3/10/2016 9:00:00 AM BISHOP'S COLUMN Come and know God's
mercy personally Like Father Longobucco, Bishop plans to hear 24 hours of confessions
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER
By now just about everyone has heard of the all-nighter Rev. Bob Longobucco pulled last Friday. He decided to take up the challenge that Pope Francis extended for larger parishes to offer the sacrament of penance and reconciliation for 24-hour periods.
From what I've heard, Pope Francis himself has often heard confessions for significant periods of time. This is no stunt. Nor should it be just an occasional thing. Every Catholic needs to know that there is nothing more important a priest can do -- aside from celebrating Mass itself -- than be present to anyone who comes to him for confession.
In case you have not read about it elsewhere, Father Bob - who is currently pastor of St. Kateri Tekakwitha parish in Schenectady and episcopal vicar for the Tech Valley ("Twin Rivers") vicariate -- and his people felt the parish should offer this opportunity as we approach Holy Week.
Since St. Kateri is a one-priest parish (not unusual these days), he was the only priest in the confessional. He started Friday morning at 9:30 a.m. and stayed the full 24 hours, leaving only for quick meals. What happened, no one could have imagined.
More than 130 people from all over the Capital Region came in throughout the 24-hour period. Father Bob had thought that the numbers would trickle down as night approached. Instead, by 1 a.m., the waiting period was two hours!
In Brooklyn, the diocese where I had spent my priesthood before coming to Albany, we had been doing something similar for nearly a decade. Actually, with two other downstate neighbors -- the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Rockville Centre -- every parish in the metropolitan area had at least one priest on hand from 3-9 p.m. A Catholic could walk into just about any Catholic church on the Monday of Holy Week during these hours and go to confession. Sometimes, the confessions went on much later, even past midnight.
Father Bob said that this marathon was really not about the time he was willing to spend or about some self-imposed personal challenge of endurance, but about the courage and beauty of those who felt God's call to celebrate this wonderful sacrament of peace and spiritual healing.
This special experience, he says, "was the most beautiful night of my priesthood."
I suspect that if more people knew about this opportunity, Father Bob might even have had to stay longer! St. John Vianney, the holy Curé of Ars, was noted for the long hours he spent in his parish confessional, to which people came from far and wide. Pope St. John Paul II himself visited Ars in 1986, at the 200th anniversary of Vianney's birth, and referred to the great saint as a "rare example of a pastor acutely aware of his responsibilities...and a sign of courage for those who today experience the grace of being called to the priesthood."
While I would like to think that Father Bob took care of all the remaining sinners in our Diocese, I suspect that this might not quite be the case. So, on the outside chance that we may not yet have stamped out all sin and that there might b more than a few people who did not know about the 24-hour chance to confess, I plan on following Father Bob's example myself - because no one should be deprived of God's mercy.
I am not going to announce here where I will hear confessions, because I am only one priest and I can only be at one place. But I will offer my help to one of the regions of our Diocese -- maybe in an area outside the Capital Region, where there aren't as many priests available. Perhaps some of our other priests will be able to join me or decide to do something similar in their own region.
The sacrament of penance and reconciliation is an incredible gift to us from Jesus Himself. Anyone who has been away for years, even decades, need have nothing to fear. Your confessor will help you if you have forgotten the formula or the Act of Contrition. This sacrament, after all, is more about the mercy of God than how well we can remember every sin!
What about those really embarrassing sins? I would challenge anyone to tell me a sin that I have never heard before! No sin is too great to be forgiven. And the good news is that the more we can be aware of our sins and our brokenness and own up to it, the more mercy our all-loving, all-forgiving God can pour into our hearts.
Please pray that, as we approach Holy Week, many will be moved to seek out the sacramental graces that flow from this beautiful gift of God's peace. And please pray for all of our priests, that they may generously offer the gift of their time and presence to be with those who seek through them the outpouring of God's forgiveness, which knows no limits.
The Lord never tires of forgiving us, Pope Francis often says. So, why not let Jesus be for each of us personally the Savior He really is?