Tuesday, December 21, 2004

I just got back from leading our parish Penance Service. I heard two people's confession, the other associates heard 3 and 4 respectively. I do not know how many the pastor heard, but I think there was only a dozen people in the church so he probably heard 2-4. Now I know that my fellow CRM bloggers would be rather discouraged by such a "poor" turn out, but honestly, I am not. The reason? Because I did not think it was necessary in the first place. Now don't get me wrong; I think the Sacrament of Penance is VERY necessary, and that is a crying shame that at so many parishes it has been allowed to nearly completely die out (and I fear it will be a millstone around the neck of too many priests for allowing to die out in their parishes).

However, here at St. James we take the Sacrament of Penance very seriously. We offer it for a half hour, after the 8 a.m. Mass, Monday through Friday. Two of us are in the Confessionals on Saturdays; from 11:30 a.m. to noon, and then from 4 p.m until 5 p.m., and then our visiting OFM has his "ear-regulars" Saturday evening after the 7:30 p.m. Mass for at least a half hour(which of course one of us covers when he cannot be here). In other words we have at least 6 "priest"-hours of Confession scheduled every week. Our people have an excellent sense of sin, which leads to an excellent sense of God's merciful love, and an increased commitment to not only be free of sin but to become SAINTS -- not that I am saying we have an abundance of those around, but we're working on it.

I have gone to several neighboring parishes to assist at their Penance Services (either for prior to Confirmation or First Penance; I've been too ill to go to any Advent ones), and when I mention how often we offer the Sacrament of Penance at St. James I am amazed, in a sad way, at the number of priests who scoff at the fact as being "ridiculous." God's mercy and love "ridiculous"? One priest, a member of a religous order, was trying to get the host pastor at one of these Services to "do as they do at the parish he is at": After an opening song, reading from Scripture, and communal Examination of Conscience, all the kids (it was for a First Penance) are given the same "penance" and they recite in common an Act of Contrition. Then all the kids are INSTRUCTED to go to one of the priests and only tell him ONE of their sins. That's right, not ALL of their sins. When it was suggested that such a "confession" was hardly an integral confession (number, kind, circumstance of ALL mortal sins) he just brushed it off as being "fine because these kids can't really commit mortal sins," and that you really only have to confess one sin. What absolute sadness I felt for these children; the only thing keeping them from being guilty (personal culpability-wise) of the sin of sacrilege is their ignorance that they were not doing it correctly (unless they had better religion teachers than this priest). This priest thought it funny that one of our more respected pastors (hardly a "conservative" but not a crazy "liberal") used to call him a "borderline heretic." Based on his other opinions expressed that evening, I think that is a very charitable description; I would have just called him a heretic. Most upsetting was learning later that such "penance" services, where people are told to only confess one sin, is somewhat common. Jesus continues to weep.

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