Don't be afraid of shame, open hearts to God's mercy, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Feeling ashamed of one’s sins does not
mean wallowing in guilt, rather it is the gateway all men and women can use to experience
firsthand God’s tender mercy and forgiveness, Pope Francis said.

Christians should be grateful for shame because it
“means that we do not accept evil, and that is good,” the pope said
April 8 at an outdoor Mass in St. Peter’s Square commemorating
Divine Mercy Sunday.

“Shame is a secret invitation of the soul that needs
the Lord to overcome evil,” the pope said. “The tragedy is when we
are no longer ashamed of anything. Do not be afraid of being ashamed! Let us
pass from shame to forgiveness!”

Divine Mercy Sunday, celebrated every year on the Sunday
after Easter, was added to the universal church calendar by St. John Paul II in
2000. The Polish pope was a longtime devotee of the Divine Mercy devotions of
St. Faustina Kowalksa, whom he beatified in 1993 and canonized in 2000.

As Pope Francis celebrated the Mass, a painting of Jesus
inspired by St. Faustina’s visions was near the altar. The image, perched on
top a bed of white roses, depicts Jesus with one hand raised in blessing and
the other pointing to his heart emanating red and white light.

As the sounds of the Sistine choir filled the air, Pope
Francis stood and bowed reverently in front of the painting before incensing it
three times.

In his homily, the pope reflected on the Sunday Gospel reading
from St. John which recalled the apostle Thomas’ disbelief at Christ’s

Despite Thomas’ initial lack of faith, Pope Francis said,
Christians should learn from his example and not be content with hearing from
others that Jesus is alive.

“A God who is risen but remains distant does not fill
our lives; an aloof God does not attract us, however just and holy he may be.
No, we too need to ‘see God,’ to touch him with our hands and to know that he
is risen for us,” the pope said.

Like Thomas and the disciples, he explained, Christian men
and women can only understand the depth of God’s love by “gazing
upon” Jesus’ wounds.

Although “we can consider ourselves Christians, call
ourselves Christians and speak about the many beautiful values of faith,”
he said, “we need to see Jesus by touching his love. Only thus can we go
to the heart of the faith and, like the disciples, find peace and joy beyond
all doubt.”

There are several “closed doors” that must be
opened in order to experience this love and to understand that God’s mercy
“is not simply one of his qualities among others, but the very beating of
his heart,” Pope Francis said.

The first step, he said, is seeking and accepting God’s
forgiveness which is often difficult because “we are tempted to do what
the disciples did in the Gospel: to barricade ourselves behind closed doors.”

“They did it out of fear, yet we too can be afraid,
ashamed to open our hearts and confess our sins,” the pope said. “May
the Lord grant us the grace to understand shame, to see it not as a closed
door, but as the first step toward an encounter.”

Another closed door is remaining resigned to one’s sins, he
said, so “in discouragement, we give up on mercy.”

Through the sacrament of reconciliation, Christians are
reminded that “it isn’t true that everything remains the way it was,”
and absolution allows them “to go forward from forgiveness to

The final door, Pope Francis said, is the actual sin that is
“only closed on one side, our own,” because God “never chooses
to abandon us; we are the ones who keep him out.”

However, he added, confession allows for God to work his
wonders and “we discover that the very sin that kept us apart from the
Lord becomes the place where we encounter him.”

“There the God who is wounded by love comes to meet our
wounds. He makes our wretched wounds like his own glorious wounds. Because he
is mercy and works wonders in our wretchedness,” the pope said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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