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A “Year of Confession” is a Great Idea


Patheos blogger Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry thinks that the focus on mercy in the pontificate of Pope Francis leads naturally to an incredibly important initiative: A Year of Confession. Gobry writes:

The Pope is absolutely right: what Christians need right now is an avalanche of mercy (which, as the Pope is well aware, is not the same thing as cheap grace).

I’m prompted by his excellent decision to make today a worldwide day of confession to write about an idea that’s been going around in my head: just as Pope Benedict XVI had the great idea to do initiatives such as the “Year of Faith”, Pope Francis should institute a “Year of Confession.” Every parish should be led from the top to emphasize confession and invite people to it.

Look–we all know what the Church’s biggest problem is: lukewarm Catholics, ex-Catholics, Christmas-and-Easter Catholics, you name it. The Church sometimes appears as a river as shallow as it is broad, with more than a billion people in the membership rolls, and no doubt hundreds of millions in the pews, but how many with a full communion with the Church and a deep, personal and sacramental relationship with Christ? As Ross Douthat remarked, most of our brothers and sisters who have been estranged from the Church are really only a good confession away from full communion with the Church. In fact, that’s what confession is for.

Besides, as I know from personal experience–and as you probably do too–there is the dread Vicious Circle of Confession. The longer you wait without going, the harder it becomes to go, and the harder it becomes to go, the longer you wait. This is why it is so, so fundamentally important for pastors to talk over and over again about the importance of this great sacrament, the one that restores grace and full communion. As St John of the Cross says, grace shines into our soul like the sun in a room from a window–but we have to clean the window. That’s what confession does. They shouldn’t be brutes or sanctimonious about it, as the Pope repeatedly emphasizes. They should emphasize the benefit.

But if the Church is going to be renewed, it is going to be through sacramental grace. If this great lumbering Body is going to wake up and take seriously its mandate to defeat the Power and Principalities, it is when millions upon millions of Everyday Catholics become #FullCatholics through the power of sacramental grace.

I’ve lamented in the past that confession needs to be made more available. The average parish has confessions for a 30-60 minute window on Saturday afternoon. That might work if your Saturdays are set aside for leisure, but for most of us, we’re playing catch-up on everything we didn’t get to during the week: cleaning, shopping, homework, bills, laundry, etc. When you’re in the middle of a mad rush to get things done before you’re thrust back into the hectic work week, it’s incredibly easy to forget confession is even happening.

I’ve made it a point to seek out the parishes with weekday confessions in my area. There aren’t many, but the ones that have it are almost always the same ones that have adoration chapels. This makes sense: love of the Eucharist and repentance for sin go hand in hand. They also tend to have very, very long lines, since they’re the only game in town during the week.

If the Church wants to experience a real renewal, an actual “new springtime,” we need to get ourselves collectively into the state of grace. Only then can God work effectively in our souls. Only then can we hear His voice.

A Year of Confession is a fantastic idea to get things started. Keeping that momentum going afterward will be equally important.

9 thoughts on “A “Year of Confession” is a Great Idea”

  1. Excellent idea Steve. The folks who read your blog need to agitate about confession availability in their parishes. I send occasional e-mails to our parish priests about having confessions before or after our two daily Masses. While I probably didn’t have anything to do with it, our parish during lent now offers an additional four hours of confession each week or an increase of 600%. Of course, if one is to agitate about more confessions one should go more often her/himself.

  2. I don’t want to be negative, since there is too much of that already, but one problem with simply making confession more available (an idea that *I* appreciate) is that many Catholics don’t think they sin much. I personally know Catholics who haven’t been to confession in many years (30+) who claim that “they can’t think of anything” or nothing so serious as to require the sacrament of confession. It’s a platitude in Catholic circles now, but we really have lost a sense of sin—what it is, how serious it is and how we have committed it. And we don’t think we are under threat of hellfire. The last Penance Service our parish did had a two-minute, greatly simplified examination of conscience, which left out nearly all the virtues that St. Thomas enumerates in the moral part of the Summa, and spoke rather in boilerplate, modern generalities about not harming/respecting others and “our values”…whatever those are. With such a spotty sense of God’s will, of the spiritual life, of the good, of right/wrong, holy/unholy, etc., can we really expect Catholics to make an extra effort to go to the sacrament, even if it were available 7 days a week? I don’t think so.

    Making it more available is in itself not enough.

    • Probably the examination should be more specific:

      1. Did I miss Mass on a Sunday or a Holy Day of Obligation?
      2. Did I have or wish to have sexual intercourse with someone other than my spouse?
      3. Did I or my spouse use contraception?

      Then some of the Catholics you know might think of something to confess. I volunteer to kiss the feet of the others.

    • The father exactly did not go out and find his son.

      The king did force people, the good and the bad, to attend his son’s wedding, but threw out the person who appeared without wearing a wedding garment.

      Meditating on these examples, what can one learn about God’s mercy?

      The king also sent his armies to destroy murderers and burn their city, but perhaps that is a meditation for other topics of the day.

      • Wait, wait–you’re actually looking at the words? That’s not the point, silly. We’re supposed ti just let the gestures wash over us. Year of Mercy. Year of Kasper.

        Meanwhile, the more protests you hear that it’s not a push for cheap grace, the surer you can be that it is just that. Sigh.

    • It would be fascinating to confess to Pope Francis. Pecca fortiter & etc.

      It might answer a lot of questions…

      Then again, he is a Jesuit, so it won’t. 🙁

  3. At my old parish Confession was offered only one hour a week, on Saturday afternoon, and there were usually ten people or less–with over a thousand families registered in the parish. At my current parish it is offered before, during, and after Mass, including weekdays, and there is never a shortage of people lined up. The priests encourage parishioners to go to Confession every two weeks.


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