This has been an exhausting yet very blessed week for me. I call it "Confession week". The patron of parish priests, Saint John Marie Vianney, used to spend hours upon hours in the confessional of the small town of Ars in France where he was pastor. At first, no one came. But as time went on and people began to realize the holiness of the man, his God given ability to look into their hearts and see their sinfulness, and to acknowledge their need before God, they came to be shriven, to be forgiven, to be reconciled. Just as we do in Advent, they came to express a desire to draw closer to Christ and to the light of his grace. And their pastor, this man of God, became the portal to that grace.
In our day, like those early days in Ars, many people went about their business with little concern for this grace that God provides through this sacrament. Our numbers seeking forgiveness are low, compared to even forty years ago when I began this ministry. We spend some time in the confessional each week, but there is not an overwhelming response. (I hope that it is not because of the confessor!)
But our preparation in Advent and again in Lent brings out the crowds. This was our week in the area - our own confessions last Saturday and then Advent Communal Penance Services with individual confessions on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at the four local parishes. We had anywhere from six to eleven priests available for confessions, and the people came. They were four very busy and rewarding evenings of grace.
I was particularly blessed with the people that came to me. The number that appeared to be going through a routine confession without much thought was minimal. Most were there to confess and be reconciled, but they were also seeking healing and help, grace and blessing. A few came back after a long period of time, some brought their particular problem or fault that was becoming a challenge to them, some sought advice and nearly all simply placed themselves within the tender mercy and love of God. Being at the center of that experience, as the priest confessor who speaks the word and the reality of forgiveness that the Lord grants to repentant sinners, and being in the position as the servant of the Lord and of the Community to grant forgiveness and reconciliation on behalf of the Community as well, is a deeply powerful moment. To those who trusted, to the One who graced, and for the gift of priesthood, I am deeply grateful.