warmest tidings of peace and happiness.

If you have something dark on your soul, ask the Lord's forgiveness. This is a beautiful chance Christmas gives us – to clean up our souls, eh! Don't be afraid – the priest is merciful, he forgives everything in the name of God, because God forgives everything. May the light be in your hearts, in your families, in your cities. And now, with this wish, let's turn on the lights.

May almighty God bless you, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Merry Christmas and pray for me!
* * *
While diocesan or regional initiatives to increase awareness and availability of confessions have become a popular – and, across the board, remarkably well-received – feature over Lent in recent years, this Advent sees only a handful of places making an amped-up Penance push before Christmas. The largest of them comes this Wednesday in Toronto, where the 225 parishes of Canada's largest diocese will be open through the day to offer the sacrament.

Back to Francis, meanwhile, the Gubbio tree event was just one box-driven statement from the Pope that came to light yesterday.

In his sweeping interview for the Sunday editions of Buenos Aires' La Nación, the native son reminded 
his biographer Elisabetta Piqué that upon his election as the 266th bishop of Rome at age 76, he was plotting out his retirement as archbishop of the Argentine capital, and with it "my mind was [already] focused on the confessionals of the churches where I would be hearing confession."

Clearly, the emphasis is important to Francis. How it's been reflected in next to none of the broader coverage of him, however, remains a mystery... yet still, even that "appalling strangeness" pales before attempting to conceive of the mercy of God.