Cardinal Sean O'Malley promotes confession

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February 17, 2010, 10:17 pm
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(NECN: Greg Wayland, Boston, Mass.) - It is the Ash Wednesday service at the Boston Archdiocesan Pastoral Center, and the beginning of the penitential season of Lent in which Cardinal Sean O'Malley has a plan to bring Catholics back into active participation n the faith.

The headline in the Archdiocesan newspaper says, "The Light is On for you" -- referring figuratively to the light that appears over the door of the confessional -- the wood-paneled booth in older churches where the faithful go to confess their sins to the priest, who , acting in the person of Christ, grants forgiveness, provided the penitent is truly sorry and agrees to say prayers of penance.


Sean O'Malley: There have already been a couple of dioceses that have done this and have experienced wonderful success in having thousands of people  taken advantage of the opportunity to go to confession.


The Archdiocese even has a website with guidelines for the examination of conscience, the prayer known as the Act of Contrition, and videos to instruct the faithful -- who may have forgotten just how to go to Confession.


The Sacrament of Penance of Reconciliation, as it is alternately known, is, along with communion or the Eucharist, among the Church's most important Sacraments -- and one of its most neglected.


A 2008 Georgetown University Survey asked over a thousand Catholics of every generation how often they go to Confession


Only two per cent said once a month or more. Twelve per cent said several times a year, or once a year, thirty per cent less than once a year, and 45 per cent said they never go.  The cardinal is well aware of all this.


O’Malley: In our modern culture there is less a consciousness of sin. Unless we deal with the reality of sin, we can never truly live a life of discipleship and fidelity.


The priest is bound never to discuss or reveal a penitent's confession, a fact which once spiced up the plot of an Alfred Hitchcock movie called, "I confess."


And for many Catholics of a certain age -- meaning the Cardinal's and my age -- Confession was a weekly tradition.


O’Malley: I grew up in a generation when Saturday afternoon, you went to the matinee, saw the double feature of Roy Rogers and Gene Autrey and the five cartoons and the newsreel and then you walked to the church and the whole parish was there to go to confession.


But, in fact, Catholic Church teaching states that anyone conscious of serious sin, including missing Mass on Sunday, commits sacrilege if they receive Holy Communion without first receiving the Sacrament of Penance


The Cardinal says that, in a distant period, this led Catholics to be over-scrupulous.


On the Catholic campus of Boston College, one priest mentor says students attending weekly holy hours are very strong in their belief in all things Catholic.


Fr. Harvey Egan: So every Monday night, you're going to have two to 250 kids in there who are worshiping the Blessed Sacrament, they have benediction and many of them go to confession.


Senior Brenna Davis has a different -- and perhaps more typical -- view.


Brenna Davis: I know what the Catholic Church says about confession and about kind of the intervention of priests. But I just think, for my own personal faith life, I don't see a need.

Cardinal: The sacrament of confession gives us an opportunity to review our lives in the light of the gospel 


Are the priests of the Archdiocese on board with this?


“Why, of course. I have no doubt.”


But at least one priest of the archdiocese that we're aware of has told his congregation --- the light won't be on for you here. Flatly refused to do that Wednesday night confession. We didn't name names but we did tell the Cardinal about that.


Aren't priests supposed to be there to save our souls? –


O’Malley: “They certainly are. And we hope that that gentleman has a conversion before next Wednesday.”


Conversion may be what it's all about. But some may point to the recent priestly scandals before turning to a priest for forgiveness.


They'll ask because of recent events in the Church, why should I go to confession.?


“Well, we're all sinners. We all need the Sacrament. And the Church is not a museum for saints. It's a hospital for sinners.”

Tags: Sean O'Malley, Catholic
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