Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bless Me Father--The Light IsAlways On For You

On Thursday, March 11, the Diocese of St.Petersburg, where I reside, sponsored a program called "The Light is On For You." Every Church in the diocese was open from 5 til 8 PM for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. TV and newspaper ads appealed especially to people who had been away for a time to take advantage of this opportunity to return home to God and their Church. The program was a resounding success. This was the second year in a row where this was done.

In recent years The use of the confessional has fallen off. This is not entirely a bad thing because to a large extent it indicates that this Sacrament has been going through growing pains. People have questioned the need for scrupulously going through a laundry list of little sins on a weekly or monthly basis as they may have done when they were children. People wonder too why general absolution was introduced and then taken away. On the other hand there has also been a lessening of the sense of sin. Short of murder and mayhem, some would seem to say, is there any such thing as sin any more? I can assure you that there is.

While folks who know me realize that I stand on the progressive side of most Church issues, (Some think too much so, others not enough so, which tells me I'm doing my own thinking if nothing else.), when it comes to Confession I'm somewhat traditional. While I would like to see general absolution revisited and opened up because I believe that there should be as many ways as possible available to people to encounter God's mercy, I also want to affirm the place for individual one on one confession and encourage its use. As a Franciscan I am the inheritor of a great tradition of being known for merciful and compassionate celebration of this Sacrament. All over the world people still flock to Franciscan churches when they want to go to confession. In my own province, though the numbers are down, our urban Churches in Boston and New York are known for this. As I go around preaching parish missions I am amazed at the numbers of folk who take advantage of the opportunity that the mission presents to go to confession.

Many people protest that they can go directly to God with their sins. While I don't doubt that God is merciful when approached in this way, there is great wisdom in realizing that as humans we occasionally need to hear the assurance of another human voice telling us that indeed our sins are forgiven, especially if we have strayed in a serious way. Even for those whose sins are minimal I believe that it is good to periodically celebrate this Sacrament to hear that reassuring voice and to affirm in a one on one encounter, our need for mercy. I don't believe in going "just for the grace" because that turns grace into a kind of spiritual stardust to be sprinkled on our lives, but I do think it helpful in Advent, Lent and maybe a once or twice more, to celebrate this great Sacrament.

As a priest I find that I need to avail myself of this Sacrament and I am genuinely humbled by the faith of people who come to me for confession and awed by the power of merciful God to touch people's hearts and set them free, no matter what sin they may have committed.

Go in Peace. Your sins are forgiven!

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