The Transit Authority in my city pulled off a successful experiment/publicity stunt for the first 2 weeks in July. It has set up confession booths in key areas of the city so anyone can go in and tell a camera their secrets, in 10 seconds or less. The videos are played in my city’s extremely busy subway system. Anyone can listen to the steady drone of sensational/mundane/attention-seeking confessions. The video booths are proving to be very popular.
An entire television genre is built on the idea of true confessions. Reality shows are some of the most popular offerings in the media, as are YouTube confessions. The Ellens, Oprahs and Dr. Phils of the world are insanely popular, not to mention stinking rich. Capitalism on the backs of the repentant.
If you can’t get on Dr. Phil, you can always unload on your hairdresser or barber. Some of my patients have confided things to me that they won’t even tell their closest family members.
We all have a desire to unburden our troubled souls, seek validation and be reassured that we’re not so bad. Unfortunately, it seems that too many broken people are going about it in ways that are exhibitionist. And many more people are literally making themselves emotionally and physically ill because of pent-up guilt.
In the Catholic Church, we don’t have to depend on video booths, reality shows or even our hairdressers. We can bare our souls in private to another human being who is in persona Christi, and he will do more than tell us we’re OK. He’ll actually forgive whatever wrong we did.
So why are so many confessionals empty? Why is the Sacrament of Confession so unpopular among rank and file Catholics who attend Mass every Sunday? How many times have I heard people say, “I don’t have anything to confess.” Well, really! Please tell me your secret because I haven’t figured it out yet.
I hate to say it but part of the blame lies with the clergy. In many parishes, priests are not making it easy to get to confession. Designating only 30 minutes per week to hear confessions is ridiculous. Priests have to preach more powerfully on sin and its effects and on the beauty of the Sacrament of Confession. Then they have to devote more time to actually hearing them.
“Progressive” ways of administering the Sacrament are doing more harm than good. In one parish, the priest had everyone write down one sin on a piece of paper and put it in the collection basket that was sent around. He then said a general absolution and told everyone their sins were forgiven. Anonymous, painless confession does nothing to make a person feel contrite and doesn’t encourage an examination of conscience. Sorry, Father. I’m not sure what your intentions were, but that’s an insult to the Sacrament.
There are exceptions, of course. I know a priest who regularly hears up to 4 hours of confession per week. Another friend was made pastor of a church where the Sacrament of Reconciliation had not been encouraged or celebrated for years. He preached on penance for many Sundays, expanded the times available for confession, and then sat for weeks in an empty confessional waiting for people to come back to the Sacrament. Persistence paid off as parishioners slowly started lining up.
The other part of the blame lies with lay Catholics. Most people I know who attend Mass every Sunday haven’t been to confession in a very long time. Parents are not providing a good example for their children, who in turn have not been to confession since their First Confession. The cycle continues.
The Sacrament of Penance is necessary for our salvation. It may be uncomfortable and humiliating, but that’s good. Humility is good for the soul. It reminds us that we are fallen and sinful and we need His mercy.
Don’t take my word for it. I’m just a poor sinner who regularly has many sins to confess. Here’s what the saints and one blessed had to say about the Sacrament of Penance:
Go to your confessor; open your heart to him; display to him all the recesses of your soul; take the advice that he will give you with the utmost humility and simplicity. For God, Who has an infinite love for obedience, frequently renders profitable the counsels we take from others, but especially from those who are the guides of our souls.
–St. Francis de Sales
Confession heals, confession justifies, confession grants pardon of sin, all hope consists in confession; in confession there is a chance for mercy.
–St. Isidore of Seville
Confession is an act of honesty and courage – an act of entrusting ourselves, beyond sin, to the mercy of a loving and forgiving God.
–Pope John Paul 2