This is a post especially for my brother priests.
I've been a priest sixteen years, and as the years go by, I find myself spending more time in confession -- not so much as a penitent, I mean, but as a confessor. At Saint Remy, we have about six hours of confession every week. On top of that, we have lots of extra times for confession, for our schoolkids, in the weeks before Christmas, and in Lent, and some other extras all year long.
People always say, oh that's a lot! And it is, by comparison with most parishes (although we don't stand out so much in this area; see below*). Even then, I am not convinced it's enough, really, but maybe it's close.
Here's what I don't get: having one -- and only one -- hour a week for confessions. Or even less. Unless you're an extremely small parish, how does this get the job done?
* For what it's worth, here's the situation locally. I went to Masstimes.org and looked up confessions in my area. Sunday: two parishes nearby have confessions (including mine). Monday: one parish, 16 miles away. Tuesday: four parishes nearby. Wednesday: three parishes, plus mine. Thursday: eight parishes, plus mine. Friday: two parishes. Saturday: a whole bunch, as you might expect. Without doing a detailed analysis, it looks to me that most parishes around here -- or "clusters," where multiple parishes share one or more priests -- have about two hours on average.
Now let's look at nearby Dayton, where we have some really big parishes.
Without naming the parishes, here's what I found:
- A lot of small to medium size parishes with an hour or two. Certainly some with more.
- Several really big ones, with an hour or less.
Now, to be fair, the information at Masstimes.org could be incorrect. However, when I clicked through on a couple of parish websites -- those with minimal confession times -- the information was confirmed.
If you ask me to name the parishes, I won't. I know the priests at these parishes, and they don't necessarily fit the stereotypes people are always ready to provide. This isn't about "liberal" or "conservative," or even a generational thing. My purpose isn't to make anyone out to be a bad guy, just to ask: do you really think this is enough?
Think of it this way:
1. Do you really think the state of the Catholic Faith is healthy in our diocese? Are we growing or stagnant or fading?
2. Do you think we need spiritual renewal?
3. Do you think Catholics are making healthy use of the sacrament of confession? If you do, based on what, exactly?
4. And, finally, how can there be spiritual renewal without the sacrament of penance? Jesus gave us exactly seven sacraments, and exactly one that is all about forgiveness and conversion. How can there be any plan for spiritual renewal that doesn't include healthy portions of this sacrament?
Now, I know what a lot of people -- including priests -- will say: people won't come.
To which I say, yes and no.
Yes, it's true that adding more hours of confession may not make much of a difference, if that's all you do. But if you also talk about it, from the pulpit, in the bulletin, and other ways; if you talk about your own need for confession and how it's helped you; if you really go after it...then yes, it will help. You will see more people.
On the other hand, I will point out that if you can, there is a time when -- if you offer confessions -- people will come with hardly any extra effort. What is that magic time? It's right before Mass, either daily or Sunday.
Yes, it's frustrating that people seem to expect everything for their convenience. And as a priest all by myself in my parish, I realize it can be hectic hearing confessions right before Mass, and then get things ready for Mass. For that reason, I don't do this all the time. But I can tell you, it does work.
But in our largest parishes, we have two and sometimes three priests. Why not have confessions offered by the priest not offering that Mass? That way, you can offer confessions right up until Mass starts.
Sad to say, there was a lot of misinformation promoted for many years in priestly formation. A lot of priests were told that it was actually wrong to have confessions available if Mass was going on. This is false. We were told that you shouldn't have confessions during the Triduum; this is not only wrong, it's INSANE!
Yes, it's hard work, especially when you've got lots of other things to do, and that's certainly true the week before Christmas, and Holy Week. But people WILL come to confession at those times. And if you preach about (and also practice in your own life) frequent confession, you can and will make a difference. I've seen it work; I've heard people say, "I heard you talk about confession at Mass..." "You kept hammering the point, I finally came..."
Our country and our Church desperately need renewal. And that renewal cannot come without a revival of the sacrament of penance. Do you think I'm wrong? Tell me why.