On three consecutive Wednesdays of Lent (March 7, 14 and 21), every church in the Archdiocese of New Orleans will offer confession from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Has this pastoral effort been well received?
It has. The vast majority of parishes report that many people celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation on those Wednesdays, and it’s also an invitation for those who have been away from the church or away from confession to come back, knowing that they can go to any church in the archdiocese for confession. They don’t have to go to their home parish. They might be near a church on their way home and can just stop by from 5 to 6:30. There’s been a very good response in the number of people going to confession. A number of people have said in the past that confession times are not very convenient for them. There are several parishes that have confessions during the week, which provides tremendous availability. Many other parishes offer confession just on Saturday afternoons before the vigil Mass. Many people have told me they don’t find a Saturday afternoon to be very convenient, with all that’s going on with their kids and other activities. The primary reason we are offering archdiocesan-wide confessions is because Lent is a time when God calls us to repentance, to a change of heart. God is asking us to identify a weakness in our lives and to give that over to the Lord. Obviously, the very best way to give that over to the Lord and ask for healing is through the sacrament of reconciliation.
What about those who feel they can just go to God and ask for forgiveness of their sins?
While that is true, the sacrament of reconciliation is a unique, personal and intimate encounter with the forgiving Christ. Jesus forgives us in a very outward, demonstrative way through the priest saying the words of absolution and by making the sign of the cross. Another dimension of confession that often is lost or misunderstood is that in confession, the priest not only represents the forgiving Christ but also represents the community, which has been hurt in some way or another by my sin. There’s really no such thing as “my sin hurts no one.” Even the best-kept secret of a sin affects me and, ultimately, it will affect my attitude and sometimes my actions, and it does have an effect on others. Other sins have a direct effect on others by the way in which we say things, by the way we treat people and by not being faithful in our relationships. Confession is an opportunity not only to receive Christ’s forgiveness but also to be reconciled with individuals or the community of faith, whom we have hurt and offended by our sins. A lot of people miss that dimension in confession.
Pope Francis has preached a lot about the forgiveness of God in confession.
Pope Francis has really taken it upon himself to talk frequently about the sacrament of reconciliation, both in terms of the penitent and the priest. He has reminded us as priests that we must listen carefully, with the ears of Christ, to what people say. We must be very understanding and be willing to walk compassionately with them. Last week, he said, God “does not want to beat us and condemn us,” but rather “he always looks for a way to enter the hearts” of those who are repentant. He went on say, “When we priests – in the Lord’s place – hear confessions, we also must have this attitude of goodness like the Lord, who says, ‘Come, let us talk, there is no problem, there is forgiveness,’ and not with a threat from the beginning.” These are powerful words. I’ve been struck by two other comments from Pope Francis in recent years. During the Year of Mercy, he said, “The name of God is mercy.” It took me a whole year during the Year of Mercy to reflect on that. The pope also says that while we may grow tired of asking God for forgiveness, God never grows tired of forgiving us.
What kind of response have you gotten from priests about the confessions?
I’m truly grateful because they have responded with great openness and dedication. I mentioned this specifically to them last week at our Lenten morning of prayer. My brother priests are generous. They are providing extra pastoral services during Lent. It is such a humble privilege for us as priests to hear confessions and walk into the darkness of someone’s life and to offer the forgiveness and the hope of Christ, which can heal the brokenness of their lives. I know it requires additional hours in the confessional – and priests’ schedules are already extremely busy – but we can use that as part of our Lenten penance. We are offering people the forgiveness, healing and hope of Christ, which is such an awesome gift.
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to email@example.com.
A GUIDE FOR GOING TO CONFESSION
Before going to confession, you should prayerfully compare your life with the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes and the example of Christ. Using an Examination of Conscience, such as the one that follows, can be helpful.
- Go to Confession
After the priest welcomes you, both of you make the Sign of the Cross. Then you may want to talk about yourself, your situation and difficulties you face living a Christian life and tell him the last time you went to confession.
- The Word of God
You or the priest may read one of the suggested scriptural passages.
- Confession of Sins
Confess your sins. The priest then offers suitable advice and gives you an act of penance, which may include prayer, self-denial or works of mercy.
- Act of Contrition
Pray a prayer expressing sorrow for your sins and resolving not to sin again. A suggested prayer is:
I am sorry for my sins with all my heart.
In choosing to do wrong
And failing to do good,
I have sinned against you
Whom I should love above all things.
I firmly intend, with your help,
To do penance,
To sin no more,
And to avoid whatever leads me to sin.
Our Savior Jesus Christ
Suffered and died for us.
In his name, my God, have mercy.
(Rite of Penance, no. 45)
The priest extends his hands over your head and pronounces a formula of absolution, making the sign of the cross over your head during the final words. You answer, “Amen.”
The priest dismisses you with the command to go in peace. Continue to express your conversion through a life renewed according to the Gospel and the love of God.
Examination of Conscience
- Have I treated people, events, or things as more important than God?
- Am I actively living my Catholic faith and, if I have them, raise my children in the faith?
- Have I been ashamed to speak about my faith?
- Have my words, actively or passively, put down God, the Church or people?
- Do I go to Mass every Sunday (or Saturday Vigil) and on Holy Days of Obligation?
- Do I look for ways to spend time with family or in service on Sunday?
- Do I use my gifts and talents to serve God?
- Do I take time for prayer?
- Do I care for those around me or do I use them to get what I want?
- Do I show respect to my parents and those in positions of legitimate authority?
- Do I show respect to my children and others who are under my authority?
- Have I taken or wasted time or resources that belonged to another?
- Am I lazy?
- Have I harmed others through physical, verbal or emotional means?
- Do I look down on those who are different from me?
- Have I gossiped, told lies or embellished stories at the expense of another?
- Have I respected the physical and sexual dignity of others and of myself?
- Have I honored my spouse with my full affection and exclusive love?
- Am I content with my own means and needs, or do I compare myself to others unnecessarily?
- Do I seek to fill what is lacking in my life with material possessions?
- Am I sincerely sorry for the things I have done wrong?