Can I share with you a recent episode that I have often reflected upon these penitential days of Lent?
Six weeks or so ago I traveled to the friendly Diocese of Owensboro, Ky., at the invitation of the bishop there, William Medley, (yes, the same Medley name found on an excellent bottle of Kentucky bourbon) to give a talk at their wonderful Catholic Men’s Conference.
While there, I visited their magnificent cathedral—renovated recently, with, unlike St. Patrick’s, all the bills paid!—on Saturday morning. As I entered, I noticed twenty-or-so men, young and old, in the front two pews. I asked Bishop Medley what they were there for, and was so delighted to learn of the long tradition that the farmers from the surrounding areas come for confession on Saturday morning. The bishop went on to tell me that I would find the same number of penitents awaiting the sacrament of penance at almost every parish.
Is that not good news?
The discipline of regular confession as part of our discipleship is a cherished, if diminishing part of Catholic wisdom. Pope Francis goes every two weeks and encourages frequent confession for us all.
Some might object that such an approach to this sacrament of reconciliation could lead to a mechanical, robotic approach to the sacrament, recalling half-a-century-or-so ago when such could have been the case, when frequent confession became on occasion a burden, or an occasion of fear, and at times could border on scrupulosity. We do not want to return to such an attitude.
But now, I’m fearful we’ve gone to the other extreme. As a Church historian, I have long pondered how the history of these five decades since the close of the inspired Second Vatican Council will be written in the future. When it is, I reckon that a sensitive historian would observe that one of the most harmful effects of that council—and I am quick to add that the positive effects are dominant, and that this negative effect was not due to the council, but to a misinterpretation of the council—was the near disappearance of regular confession in the life of our Catholic people.
Turn that around: let’s conclude, as Pope St. John Paul II and now Pope Francis have implied, that a genuine renewal in the Church, so hoped for in a “new Pentecost” spoken of by the council, will not happen until we all discover the supernatural medicine dispensed in the pharmacy of the sacrament of reconciliation.
How often should we go to confession? Well, Church wisdom exhorts us to do so whenever we are aware of a serious, mortal sin, especially prior to receiving Holy Communion.
I propose that anyone serious about growth in sanctity, conversion of heart, and the experience of mercy would consider monthly confession.
And I would observe that any Catholic sincere in her/his faith would at least approach the sacrament of penance during Advent and Lent.
Thus do I call your attention to Reconciliation Monday, April 10, when priests will be available in every parish in the archdiocese from 3:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Die to sin!
Rise to new life in Christ!
The paschal mystery!
A good confession...an effective way to accomplish that.