Full day of confessions an opportunity for mercy, priests say

| February 11, 2016 | 5 Comments
24 Hours for the Lord links the Year of Mercy to confession, the Church’s sacrament of mercy, Archbishop Hebda said. “It’s in the sacrament of confession that we come face to face with God’s mercy, and when we have that opportunity to ask the Lord for his mercy, and he has the opportunity to extend it to us,” he said. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

24 Hours for the Lord links the Year of Mercy to confession, the Church’s sacrament of mercy, Archbishop Hebda said. “It’s in the sacrament of confession that we come face to face with God’s mercy, and when we have that opportunity to ask the Lord for his mercy, and he has the opportunity to extend it to us,” he said. Photo illustration by Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Midnight visitors to the Cathedral of St. Paul and the Basilica of St. Mary March 5 can expect to find a priest waiting to hear their confession. An extended opportunity for the sacrament of reconciliation will begin at the St. Paul and Minneapolis co-cathedrals at noon March 4 and last until noon March 5 as part of 24 Hours for the Lord, a worldwide Year of Mercy event backed by Pope Francis.

“Having this initiative that’s going to be going on in Hong Kong, Rome . . . and Abuja [Nigeria] is really emphasizing how central this is to our life as Church, and how it is that the Lord desires to reach out to every nation, every people and every individual with his mercy,” said Archbishop Bernard Hebda, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Archbishop Hebda and Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens have asked all priests of the archdiocese to attend a noon penance service March 4 at either location. After priests hear each others’ confessions, they will begin hearing confessions generally at 1:30 p.m. Spanish-speaking priests will be available at both sites from 6-8 p.m.

24 Hours for the Lord links the Year of Mercy to confession, the Church’s sacrament of mercy, Archbishop Hebda said.

“It’s in the sacrament of confession that we come face to face with God’s mercy, and when we have that opportunity to ask the Lord for his mercy, and he has the opportunity to extend it to us,” he said.

Two-year-old event

The Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization launched 24 Hours for the Lord in 2014, aiming, according to a statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to place “the sacrament of reconciliation once again at the center of the pastoral activity of the Church.” The second event was held in 2015. Last year, Pope Francis invited dioceses around the world to participate.

The pope extended the invitation again for 2016 in “Misericordiae Vultus,” or “The Face of Mercy,” the papal bull promulgating the Jubilee Year of Mercy. In that letter, he wrote that the initiative “should be implemented in every diocese” on the Friday and Saturday before the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday.

“Laetare” means “rejoice” in Latin, and the Sunday marks the midpoint of Lent. By connecting the initiative to Laetare Sunday, Pope Francis is showing the relationship between mercy and joy, Archbishop Hebda said.

Father Alex Carlson, pastor of St. John the Baptist, Excelsior, said he has been planning a 24 Hours for the Lord event at his parish since last June, after reading “Misericordiae Vultus.” He had heard of the event in Rome and similar events in other U.S. dioceses and wanted to make a push for confession. He and four other priests will hear confessions for 24 hours beginning at 5 p.m. March 4. Eucharistic adoration will also be available in the main church during those hours.

“The more you offer [confession], the more people come,” said Father Carlson, who added that he preaches about the importance of confession. “The big thing is to let people know it’s not necessarily about how bad you are, but rather, that God wants to be that mercy that has not only forgiven you, but also that’s helping you.”

He reminds his parishioners how free they felt the last time they went to confession. “Don’t you want that again?” he asks. “I never leave [confession] and go, ‘I wish I didn’t go.’”

Confession extensions

Archbishop Hebda and Bishop Cozzens requested that all pastors extend confession availability in their own parishes during the 24 Hours for the Lord. St. Alphonsus in Brooklyn Center, St. Francis of Assisi in St. Croix Beach and Holy Rosary in Minneapolis are among parishes that have added an hour or two of confession.

Our Lady of the Prairie in Belle Plaine added six hours of confession, timed to correspond with previously planned events such as Stations of the Cross, an evening Bible study and Saturday morning Mass.

The parish typically offers confession before every Mass. Its pastor, Father Brian Lynch, said he is wary of hosting “special” times for confession, because he wants Catholics to see the sacrament as a part of the regular life of the Church. However, he thinks 24 Hours for the Lord is valuable because it may foster a more relaxed experience for Catholics who have been away from the sacrament and dread feeling rushed.

“I think people will benefit more from [hearing about] our own need for the sacraments — not just theoretical needs for the sacraments, but our own personal need for the sacrament,” he said. “I think some of what Pope Francis does . . . is provide his own experiences.”

Priests as penitents

Last year in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis confessed his sins at a Lenten penance service before hearing others’ confessions. He has since stated that he goes to confession every 15 or 20 days, and has frequently encouraged Catholics to use the sacrament. He urged priests to first be penitents before being confessors during 24 Hours for the Lord.

In “Misericordiae Vultus,” Pope Francis said he “will never tire of insisting that confessors be authentic signs of the Father’s mercy.”

“We do not become good confessors automatically,” he wrote. “We become good confessors when, above all, we allow ourselves to be penitents in search of his mercy.”

In the archdiocese, priests will gather for confession before the event opens to all Catholics. Archbishop Hebda said he, too, will likely go to confession that day, “as long as I can find a priest who is willing to take me,” he joked.

Father Nathaniel Meyers, pastor of St. Francis Xavier in Buffalo, is scheduling priests to hear confessions at the Cathedral and Basilica. He hopes four priests will be present at both sites during daytime hours, and two priests at both sites overnight. Priests are also expected to post the languages in which they are able to hear confessions.

Archbishop Hebda acknowledged that it’s a sacrifice for priests to take time to hear confessions at the Cathedral or Basilica, especially during the night. However, he said, their time and presence is one of the ways they communicate their commitment to the sacrament.

The pope’s emphasis on 24 Hours for the Lord this Year of Mercy provides an “opportunity to see how it is that the Church is that universal instrument for God’s forgiveness,” Archbishop Hebda said. “Every time that we receive the sacrament of reconciliation, we’re reconciled with the Lord, but also with that Church that extends all over the world. The whole Church rejoices every time that somebody is reconciled with the Lord.”

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  • Paula Ruddy

    There is a contradiction here that disturbs me. There is a lot of lip-service to mercy and promotion of the sacrament of reconciliation and adoration of the blessed sacrament, yet there is no mercy and no reconciliation with any fellow Catholics who are judged by the orthodox to be unorthodox. The division in the Archdiocese is palpable and inconsistent with the Gospel teaching of love. To whom is Bishop Cozzens a bishop? For whom is the Catholic Spirit published? There are thousands of alienated Catholics in the Archdiocese who would not read the Catholic Spirit and who will not come near a confessional. What is the orthodox thinking on that topic?

    • tschraad

      Paula Ruddy
      In my opinion, you have a contradiction in your comments. We have the Catholic Church with its traditions and teachings in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, yet you divide the Church into orthodox and unorthodox? Instead of labeling people, look to the teachings of our Church and follow Christ by following these teachings. Problem solved.
      The Bishop is the Bishop of all Catholics and don’t get nervous, and all other people including non-catholics and non religious. In effect every one.
      People who are alienated for whatever reason, should seek the help of a Priest to see if they can be reunited with the Church. If they will follow the teachings of Christ, problem solved. If they refuse Christ, well, again when Jesus was on earth, some did not follow him nor his apostles. It is their choice to be saved or be judged by Jesus as to how they will live their eternal life.

    • Charles C.

      Dear Paula,

      Thanks for raising fundamental questions for which I haven’t seen a clear answer. Who, this side of Heaven, has the power to decide if someone is a practicing Catholic? Who is a practicing Catholic?

      I assume, as with every other human association, that there is one or more conditions required to be considered a member. Whether it’s the military, the neighborhood PTA, or the Olympic swim team, there is some way to tell the people who are members from the people who aren’t.

      Certainly it is Biblical to believe that some are inside of the Church (or the Kingdom of God) and some are outside. The Church also claims that the determination of being in or out is a matter of eternal importance.

      It would seem that the Church has the authority to decide its membership requirements and to determine who is a practicing member. After all, She exercised that authority from the very beginning, both to bring people into the Church through Baptism, and to prevent them from enjoying the benefits of membership through Excommunication.

      Can we agree that, whether we like the membership rules of the Church or not, She has the right to impose them? If not, then who does? The individual? If that’s the case, then there is no such person as a Catholic. If everyone can come up with their own standards for being a Catholic, then there are a nearly limitless number of definitions for what a Catholic is, but no definite standard to judge anything.

      It’s a little like saying, “The label ‘C sharp’ can describe any sound you want it to describe. There is no restrictive definition, so feel free to be a ‘musical modernist’ if you so choose.” When that is accepted, “C sharp” ceases to have any meaning.

      If the Church has the authority to determine it’s membership, has She done so?

      “In matters of faith and morals,” Lumen Gentium states, “the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will.”

      “Finally, the teaching of the Papal Magisterium regarding homosexuality as found in the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons (No. 3) is that the homosexual inclination, though not itself a sin, is an “objective disorder,” and homosexual activity itself is “intrinsically disordered” and hence always gravely sinful. For these
      and other reasons, Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly expressed opposition
      to any suggestion of the liciety of homosexual “marriage,” such as in his ad limina visits with the American Bishops or in his Christmas Address to the Roman Curia on December 21, 2012. All of this is, at minimum, ordinary infallible teaching.”

      So, would you like to talk about it? It seems that people who will not come near a confessional, as well as those who will not accept their properly installed Bishop, or the teachings of the Pope, (among other things) are not practical Catholics.

      The first duty of the Church is to “Feed My Sheep.” The next is to rescue and return the lost. But “return” means to return them to the Church, not to some organization that they happen to like because it makes them feel good.

      I hope to hear from you, I learn a lot when we speak together.

      • Paula Ruddy

        Hi, Charles. I appreciate your willingness to communicate. Though the Church has the authority to define its members and has spelled out many doctrines, people will think differently at times, and the Church in her wisdom does not excommunicate all of them. I don’t think it is for us who are trying to be faithful Catholics to judge one another, shame one another, exclude one another. If we are wrong, we can learn over time, and grow. All this emphasis on mercy should help us, don’t you think? I think I’ve said all I am able to on this thread. Thanks.

        • tschraad

          Paula Ruddy – You said “Church in her wisdom does not excommunicate all of them” Actually, today, the Church does this very rarely. In practice, most excommunicate themselves by the serious sin they committed.
          Faithful Catholics are required to “admonish” the sinner. Final judgment is the domain of God.