Priests: Confession initiative reaps results
by Jessica Langdon
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Father Richard Storey, pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park, believes Wednesdays this Lent are about coming home.
For it is from 6 to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays that parishes across the archdiocese are making available an additional opportunity to receive the sacrament of reconciliation.
Father Storey views that as “another way for God to say, ‘Welcome home’ and our church family to say, ‘Welcome back.’”
This is the second year for such an initiative in the archdiocese, and people have responded, say the priests who have sat in the confessional during those times.
“Offer it, and they will come,” said Father Storey.
“I thought it was really convenient,” said Father Mike Hawken, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee. “I saw a lot of people stopping by after they had gotten off work.”
Archdiocesan chancellor Father John Riley took his turn in the confessional at Sacred Heart Parish in Shawnee, where he is in residence, and was impressed by the turnout.
He was kept there until 9 p.m. at least once, he said, but he didn’t mind. He was happy to see such interest.
He encouraged pastors to find ways to make confession even more available on a regular basis throughout the year.
Getting the word out
Promotion is the key in getting people to the sacrament, said Father Riley.
So this year, like last, radio spots feature Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann’s voice on a wide range of radio stations calling Catholics to confession.
The radio spots are brief, said Father Riley, but they are all over, covering every genre from country to rock.
Several people told Father Hawken in 2011 that the radio reminders caught their attention.
“It was really an invitation to come home to the sacrament,” Father Hawken said. “And by coming home, I think that a lot of people who hadn’t been for a long time really felt invited and encouraged in a very positive way to come to the sacrament.”
Father Anthony Williams, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Olpe, saw good results during Lent 2011 and offered the same opportunity during the four Wednesdays of Advent.
“Adults took greater advantage of these times to reconcile their lives with God,” said Father Williams.
From guilt to forgiveness
Father Storey acknowledged that some anxiety can accompany this step.
However, as with any conflict, “The minute you can just say, ‘I’m sorry,’ it pushes a whole new life upon you,” he said. “You start, and you have shame and guilt. And that shame and guilt is turned to forgiveness.”
Fear is a reason many people give for not going to confession.
Father Hawken found that confession aids and welcoming priests helped put people at ease.
“The priest will help you,” he said.
Just say it’s been a while and you don’t know where to start.
“My response is always, ‘Well, let me say, first of all, how happy I am you’re here,’” said Father Riley.
Getting there is more than half the battle, he said.
As for the rest?
“Don’t worry, we’ll walk through,” said Father Riley. “It’s easy.”
And you can take resources — a printed copy of the act of contrition, for example — in with you.
Father Riley believes people experience such healing, forgiveness and mercy that, once they decide to go, they wonder why they waited so long.
He reminded people there are two ways to confess — face to face and behind a screen.
And priests don’t think about the things people confess afterward, so that doesn’t need to be a worry, Father Storey said.
“It’s forgiven, it’s forgotten,” he said.
What priests do remember is that someone has been forgiven and been able to come home.
God knew people would need forgiveness, he said, pointing out that three of the seven sacraments — baptism, confession and anointing of the sick — are about forgiveness of sins.
A healing experience
“This Lenten penance initiative reflects Archbishop Naumann’s encouragement of, and desire for, the faithful to take advantage of God’s free offer of grace given in this powerful sacrament,” said Father Williams.
He is reminded of the words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta expressing that the greatest poverty in the Western world is not about material things, but poverty of the soul.
“The Lenten penance initiative,” Father Williams continued, “is an invitation to the faithful people of God that they can rest only in the mercy and grace that comes from God.”
Part of Lenten experience
Father Hawken makes confession part of his own Lent every year.
“I realize in my own life that confession is good for the soul,” he said.
People who went last year for the first time in a while said it was the best Lent they had had in years.
This initiative isn’t about numbers, said Father Storey, but about helping even one soul get to heaven.
Father Riley believes, as does the church, in frequent confession and hopes this initiative will spark that.
“Just come,” he urged.
“Set aside the Wednesday you’re going to come right now,” Father Hawken said. “Schedule it.”