By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond
Clarion Herald – 3/18/17
The archdiocese again this year during Lent will offer the sacrament of confession in every church on three consecutive Wednesdays – March 22, March 29 and April 5 – from 5 to 6:30 p.m. What is the pastoral purpose of making confession universally available at the same time on those evenings?
The sacrament of reconciliation is appropriately celebrated during the season of Lent. During Lent, God calls us to face with humility and honesty our weakness, our brokenness and our sin. In so doing, we are then invited to bring it to the Lord Jesus and to ask him to touch the brokenness of our lives and to give us healing and mercy. In discussing the importance of confession, many priests have expressed a desire to have the sacrament more available during Lent. Dioceses across the country do this in different ways. We’ve decided to offer confessions in every church in the Archdiocese of New Orleans at the same time on those three consecutive Wednesdays. In previous years, we offered confession a little later in the evening. Several people commented that it might be little more convenient to offer it earlier in the evening because people could stop by church on the way home at the end of the work day. Also, Daylight Savings Time makes it easier for people because it will still be light out. It’s very helpful, I think, that people know that whatever church they pass by throughout the entire archdiocese, there will be a priest in the confessional from 5 to 6:30 p.m. More importantly, on those days the Lord Jesus, the one who heals and forgives, will await each of us in order to offer his mercy.
Do people sometimes ask you why they need to go to a priest for confession?
Yes. Sometimes people ask, “Can’t I just confess to God?” The Catholic Church has always taught that it is God who forgives in confession. The priest represents the forgiving Christ, but he also represents the community of faith whom we have hurt by our sins. The priest offers absolution in God’s name and also reconciles us to the church, the people of God, and particularly to those whom we may have affected by our weakness.
In today’s world, is “sin” an old-fashioned concept?
We do live in a time where it’s easy to justify our weakness and wrongdoings. I remember several years ago a psychiatrist wrote a book, “Whatever Happened to Sin?” It becomes easy for any of us to look at some of the things that God is calling us to change and to say, “Well, I’m not as bad as the other person” or “It’s just a little weakness.” Even if that is true, we are to come in humility to recognize our sin and not to delve into the sins of others. Our world today seems to tell us not to feel guilty about anything. Guilt is a good thing. It leads us to a change of heart. Once we embrace confession and experience God’s mercy, we should be able to let go of the guilt and to celebrate the new life that God gives to us.
Everyone can see the result of sin these days, especially with the extreme amount of violence.
We live in a time where we not only have violence from people using guns and knives but also violence that takes place through words. We see it constantly on television, in current events and through bullying. People disrespect others and sometimes annihilate them by using horrible words that can scar a person’s heart forever. One of the prayers that I have become more aware of comes from the third verse of Psalm 141: “Set a guard, LORD, before my mouth, keep watch over the door of my lips.” During Lent, we not only look at those ways in which we have sinned, that is, done something that is not pleasing in God’s sight, but we are also called to look at our sins of omission. The appropriate question is, what have I not done that I could have done and should have done to show my care and God’s love to others?
Pope Francis has made it clear that people should never tire of asking for God’s mercy.
The Holy Father has said that the confessional is not a torture chamber but a place of healing. While God never tires of forgiving us, perhaps we get tired of going to God to ask for forgiveness. Whether our last confession was recent or many years ago, the forgiving Christ awaits us on one of these three Wednesdays to embrace his tender forgiveness.
Are more people going to confession today than perhaps 10 years ago?
I think so, and I think more people are going to confession because we are making confession more available. Priests, deacons and catechists are doing better at calling to people’s attention that they can know God’s mercy through confession. In the Archdiocese of New Orleans and in many other dioceses, making confession more available during Lent has proven to be very effective.
You devoted an entire priests’ convocation last year to confession. How valuable was that?
It was very valuable because it helped us celebrate the sacrament more effectively. It also gave us an opportunity to look at some particularly challenging situations that people bring to us in confession. Looking at some case studies helped us understand how we can not only offer God’s mercy but also help guide the person in the name of Christ to conversion and to new life.
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org