Ahead of 24 Hours for the Lord March 4-5, The Catholic Spirit sat down with Archbishop Bernard Hebda, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to discuss the importance of confession. The following is a Q&A excerpt from that Feb. 4 interview. Read more about 24 Hours for the Lord here.
Q. Confession as a practice among lay Catholics has declined in recent decades. What is your hope for attendance at 24 Hours for the Lord?
A. I’m amazed by the experience by so many of our priests who mention that when they offer the sacrament of reconciliation on a regular basis, when they preach about it, that in fact they do have many people who come.
I can tell you that I’ve gone over to the Cathedral to pray and they offer the sacrament of reconciliation every day and there are long lines, and that’s during the week. I went into the box one day to help out the priest who was hearing confessions. They have them for an hour and 15 minutes before Mass starts and I wasn’t finished until Mass was halfway over. That’s how many people had come.
There is that sense that when we talk about it, when we offer the opportunity, there are people who avail themselves of it. One of the things I’ve experienced in my own life is once we know the powerful effect that the sacrament can have in our lives, we want it more. Even, in part, the hope here — for the Holy Father but also for us in the archdiocese — is that maybe there are some people who haven’t been to confession in awhile, and maybe this will be the opportunity for them once again for them to experience the joy of being forgiven of their sins, and the joy that ignites that love for this sacrament.
Q. What’s your advice for someone who hasn’t been to confession for a long time?
A. It’s two things. The first is to trust that we have incredibly merciful priests who love this sacrament and who are there to help any penitent with the sacrament. They shouldn’t be afraid of mentioning that they need some help or it’s been difficult for them to prepare for the sacrament because it’s been a long time that they’re reviewing. Trust that the priest is there to help them with that.
The second thing would be for them, if they have the opportunity, to avail themselves to some of the helps they have for really examining their conscience. Today you can even find apps that help you with that. To help you organize your thoughts. Certainly, our priests are very accommodating, so if somebody is worried about whether they’ve made a thorough examination of conscience, the priest can certainly help them with that. It’s not uncommon to find somebody has scribbled some notes for themselves as they prepare for confession. The priest isn’t going to think any less of them because they come in with a cheat sheet. Of course, we’d want them to destroy it when they finish, because that’s something that’s so private. Whatever is going to make the penitent more comfortable, we encourage them to take advantage of it.
Q. St. John Vianney, the secondary patron of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, was known for spending 16 hours a day hearing confessions. What inspiration might our priests take from him?
A. He certainly is our role model, especially as diocesan priests. He had such a wonderful love for that sacrament. Even though he lived a very austere life, indeed, a life of penance, he would advocate giving very light penances to penitents and would encourage the priest to do the penance. There’s that sense of being gentle with people. St. John Vianney had a very deep sense of sin, but that idea of being gentle with people is something that we as priests always have to remember, especially with somebody that isn’t so comfortable with the sacrament, or hasn’t been [to confession] in awhile.
Q. In the archdiocese, 24 Hours for the Lord is being held at the Cathedral of St. Paul and Basilica of St. Mary, where penitents will also have the Year of Mercy’s Holy Doors available to them. How does that tie in?
A. That was part of why we chose those two churches. Part of the indulgence for the Holy Year that the Pope has offered for the Holy Year is that somebody who passes through the Holy Door but then also does a number of things – one of those things is that he or she receives the Lord’s mercy in the sacrament of reconciliation, that there’s a desire in their hearts to turn away from sin, and that, also, to receive worthily the Eucharist. So, this would give anybody who would be coming for the sacrament of reconciliation in that time period, they would also be able to pass through the Holy Doors.
It’s not magic, but it’s that we’re a Church of sacraments and sacramentals, it’s a way in which we show that we are placing ourselves in the Lord’s hands and mercy, and asking for that great grace that is a plenary indulgence.
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