Recently you offered Mass at our church. In your homily, which was quite inspirational, you urged parishioners to avail themselves more frequently of the Sacrament of Penance.
Believe it or not, Your Excellency, I try to go to Confession every month or so. As you stated in your homily, frequent confession helps us all in our battle against sin. Recently, however, I have felt uncomfortable confessing to our parish priests. Part of what I need to confess is my anger with these gentlemen over various issues: They have, for instance, made the Sunday Mass their version of a comedy club, and, since the younger of the two changed the words of the Eucharistic prayer at the last Mass, I’m not even sure whether the consecration was licit. Given my reservations, I find it difficult to go to these priests in the confessional. With a few mortal sins on my soul, however, I needed to look somewhere for absolution if I wished to partake of the other Sacraments. (Unlike most Catholics, who, by all appearances, march triumphant and unstained by sin down the aisle each Sunday to partake of Our Lord’s Body and Blood, I’m afraid that I sin quite frequently and even enjoy it at times.)
I first turned to a large church nearby, with some newly appointed priests. The church secretary—a very genial woman—asked me to suggest several convenient times for Confession and then told me that the priest would check his schedule and would match one of my convenient times to one of his convenient times. I tried to call the next week to leave my convenient times, failed to reach the correct secretary, and later simply dropped by the rectory while on errands in that city. The priest was in the building and was available—the genial secretary told me so—but he couldn’t see me without an appointment.
In the meantime, a priest substituted at our church one day when I happened to attend daily Mass. It was a First Friday, when we have Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and special prayers following morning Mass. Aha, thought I, here’s my chance! I’ll see this priest right after the spoken prayers, make my confession, perform my penance, and be once again clean as—well, not clean as the driven snow, perhaps, but at least, as Tallulah Bank-head once put it, clean as the driven slush.
Unfortunately, the priest didn’t tarry for the prayers. He darted from the church while the rest of us were still on our knees. I’m sure his haste was justified—he was doubtless dashing off to somewhere important—but his rapid departure left me once again bereft of Confession.
And so here I am, Your Excellency, walking around sorry for my sins but unable to find a confessor. I thought about e-mailing my confession to you, but I decided that wouldn’t do. I might add that I am making a trip soon, driving our daughter home from college. Should I happen to die out there on the asphalt, unshriven and alone, I ask for your prayers.
Given my dilemma, which I assume others like me have encountered, I came up with an idea. Why not direct all the priests of the diocese to sit in confessional booths 30 minutes before each Mass? You could kill two or even three birds with this single stone. You could make Confession readily available. You could encourage Confession. You might even give your priests a half-hour of rest each day, if no one came to Confession. Since I assume that our priests are supposed to talk to Our Lord somewhere between balancing the budget and getting the rectory gutters cleaned, you would also be providing them with a golden opportunity for contemplation and prayer.
Unfortunately, this suggestion may prove too great a hardship on our priests. When I mentioned my idea to the president of our parish council, she snorted and said, “The boys would never go for that!” She then proceeded to tell me that she had gone to Saturday afternoon Confession as a girl 60 years ago and that she saw no reason why people couldn’t go on Saturdays today.
So let me offer another idea for your consideration. How about a fax line for Confession? We could print the fax number for Confession in all the parish bulletins, station a priest in a diocesan office with the fax machine, and have Confession available around the clock. Parishioners could fax in their confession and an Act of Contrition, and the priest could fax back absolution. Judging from the line for Saturday night Confession at our parish, this priest would not be especially busy. If he became overburdened, the diocese could simply provide him with a standard form for absolution. Special cases could be remanded to the parish priest. To attract attention, we might call it Fax for Pax.
Such an option might also make more Catholics aware of the nature of sin, Your Excellency. Comparing the length of the Communion lines on Sunday morning with the length of the confessional line on Saturday night, an impartial observer would conclude that Catholics are either the most perfect of God’s people or the most ignorant. Since the latter option strikes me as closer to the mark—many of my fellow Catholics apparently feel that the only sin left is murder, and, even there, they would doubtless make allowances if you were a nice guy and shot a decent game of golf—we might use Fax for Pax to inform people that the old-fashioned sins of gossip, slander, covetousness, lusting in your heart after your neighbor, failing to honor God, and all the rest are still in play as rules of the game.
Take it into consideration, Your Excellency! Keeping you in my prayers,