April 2, 2013
My heart leapt twice over when I saw this billboard picture posted March 23rd at Father Z’s blog. One of my favorite bishops doing something else magnificent for his priests and laity. I wish our diocese would do the same.
When Cardinal Dolan gave his opening speech to the bishops at the USCCB conference last fall, he emphasized the importance of promoting the sacrament of Penance. I haven’t seen it taken to heart in southwest Missouri and that grieves me.
In An Appointment with Jesus I wrote about how I view going to confession. In fact, the local parish is about 5-10 minutes from our house and they advertise in the bulletin that confessions are heard every Saturday from 3:00-3:45. Except that the priest isn’t there. He’s off doing something else. Several times I went and waited, and waited, and waited, but he never came. Nobody else showed up to go to confession, either. I started driving 12 miles to a Springfield parish.
The Sunday prior to Palm Sunday my husband and I happened to break our Extraordinary Form routine and went to the local 8:00 a.m. Mass. The pastor read the parish the riot act for not showing up for the communal penance service that week. Only five people came. So did the bishop. With people from all around, the total was 20.
I emailed the pastor with a link to my post about confession and told him that if he would be in the confessional as advertised, I’d come just about every week. I told him he is one of the best confessors I’ve ever gone to and that I’d prefer him to hear my confessions. He didn’t answer my email.
The Saturday before Palm Sunday, I was the first to arrive for the 3:00 confessions, hoping my email had taken effect. Three o’clock and no priest. Then a young man showed up. Then a mother with three little kids. Then another lady. Father was not in church and the office was locked. Everybody was asking, “Is he coming?” Some looked anxious and distressed.
About 3:10 I got my nerve up and went across to the rectory and rang the bell. Smiling, I said, “Father there are about four of us for confession and it looks like there are going to be more.” He winced and said he’d be right over.
In the five or so minutes it took him to get there, several more people showed up. By the time I left after saying my penance, I counted a total of 13 people who had showed up. How many came after that I don’t know. It should be that way every week in every parish, only with a lot more people keeping a regular appointment with Jesus.
If we want to be holy, we need holy priests. But priests become holy only by doing everything they are ordained to do, and one of those duties is to hear confessions. We laity have to call our priests to holiness. We are a communion of saints. We need each other. We don’t get to heaven alone. We have to ask our priests to hear confessions and be in the confessionals at the advertised time so the weak and fearful, the ones walking around in agony and despair, will slip into the line along with us, drawing courage from our presence.
In these days when people are so confused about sin and desensitized to it, we need our priests going to confession themselves. We need them encouraging us from the pulpit to come to confession and receive the special graces we get from the sacrament while mentioning that they, too, go regularly.
Our diocese and the Tulsa diocese are called “mission dioceses” because the percentage of Catholics is low. Many calling themselves Catholic are fallen away. Bishop Slattery’s billboard is an invitation for all Catholics in his care to make good and regular use of the Sacrament of Penance. It is a conscience pricker, if you will, but also an encouragement to be holy, to be of courage in the secular world to witness to Christ as repentant sinners, and to be receivers of the Divine Mercy Christ is waiting to pour out on us.
Pope Francis met with some priests of Rome for lunch on Holy Thursday. He told them, “Open the doors of the Church, and then the people will come in…if you keep the light on in the confessional and are available, then you will see what kind of line there is for confession.” St. John Vianney did this. In the beginning hardly anyone came. They were at the pubs in town drinking, gambling, and who knows what all else. But he pleaded repeatedly on his knees before God for his parishioners, and God poured out His grace over Ars. The little priest became famous as a confessor, with people driving many days to have him hear their confessions. We need this kind of renewal in the Church if we are going to do a good job of bringing others to Christ.
If we love our pastors and really appreciate them, we will call them to hear our confessions. Outside of offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, this is the most compassionate and merciful thing they can do. It means the difference between heaven and hell for them and for us.
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