Any initiative by a bishop, given the resources at hand, and the authority over parish pastors (arm-twisting, if necessary) is going to make a ripple of some kind in the calm waters of moral self-satisfaction.
Ultimately, if human beings (and the Holy Spirit) are to be involved, the long-term emphasis probably needs to come on the parish level, preferably headed by the parish pastor and renewed by his successors.
Don’t misread me: I think these Lenten initiatives are great. If nothing else, they give people an alternate to their Saturday afternoon gardening time and hoops-watch to experience the forgiving grace of Jesus Christ.
I knew I landed in the right parish back in 2008 when in my second week of service, the students asked me to provide accompaniment to a Wednesday night form II–in the middle of July. The students had also recruited four confessors–our two parish priests, plus an ISU grad student from overseas and a retired priest living in out parish. What a great experience for us and our thirty-some penitents.
Earlier this week, one of my staff colleagues and I were discussing the challenges of adding an Advent reconciliation for religious ed kids and their families to our schedule later this year. The December holy day falls on a Wednesday in 2010. The middle week of Christmas is usually dedicated to a parent-guided Advent program of some kind–most of our student catechists are deep into finals week. A december 1 reconciliation would wipe out a whole month of classroom catechesis. In essence, the kids would break from before Thanksgiving to mid-January. My suggestion was placing a Wednesday reconciliation in late October. The boss gave his thumbs up to that innovation–he’s told me that he far prefers the sacraments to meetings.
I would have to concur.
You readers know I’m deeply skeptical of the notion of a loss of a sense of sin among the laity. The implication is that in ages past, Catholic lay people were fully aware of the tendency to self-justify. They were more into self-denial than outright denial, one might quip. Bullfluff, I say. The human condition is avoidance of self-examination, and the world of fifty or a hundred years ago doesn’t look significantly less sinful than today’s. And one only has to look at bishops scurrying to the protective robes of the legal system to recognize that a lack of a sense of sin has pervaded their numbers, too.
People devoted to Penance form I will continue to line up on Saturday afternoons, probably one of the worst days and times of the modern week. One might even remark it’s a miracle the practice of the sacrament hasn’t fallen off further, given the atrocious planning and promotion in most all parishes.
My parish offers a mid-week form I, and we get almost as many penitents as on Saturdays. We also offer the oft-vilified “or by appointment” option. I never got the criticism of this. Other sacraments like infant baptism and marriage are offered by appointment, too. Sick people don’t wait for a particular given time each week to be anointed, either. A good priest is always available by appointment to anoint people on short notice, or to schedule the sacrament before a major surgery. Me, I’d be concerned if a parish didn’t offer reconciliation by appointment. Usually that’s the whiff of a priest who prefers meetings to sacraments.
Still, as much as I think my parish is on the right track, reconciliation is up there in my long-range visioning. I could see us offering a year-round mid-week form I, maybe replaced once a month with form II, for those who would prefer a little more liturgy with their sacrament of healing.
So I’m curious, outside of Lent, what would you suggest your parish pastor initiate on this front?