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Remember, the light is on for confession

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This coming March 18, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is participating for the first time in a national campaign simply titled “The Light is On for You.” Begun in New York, it is a night where every parish throughout the archdiocese will have confessions offered from 7-9 p.m. It has met with great success in areas that have conducted the program, and we are excited to bring it here, too.

As a priest, the ability to hear confessions is at once both awe-inspiring and fear-inducing. It is awe-inspiring in the sense that it is often the time when you are able to the see the grace of God most visibly active in a persons life. It takes a great deal of humility and emptiness to come to a brother in Christ to admit the wrongs that have been committed, while seeking not just the priest’s forgiveness, but the forgiveness of God himself! The words of absolution still strike me, even after nearly 10 years as a priest and countless confessions, as one of the most beautiful prayers that the church has passed down to us.

However, the act of hearing a confession is also frightening in the sense of trying to find the right words to help this person who has come forward to experience that unique love of the Lord available in this sacrament. In fact, it is that initial love of the Lord which itself spurs that call to conversion. As I enter the confessional, I always try to say a prayer that I might be a good and holy confessor, a wise and prudent steward of the mysteries entrusted to me, a priest.

Because of the intimate and delicate nature of what is celebrated in this divine encounter, the training to conduct the sacrament is deferred to our very last years of seminary formation. After all, this sacrament draws on every other aspect of our training: knowledge of Scripture to see the ongoing call to conversion that is throughout the Bible; knowledge of theology to understand the implications of what we are doing; training in pastoral counseling so that we are able to engage the penitent where he or she is and draw them closer to Christ; and even knowledge of our own weaknesses so that we never forget that, as priests, we are first and foremost wounded healers who are also in need of forgiveness and mercy.

Uniting all of this is practice. During our course on the sacraments of healing, we undertake practice confessions with our classmates so that once we sit on the other side of the screen, we might have some idea of what to do. Our professor then guides and rehashes how we did in those moments so that we can continue to learn from them. (In fact, that particular class when we practice can often be the most fun, as we either try to outdo our classmates in “sins” we have committed, or come up with some outlandish scenarios.)

Yet, confession is not meant to be something difficult and drear, but an encounter with the living Christ who calls us all. Confession is to help us overcome our weaknesses and failings in order to recognize that Jesus Christ still calls, despite our sins, despite our faults, despite our failings. He waits and challenges us to move forward and to confirm once again, “Yes, Lord, You know everything; You know that I love.”

Our Lord waits with innumerable graces to pour out upon those who come to Him in their need. As priests, we wait to be doctors of the soul. If you have not been in a while, now is the perfect time to come to Him and to hear those most powerful of words: ‘Through the ministry of the church, I absolve you of your sins…’

Father Kyle Schnippel is the archdiocesan vocation director. 

This The Catholic Moment column by Father Kyle Schnippel originally appeared in the March 2014 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.

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