12 Jan Confession: Mercy Made Real
By: Christopher White —
In my neighborhood on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, one has to walk no more than ten blocks to get to the nearest Catholic parish. In fact, the whole island is dotted with Catholic churches — some thriving, others struggling, but all with storied histories of great people of faith who made sacrifices in order to build churches within their respective neighborhoods. It’s a great joy to have such easy access to the sacraments within a ten-minute walk on any given day. It’s also that much more of a tragedy when that privilege isn’t appreciated by the Catholic faithful who live here — or when the sacraments are not as available as perhaps they ought to be.
On three recent occasions I’ve shown up at various parishes for scheduled times of confession — or the Sacrament of Reconciliation, as it’s more formally known — only to have priests show up significantly late or not at all. I do not mean this to be critical of priests, most of whom have many demands placed upon them. Some of the hardest working people I know happen to be priests, and there are a myriad of reasons or emergency situations whereby a priest might be late to hear confessions or be unable to fulfill his appointed time entirely. What I do wish to emphasize is the priority that receiving the Sacrament of Penance should have in our lives of faith, and the urgency with which our priests and parishes ought to preach about and offer the sacrament. This is a call to recognize the gift of confession for all involved — especially during this Jubilee Year of Mercy.
In his opening homily inaugurating this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis declared:
This will be a year in which we grow ever more convinced of God’s mercy. How much wrong we do to God and his grace when we speak of sins being punished by his judgment before we speak of their being forgiven by his mercy! But that is the truth. We have to put mercy before judgment, and in any event God’s judgment will always be in the light of his mercy.
What better place then for this expression of truth and mercy to come together than inside the confessional?
On a recent visit to small town in New Mexico, I was delighted to hear the pastor of this tiny mountain church announce that in honor of the Year of Mercy he would double the hours that confession is offered each week. Upon hearing this, I thought that this might be a parish where the sacrament is only offered once a week for thirty minutes or an hour, in which case doubling the available time would be only mildly impressive. Instead, this small-but-thriving parish was already offering the sacrament multiple days a week! This priest, like Pope Francis, understands that when people are given the opportunity to experience the mercy of God, they respond eagerly and are invited into a deeper relationship with him.
During this Year of Mercy, all priests who are able would be wise to follow a similar example. But we lay men and women must also be prepared to utilize it and seek out the grace that they are willing to offer.
Read the whole piece here.
Christopher White is Associate Director of Catholic Voices USA