March 3, 2014

VATICAN CITY – If you haven't been to Confession recently, don't wait, Pope Francis told people at his weekly general audience.

One may walk into the confessional with a heavy heart, but forgiveness brings freedom and lightness, he said.

"If a lot of time has passed, don't lose even one more day. Go," the pope said Feb. 19, promising that "the priest will be good. Jesus will be there and he's even nicer than the priest."

"Be courageous. Go to Confession," the pope told an estimated 20,000 people at his audience in St. Peter's Square.

"Even just on a human level in order to vent, it's good to speak to a brother, confessing to the priest these things that weigh so heavily on your heart," the pope said. "Don't be afraid of Confession."

Pope Francis said he wanted to follow up on his previous audience talks about Baptism, Communion and Confirmation.

The sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist give new life, he said. But sin eats away at that new life and can destroy it, which is why Jesus gave his disciples the power to forgive sins in the name of God and the Christian community.

Citing the "beautiful, beautiful" Gospel story of the Prodigal Son who returned home after squandering his father's inheritance, Pope Francis said the father didn't even wait for the son to finish asking forgiveness.

"He hugged him, kissed him and threw a party."

"I tell you," the pope said, "every time we go to Confession, God embraces us and celebrates."