Think of the fresh blankets of snow we’ve seen (all too often) this winter. It makes everything look pristine and clean.
After a while, a plow comes along and pushes some snow to the curbs, and as cars drive by, dirt and grime contaminate the snow banks. Along comes warmer weather, and the snow piles thaw, revealing litter, lost mittens and the other detritus of life.
In some ways, a good snowfall is like the sacrament of reconciliation. It makes our heart new and clean. After a while, the dirt gets in the way again.
Back when I was growing up and made my first reconciliation – we called it confession or penance in those days – many Catholics made it a weekly habit to visit the confessional box. Most Catholics don’t avail themselves of the sacrament that often anymore, though we still have a duty to do so at least once a year.
Often people take advantage of the Advent season preparing for Christmas or the penitential season of Lent before Easter to get their hearts and souls ready; reconciliation is a great way to do that. Many parishes offer convenient reconciliation services during these seasons, with many priests available for individual confession, so that this healing prayer of the church can be experienced within a life-giving community.
However, not everyone prefers that experience, or finds the dates convenient. For some, even though the confession part is private, just being in a group for the rest of the prayer service is overwhelming. Fortunately for them, priests still provide the sacrament one-on-one. Over the years, many priests have told me that being able to absolve people of their sins and lift burdens from their souls is one of the most gratifying things they do as a priest. One even explained to 500 people that he was late starting a Mass because someone had asked him to hear a confession a few minutes earlier, and he did not want to pass up the opportunity to bring someone back to God. It was like the story of the Good Shepherd, leaving the 500 sheep to seek the one who was lost.
Now in its second year, the Archdiocese of Baltimore offers “The Light is on for You,” in which every parish offers convenient midweek opportunities for the sacrament of reconciliation. Last year, parishes offered reconciliation during the evening, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., but this year, each parish will set its own preferred time Wednesdays during Lent (except Ash Wednesday and the Wednesday of Holy Week).
Although I was not in the archdiocese last Lent, I experienced a similar program offered on Lenten Friday evenings in the Diocese of Orlando. It was comforting to know that on any given week, priests would be available at any parish in the area. At one, the pastor of the parish sat, reading from the Scriptures, waiting for penitents to arrive, and provided a non-threatening, patient experience of the sacrament for those who came to unburden their souls.
There’s one flaw in the snow analogy of reconciliation. A blanket of snow merely covers up all the dirt and grime of our life; confession and absolution truly wipe our sins away. The compassion and healing of Christ in the sacrament of reconciliation allows us to start fresh. That’s what’s waiting – wherever the Light is on for You.
Visit www.archbalt.org/light/index.cfm for information, including a printable brochure (in English or Spanish) that includes an examination of conscience and the Act of Contrition.
Christopher Gunty is associate publisher/editor of The Catholic Review.