My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Just last week, we saw a wonderful witness on the part of Pope Francis on the importance of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He was leading a penitential liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica when he surprised his liturgical adviser by going to confession during the service. After an examination of conscience on March 28, the Holy Father and over 60 priests moved into confessionals or to chairs set up along walls to offer the sacrament to individual penitents. However, as his master of papal liturgical ceremonies was showing which confessional the Pope would be using to hear confessions, the Holy Father pointed to another confessional nearby, indicating that he was first going to confess.
The adage, “A good penitent makes a good confessor” is certainly true. If our Holy Father, Pope Francis, is in need of the sacraments of reconciliation, what can we say about ourselves? It is truly the human and Christian need that comes together in this wonderful sacrament that the Lord Himself has instituted for us. As we search the Gospels, we see many times that Jesus touched the sinner, sent them away with the injunction to “sin no more.” This is exactly what happens in the sacrament of reconciliation. We encounter the person of Jesus Christ in the priest who acts in His place, who speaks His words of forgiveness and sends us away in peace. Especially during this season of Lent, reflecting on our own weaknesses and sins, we know that we need reconciliation, especially before the solemn celebration of the Pascal Mystery of Easter.
Unfortunately, the sacrament of reconciliation has in some ways diminished in its frequency of use by the faithful. We must always keep in mind that the precepts of the Church reminds us that we should make our “Easter Duty,” which normally would include at least the sacrament of reconciliation once a year. For most, we need more frequent reception of that sacrament. Many times I think to myself that many confessions are heard today in beauty parlors, barber shops, manicure salons, as well as psychologist and counselor offices. The human need has not diminished to unburden ourselves of our failures and to seek the counsel of someone else in helping us to find the true happiness of life by unburdening ourselves of our faults and seeking the words of comfort that we need so much. Many people say, “Well, I do not need confession, I confess my sins to God myself.” Unfortunately, we have no assurance that we have humbled ourselves sufficiently without human intervention that leads to divine grace to enable us to truly confess our sins.
Recently, a book has been published entitled, “The Dark Box” by John Cornwell. It is supposedly a historic analysis of the sacrament of reconciliation. However, it does not do justice to the spiritual growth that has been accomplished for many by the use of the sacrament. Certainly, it is not merely a confessional that is the symbol of the sacrament, but rather it is the healing power of God. This book has not gotten much publicity, however it is in many ways inaccurate regarding its description of the sacrament of reconciliation.
For the past few years, the three down-state dioceses of New York – the Archdiocese of New York, Diocese of Rockville Centre and the Diocese of Brooklyn – have joined together to participate in Reconciliation Monday during Holy Week. This year, it is the wish of the three Bishops that every Church in the three dioceses be available for the sacrament of reconciliation from 3 to 9 p.m. There are sometimes variations to these times, however since not every church can be covered during the entire six hours. Certainly, directions from one church to another, when one church is not covered, are available. The great success of Reconciliation Monday has proven itself over the years. We have not counted the amount of people who have availed themselves of the sacrament. However, for the most part we hear from our priests that everyone is busy hearing confessions on this day.
Giving people a concrete opportunity to confess, especially not in their own parish, has been a great incentive for many who use the sacrament and to enter the celebration of Holy Week with minds and hearts renewed. In order to make this day more effective, we have been advertising Reconciliation Monday in bus shelters, phone kiosks, the New York Daily News, online and through social media.
Usually, I end my weekly articles by citing the famous words of the Gospel of Luke, “put out into the deep.” Truly, Reconciliation Monday is such an occasion when we can put out into the deep. The Gospel of Luke describes the fishing expedition that ended in failure for the Apostles. It was the words of Jesus, Himself, “Put out into the deep,” that compelled them to go out and try again to make up for the failure which they had experienced. And so it is with the sacrament of reconciliation that we begin again, a time when we have another chance to encounter the Lord, especially as He will come in the celebration of the Pascal Mystery.