I believe it is the key to unleashing the New Evangelization. And Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI would agree.
I believe there can be no resolution to the crises in vocations to religious life, the priesthood and married life without it.
And no wonder.
Mission depends upon holiness and holiness requires contrition, mercy, healing, grace, and ongoing spiritual direction.
So what is this missing element? It is the confessional.
You might have expected me to say the Eucharist. It is, of course, the Source and Summit of our faith. And Saint John Paul II said Holy Communion was necessary. At the Eucharistic Congress in Seville on June 12, 1993, John Paul II gave a homily that established how we are to share the Gospel. “Evangelization through the Eucharist, in the Eucharist and from the Eucharist: these are three inseparable aspects of how the Church lives the mystery of Christ and fulfills her mission of communicating it to all people” (4).
But I would posit that priests already do an amazing job at accommodating parishioners when it comes to offering the Sacrifice of the Mass. My own parish has four Sunday Masses, daily Mass Monday through Saturday, and numerous other special Masses throughout the year.
And they come. People show up at every Mass.
But we are sinners. As much as we do not wish to do it, we fall back into sin – often. And so the net result is that people are receiving the Eucharist while in sin. Perhaps even while they are in mortal sin.
That is a problem. One cannot advance in holiness this way. In fact, it only adds mortal sin on top of mortal sin. The spiritually ill become more ill.
So much for holiness and mission. Without holiness, we cannot be a people on mission. Redemptoris Missio is clear on this.
”The call to mission derives, of its nature, from the call to holiness. A missionary is really such only if he commits himself to the way of holiness: ‘Holiness must be called a fundamental presupposition and an irreplaceable condition for everyone in fulfilling the mission of salvation in the Church.’
“The universal call to holiness is closely linked to the universal call to mission. Every member of the faithful is called to holiness and to mission. This was the earnest desire of the Council, which hoped to be able ‘to enlighten all people with the brightness of Christ, which gleams over the face of the Church, by preaching the Gospel to every creature.’ The Church's missionary spirituality is a journey toward holiness” (90).
In his papal address on the Sacrament of Confession in March of 2012, Pope Benedict XVI made it clear that, “the New Evangelization draws its lifeblood from the holiness of the children of the Church, from the daily journey of personal and community conversion in order to be ever more closely conformed to Christ.” Because personal holiness depends upon the Sacrament of Confession, Pope Benedict XVI went on to say that “the new evangelization, thus, also begins in the confessional!”
And on the parish level, this is where things begin to break down.
While most parishes are incredibly accommodating in providing opportunities for Mass attendance, they are abysmal – tragically so – when it comes to providing opportunities for the Sacrament of Confession.
Some may say that nobody shows up for the scheduled opportunity for Confession as it is – those fleeting fifteen minutes before Sunday Mass or half an hour after Mass on Friday morning when most people are at work. That is when many parishes have their standing opportunity for Confession.
But this is what the parishioner thinks:
- I don’t want to bother my priest before Mass because it’s just a venial sin, and he’s so busy right before Mass, and I would guess there are others far more sinful who need these few minutes more than I do.
- If I go to Confession right now, then my parents (wife, children, husband, friends) will know that I have mortal sin that I need to deal with before Communion. Who wants to open that can of worms.
- I’ll just go another time.
But there is no other time.
That’s it. Sunday before Mass – if you can find Father. And expect a whirlwind confession because he is bound to have his mind on Mass and his eye on his watch.
Or, take off work on Friday so you can go to confession. Try explaining that one to your boss.
It wouldn’t be so bad if we were holy. But we are not holy.
The Church is a hospital for sinners.
But we are acting like it is a battlefield and the only ones who should receive a healing touch are the ones about to die.
Or, we are acting like we are all in Heaven already and nobody really needs to confess anything anyway.
We need to stop practicing spiritual triage with the confessional.
We need to stop acting like we are all holy and marked for sainthood.
Every parish should have one night a week set aside for confessions. The parishioners need to know that their shepherd is there, waiting. The people need to be reminded that he is there – often.
Every parish should also have a time for confessions during the weekend – and that time must not be limited to the fifteen minutes before Mass. Nobody wants to bother the priest then.
These things must be implemented in every parish.
Here is what will happen in the parish:
People will become holy. People will be on mission. The New Evangelization will come to your parish. The faithful will begin to discern vocations to religious life.
Here is what will happen in individuals:
They will be healed from mortal sin first and lose their attachment to it. Then they will begin to address chronic sin. Jealousy. Gossip. Eating disorders. Bitterness & unforgiving spirits. Laziness. Then they will become stronger, more accustomed to walking in grace.
This is not a pie-in-the-sky ideal. My parish priest implemented a generous confessional schedule – and these are the very things that I have brought to him – and praise God, grace showed up. There really is healing in the confessional. It is not just something we say. It is real.
I testify to it.
I also have one recommendation for every diocese. Every day of every year there should be a priest somewhere who is waiting in a confessional somewhere in the diocese. The diocese should make this schedule known – in much the same way as it shares the Mass schedule of parishes in the diocese.
If a diocese has fewer than 200 priests, each priest would be the designated priest of the day twice each year. If the diocese has over 300, each priest would be the designated priest of the day once each year. Catholics would know that a shepherd was available every day of the year. The bishop/archbishop should be on that rotation. It would benefit both the priest and the penitent if the priest could stay in his parish for his designated day. Imagine, there would be confessional hotspots popping up every day all over the diocese.
Here is what will happen:
People will become holy. People will be on mission. The New Evangelization will come to your diocese. The faithful will begin to discern vocations to religious life.
When I was a teacher, we used to talk about the hidden curriculum. By hidden curriculum, we meant those things students learned that we did not set out to teach. The students always figured out what was important and what wasn’t important. They learned the corners that could be cut and what the teacher really cared about - despite what he/she said was important.
Sometimes, to our dismay, we realized that the students jettisoned things that were really important because we inadvertently fostered problems and created issues we never meant to foster or create.
That is the situation right now. When the scheduled confessions are right before Sunday Mass or at a time when most people are unavailable, we are teaching our parishioners that confession is a last-minute Sacrament, a kind of triage-only Sacrament, a rarely-needed Sacrament, a practically-unnecessary Sacrament.
While we do not believe any of these things – it is the hidden curriculum, the catechesis we did not intend to teach.
Thousands are receiving the Eucharist while in a state of serious sin. And our current Confessional schedule makes them think that is not a problem.
Keep in mind--
Some of the holiest people have availed themselves of the Sacrament of Confession weekly. Weekly. If even two people in every parish decided they wanted to emulate that kind of holiness, the current Confessional schedule would not be sufficient.
If even two people wanted to purge the sin before receiving Christ in the Eucharist, the current Confessional schedule would not be sufficient.
No wonder we have a crisis.