Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bless Me Father for I Have Sinned

  I'm in Fernandina Beach, FL ready to finish up my fourth of five Lenten missions.  It has been a demanding but very rewarding few weeks.  The rewards have come in the form of great attendance, positive response to my preaching and most especially from hearing confessions. Confession is a key component of all of our missions, but especially so during Lent.  I have experienced quite a number of people returning to the Church after long periods away and others who had abandoned the use of confession while still practicing their Catholic faith

   While I wouldn't go so far as saying that there is a great revival of the Sacrament of Reconciliation I can say that there is a slow and steady increase in the number of people going to confession.  There are a number of reasons why confession fell into disuse.  One was a decreased sensitivity to sin and a confusion about what was right and wrong.  There was also the unfortunate Catholic sentiment that if a sin is not mortal it's no big deal.  Likewise I think that many people were finding that their confessions were too routine, or that they hadn't been taught to use the sacrament as adults and not children.  Adding to all this we've experienced in recent years a lack of trust in the clergy due to the sex abuse and other scandals, a sort of "Why tell them my sins, they're just as sinful as me.

   I think that in the last few years many folks have been searching for direction in life and in so doing are reconnecting with the Church at a deeper level.  One gentleman told me the other day (outside of the confessional by the way) that he was angry with the Church for a long time and still doesn't like some things that are going on but that he realized he was missing something without it.  Others have been burdened by guilt of some terrible things they did and realized that they needed God's forgiveness.  For us priests encounters with them in the confessional are very rewarding and a true cause for rejoicing.  Ever since I was newly ordained I have been strengthened by these experiences and truly humbled to experience myself as a conduit for God's mercy not because I was John Anglin, but because I was a priest.

   I am also finding that there are many good practicing Catholics who have started to come to confession more often so that they could grow in their relationship with the Lord, trying to overcome the impatience, anger, frustration, etc that beset all of us.

   While I now that good confessors are to be found everywhere I am especially proud that we Franciscans throughout the world have a reputation for being kind and compassionate confessors.   I am proud to be part of that heritage and also challenged to live up to it.  

  Finally a practice that I have seen develop over the past few years in many dioceses throughout the country is taking a day during Lent and promising that every Church in the diocese will have at least one priest available for confession on the evening of that day.  In my home diocese of St. Petersburg it is called The Light is on for you. Money is spent on TV and newspaper ads and it has met with great success.  I noticed that the Archdiocese of Boston has a similar program.

  And so dear blog readers I hope that you will take advantage of the opportunity to go to confession between now and Easter.  I know that I will.

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