Here is an idea I’d like to propose to my brother priests. Make the Sacrament of Confession as accessible as possible. For me, I knew it was difficult (if not impossible), to sit over in Church in the Confessional all day. Parish life is quite a bit more demanding than the days of St. John Vianney. So, I asked myself, what could I do to make the “St. John Vianney thing” happen, while still attending to many of my parish responsibilities? Then it occurred to me … if you can’t bring the priest to the Confessional, bring the Confessional to the priest.
I still keep my regular Confession times in Church. And, like most priests, I still let folks know, through the parish bulletin, that they can call for an appointment at any time. But, I also knew that folks either feel squeamish “imposing” themselves on busy priests (so few would rarely, if ever, call), or they are not comfortable with face-to-face Confessions. This is when I looked at my rectory layout, and saw that I could make a Confessional right smack dab in the entryway of my rectory.
I began by setting up a separate intercom for Confessions and, as you can see by the picture, I simply call them in, they kneel at my office door (I put a screen in my office door), and they are going to Confession!! Also, I posted, on the door, the “Manner of Making Confessions” and the “Act of Contrition,” especially for those who have not been to Confession for a while. I know all rectories are designed differently, but maybe this will encourage some of my brother priests to see how something like this may work in their rectory.
With only an occasional Facebook post of my availability for Confession, I am averaging 3-4 penitents every day. That number usually increases on the days I post on Facebook. And, the numbers continue to rise as more and more people are aware of this easy way to go to Confession, without feeling like they are “bothering” the priest. Many still call ahead to see if I am home, but by building this rectory Confessional, they get the message that I am encouraging frequent Confession (I call it my 24/7 Confessional), and they do not feel like they are bothering me.
Put On the Armor of God!!
But, the greatest endorsement for doing this has been seeing so many return to the Sacrament, and so many more now understanding how important it is to be in a “state of grace” … the armor of God!!
“Draw your strength from the Lord and His mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. Our battle is not against human forces but against the principalities and powers, the rulers of this world of darkness, the evil spirits in regions above. You must put on the armor of God if you are to resist on the evil day; do all that your duty requires, and hold your ground” (Eph 6:10-12).
The first major strategy from the father of lies is actually as old as the Garden of Eden itself. It is simply to convince us we do not need God (Gen. 3:5-6), nor do we need His strength and His power (Eph. 6:10).
In modern times, we have witnessed this in the effective campaign of militant secularists who have sought to de-mythologize our faith, a flat out rejection of the supernatural power of God. Once the devil has us convinced that we can challenge him under our own natural power, or simply deny that he even exists, he’s cut us off from the only real power capable of defeating him: God’s supernatural grace.
More and more common is the modern “secularized” version of religion that sees it reduced to a kind of psychotherapy for self-actualization. Sadly, this secular version of religion has become so prevalent that most people’s eyes begin to glaze over at the mere mention of God’s supernatural grace as a necessary source of power in our lives. St. Peter warns us to be fortes in fide, strong in faith, because the devil prowls around like a lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Pt 5:8-9). Lions size up a herd to find the weakest and easiest target. Once we are detached from God and His supernatural grace, we are powerless to defend ourselves from the tactics of the devil.
Our ancestors and all of the saints knew all about this supernatural power and strength and that being in a state of grace was the armor of God that was to be treasured and protected at all cost. Sacred scripture sees this Divine Life in God (state of grace) as the “hidden treasure” and the “pearl of great price” (Mt 13:44-46).
In his Prayer of Surrender, St. Ignatius of Loyola identifies this as the only meaningful treasure:
“Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess You have given me: I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more.”
I believe our first priority, as priests, is to help people to put on the armor of God … to be in a “state of grace.”
This article originally appeared at RomanCatholicMan.com. It has been re-printed with permission.
Fr. Richard M. Heilman is a priest of the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin State Chaplain for the Knights of Columbus. He is a regular guest host on Relevant Radio’s The Inner Life, and is the founder of the Knights of Divine Mercy, which is an apostolate for Catholic men’s faith formation..
He is also he founder of the Ladies of Divine Mercy, which is an apostolate for Catholic women’s faith formation. He is the author of the Church Militant Field Manual and the Roman Catholic Man website, which are both dedicated to helping Catholics understand and train for their role in the mission of combating evil and rescuing the souls of our loved ones who have lost the precious gift of faith.
One thing that works well at my parish is that we have confession available for 30 minutes before every Sunday and Holy Day mass. As we are fortunate enough to have two priests, the confessional remains open even during mass. There’s always a long line.
This works especially well for my parish because it’s not a territorial parish. It’s a traditional parish run by the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, and we have lots of parishioners that live an hour or more drive away, so this winds up being more appropriate than regular Saturday confessional hours or appointments for many, though our fine priests do encourage appointments when appropriate.
When I went to a Novus Ordo church, confession was one hour prior to Mass. Very few ever came and the ones who did, were usually the same people and mostly the elderly. I don’t recall ever hearing a homily about Hell, Purgatory, or the possibility that one cannot be saved.
The Traditional Church I attend now has, like your church, lots of parishioners that live a long way away from the church and there is always a long line for the Sacrament of Penance, including the young.
Well, yeah… if the priests are preaching how there’s no sin except intolerance and that there’s no hell, no one is going to enter the confessional, for obvious reasons.
We’ve got just one, but very holy priest (NO). He offers two Holy Masses every day. He promotes the Perpetual Adoration Chapel. 30 minutes before EVERY Mass, he brings the Blessed Sacrament into the Church, and after he goes straight to the confessional. That makes one hour of confession every single day. He also is available by appointment. People from all over the town are coming for confession to him. He is very humble, kind of shy. Most of us love him. My 15-year old son wants to confess to him only.
Bravo, Father!! God reward you for your loving heart– all too often priests are so busy and fatigued from all the administrative duties they can tend to feel like random penitents are a nuisance. But as you are proving, taking the leap of faith and making yourself more available to the people will bear unimagined good fruits!!
LOVE THIS! If this had been available to me, perhaps the road to coming back into the Grace of God would have taken so many, tormented years. I go out, speak with fallen Catholics, hear their stories. The #1 obstacle regarding the persuasion of the lax back to our Holy Mother Church? Confession. Thank you.
I offer my suggestion concerning the sacrament of Reconciliation not as some “psychotherapy
for self-actualization” but as a shift in emphasis from SIN to the repentant SINNER seeking reconciliation with our Lord and his Church or a renewal of fellowship with Jesus.
I like to think that the Prodigal Son provides us a blueprint from our Lord himself. The son 1) repentantly approaches his father and 2) humbly declares his sinfulness (not his sins), 3) his sorrow and 4) asks that he might be welcomed home – even as a servant. The father is not interested in the young man’s sins; he is 5) glad that his son has returned. 6) He forgives – because forgiveness is an ingredient of love – his son and 7) gladly welcomes him home. Thus we see that in the parable there are a few steps which begin with the expression of sorrow by the sinner and ends with the forgiveness and welcoming embrace by the father.
I ask those who believe that naming the sins are necessary: do all of us confess our sins of omission? Not helping the hungry, the lonely, the homeless or those who have other problems is just as sinful as the sins of commission. There are many in society who are very scrupulous and so struggle with their conscience. (Did I sin there or did I not? Did I mention my sins
honestly?) There are some who do not believe that certain thoughts and deeds, which contradict Church teachings, are not sins and so go through the confession process without genuine resentence. Finally, there are some who are afraid to confess to a priest or anyone else.
I believe that anyone who desires to re-establish or to renew his/her fellowship with Jesus should make a good examination of conscience (sins, faults, weaknesses) and say a prayer of contrition. He/she then goes to the priest, in or outside the confessional room, and declares a sincere commitment to be reconciled to God. Whereupon the priest asks the penitent: 1) Have you examined your conscience and are you sorry for the sins for which you want forgiveness? 2) Do you believe in God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit? 3) Do you fully accept the teachings of Jesus and his Holy Church, and 4) Do you commit yourself to a fellowship with Jesus in and through his Church. If the penitent answers yes to all the questions, the priest says the prayer of absolution.
If there is a Reconciliation service for the congregation, the first three questions can be answered while in the pew and only the final question is asked when the penitent goes to the priest.
At confession, a lady confessed to her Parish priest that she had not been to Sunday Mass a few times. The priest did not absolve her but told her to go to Mass and to then come to him and to go through the process again.
Another young man went to his priest and confessed his sins. The priest asked him how many times he had committed a certain sin. Since, the man did not know he was asked to examine his conscience again and then to come back and make a ‘good’ confession. He returned and gave a made up a number which satisfied the priest.
Incidents like these and the possibility that priests could be prosecuted for not breaking the seal, I felt that the emphasis should be shifted, as my earlier post suggested, from confessing a list of sins to the declaration of repentance and complete acceptance of Jesus, his Church and teachings.
Abusus non tollit usum.
That’s what I thought.