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.