Monday, April 16, 2007

.....Is Good for the Soul

Confession, that is. Which is why I'm sorry I didn't make it to Confession this weekend, what with it being Divine Mercy Sunday weekend and all.

In the rant that follows, I'd just like to make it clear that I'm not trying to be critical of, or place blame on, my current pastor, priests in general, the various pastors here in America over the last forty years, or anyone else specifically or generally. I just need to get this off my chest, so to speak:

We didn't make it to Confession because we arrived at approximately 4:06 p.m. at our parish church. Confession is scheduled from 4 o'clock to 4:30 p.m. We are well aware that if you don't arrive by 3:55 p.m., the chances are slim that you will actually be one of the people who manages to receive the sacrament before Father leaves the Confessional at 4:35 p.m. to begin preparing for the 5 o'clock Mass. (However, it's no good arriving earlier than 3:55 p.m., because Father usually hasn't arrived yet and the church is still locked.) So we pretty much knew when we arrived at 4:06 that we wouldn't make it; since I'm an optimist, we sat in line for half an hour anyway, but weren't too surprised when the Cardigan family reached the front of the line just in time to become the "cut-off point."

Father was apologetic to all nine of us (five Cardigans and four other, even more optimistic people). He said that anybody who "really" needed him could catch him after the 5 p.m. Mass, but when one bewildered person asked what time Confession started back up after Mass, this person was quickly informed that there wasn't any more Confession time scheduled--one should just 'grab' Father. This person left, seeming about as discouraged as I was feeling.

Now, just to make it clear once again: this isn't about Father. This is about something I see as a huge failing of the Catholic Church in America (and possibly other countries, though I have no experience of them) today. This is far from the first time I've experienced this particular phenomenon, and I've also experienced a few variations which I may mention below, but the root problem is this one:

The Catholic Church takes all the sacraments seriously. The Church teaches that we MUST confess serious sins; moreover, the Church STRONGLY ENCOURAGES us to make a habit of regularly confessing less serious ones, that we might grow in grace and be strengthened to avoid sin and seek holiness. Parents have a particular duty to provide their children with regular access to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

However, it has become the norm in America for parishes with large numbers of registered parishioners and/or weekly Mass attendees to offer so little time for Confessions as to discourage penitents from seeking the graces of this sacrament on any regular basis, and indeed, to make it possible for most to receive it very infrequently or not at all!

Take our parish, for instance. Bulletin data suggests that there are at least 1,500 Sunday Mass attendees each week. If only ten percent of the people who attend Mass each week were to seek Confession on a monthly basis, there would be 150 people each month, or between 30 and 35 each week waiting in the line for Confession. So half an hour is clearly an inadequate amount of time, even if only ten percent of our parish's weekly Mass attendees go to Confession on a monthly basis! When you factor larger percentages in, or add the percent who go to Confession every other month, every third month, every fourth month, twice a year, or once a year you soon have a lot more than 30 people in line on a weekly basis.

Other parishes I've attended in my lifetime have been even worse. One had no scheduled time for Confession at all--you had to make an appointment. Another, an hour drive away from our home at a time when our children were quite small, had regularly scheduled Confession time on Saturday afternoon--but if we arrived at the church to find a wedding in progress, we knew Confession was canceled for that week. During those years when it was so hard to get to Confession at all, my husband and I felt lucky if we received that particular sacrament more than once in a six-month period.

But ever since my children made their first Confessions, I've really tried to go once a month, to get them into the habit of frequent Confessions. There've been months, of course, when things didn't go according to plan; illness, extremely bad weather, etc. have interfered before and have caused a few frantic whispers from my children as we've waited in line: "How long has it been, Mom? Five weeks or six?" At least a couple of times it's been two months between our family Confessions, and I know that there are plenty of situations which could arise that would stretch that lapse even longer, despite our best efforts.

I always feel truly blessed when we're able to get to Confession according to our schedule--which is why it's starting to bother me that we have such a tiny window of time available to us, and that being late by five or six minutes is enough to make it necessary to try again next week, and maybe the week after that, and so on. And this is probably just me, and is something I should probably bring up in the Confessional, but it's when considering things like this that I start to reach my "Why bother?" point.

Why bother taking the kids to Confession once a month? Why bother arranging one Saturday a month around the absolute necessity of reaching the church parking lot by no later than 3:55 p.m.? Why bother taking up all that space on the bench outside the Confessional and pretty much guaranteeing that about 1/3 of the people who receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation on that particular day will be Cardigan family members, therefore depriving others of access? Why bother, when the major reason we still try to go to our parish for this sacrament is that most of the other parishes in our diocese use a 'valid but illicit' form of the sacrament? Why bother trying to create a habit in my children that they will almost certainly have to abandon as adults, as more and more parishes move to the "by appointment only" model of sacramental Confession? Why bother, when it's very likely that their own future children will probably only receive this sacrament once in their childhood, and that only as an antiquated custom that precedes admittance to the more 'fun' Sacrament of Holy Communion? Why bother, when there are still plenty of catechetical materials which pretty much indicate that unless you're a very sane ax murderer you probably don't need Confession either?

As I said, this is my own problem--I tend to get easily discouraged. And one of the reasons I am discouraged right now is that during Lent our pastor was hearing Confessions during the Stations of the Cross--for a full hour and a half (45 minutes for the Stations in English, and then a similar amount of time while they were prayed in Spanish). It's pretty hard to go back from that generous amount of time to the 'normal' thirty minutes, especially when from what we could see Father had people waiting to go to Confession for at least the whole first forty-five minutes to an hour.

Every time I've seen a priest open up more time for Confession, or schedule an extra day or time for this sacrament, I've seen people respond enthusiastically and avail themselves of the opportunity to go to Confession, perhaps even more frequently than they have in the past. How can we encourage our priests to use their God-given power to forgive our sins more often?


scmom said...

Just happened on your blog and read this post. Don't know if this is a possibility for you, but we frequently find Confession at another parish. Sometimes you just can't make it to your own, or as in your case, you can't "see" the priest. That's the lovely thing about the Catholic church -- you can see any priest.

Red Cardigan said...

Scmom, I appreciate the advice. My biggest problem with going to a different parish is that lots of the parishes around where I live use a form of Confession which eliminates the prayer that begins "God the Father of mercies..." etc., and just skips straight to the words of absolution. This doesn't invalidate the Sacrament but does make it illicit. I'm not sure if it's better to participate knowingly in an illicit form of the Sacrament in order to receive it more often, or to go less frequently but go somewhere where the correct form is used. It's the kind of question I need to ask a good confessor, I think!