This morning the Holy Father announced the granting of permission for every priest to absolve penitents from the sin of abortion during the upcoming jubilee year observances in the Catholic Church. Traditionally, the sin associated with abortion has been considered a, “reserved,” sin, requiring the permission of the local Ordinary for permission to impart forgiveness. The Pope’s explicit permission towards making the confession of this most serious sin against unborn human life accentuates the Pope’s continuing pastoral message highlighting love, reconciliation and forgiveness, the triad of principles sacred to the life and death of Jesus. The core values of Jesus’ message and the mission of the Church since the Apostolic era. While Francis’ permission might seem trivial to some, the action is a seismic shift towards facilitating the Father’s love through the Sacrament of Reconciliation by allowing the penitent to experience as mentioned in the form of absolution, “God the Father of mercies…,” immediately through the sacred (kairotic) moment of absolution and be reconciled to God and the living community of the Catholic faith. The Holy Father’s determination immediately brings to mind the example in Saint John’s Gospel of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well. In this great narrative, Jesus listens intently to the woman’s tale, makes commentary and then acknowledges her conversion from her sins. The Sacrament of Reconciliation emulates Jesus’ actions, and the priest today replicates Jesus’ forgiveness in every confession worldwide.
Pope Francis seems full of surprises, unmatched by previous Popes. The surprises themselves not only reflect a difference in papal protocol but an evolution of papal leadership directing the Church towards embracing Christ’s Ministry in a manner of simplicity reflective on the mandate of ,”Love one another,” as the primary catalyst towards a Church that seeks love, reconciliation and forgiveness as the sacred combination to identify the Church’s purpose and ministry in the 21st century.
Permission for priests to absolve from the sin of abortion also illustrates the participation each priest shares with the Holy Father through Holy Orders. Pope Francis sees the ministry of priesthood as a grass roots ministry intended not only having priests live in a parish community, but actively participate in the life and events of the local parish community. Each parish is indeed a microcosm of the larger structure of the Universal Church. Collaboration between the local priest and the parish community has at times been lost in recent times. Illustrative of the great importance the laity play in the role of parish life, the Church is also poised towards a great and significant transformation with the relationship of the clergy and the laity as coworkers in the activities of the Church’s mission that will not only radically change the Church but dramatically renew the Church’s presence in the 21st century as envisioned by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council as proclaimed in Gaudium et Spes (The Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.) The Fathers of the Council were indeed inspired, their teachings after decades of discussion and debate are taking root in the pontificate of Pope Francis. While the foundations of the Council’s teachings were laid by Saint Pope John XXIII, Blessed Pope Paul VI, Saint Pope John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI the work of the Holy Spirit is once again blowing a spirit of aggiornamento through the Church and the papacy of Francis.
When Saint Pope John XXIII outlined the direction his papacy would take, he indicated that he wanted to,”open up the windows and let in the Holy Spirit!” Pope Francis it appears not only wants to open the windows, most importantly he wants to open the hearts of all mankind to the message of the Holy Spirit.