How clearly the New Year reveals how much we yearn for a fresh start. Everywhere people are turning over a new leaf in the care of the body (think of the packed gyms and empty fridges), of their social life, and even of the spiritual life. But somehow the momentum barely carries the New Year’s resolutions even into February. Perhaps it is because people forget that Christ has given us a sacrament of starting again – it is called confession. Christ himself said that he “makes all things new” (Rev. 21:5); he is the great ally of the fresh start.
I had the joy of hearing many confessions in the lead up to Christmas, and in some cases of people who were starting again after years away from the sacrament. And I always make the same suggestion in such cases: to begin the practice of monthly confession. We are creatures of routine – routine sustains us in virtually every aspect of our lives: eating, sleeping, working, socialising etc. But the same should apply to our sacramental life (and indeed it does in the case of Sunday Mass). How much we can be helped by having a definite day each month (the first Friday, second Saturday…) on which we have the routine of going to receive God’s pardon in the great sacrament of confession.
Sometimes, however, my suggestion evinces replies such as: “Oh there’s no confession in my parish”, “I’d have to ring to make an appointment for confession”, “There’s only a twenty minute slot each week before Mass on Saturday morning.” Worst of all (though infrequent thankfully) is the answer: “The priests simply give general absolution.”
Certainly Mother Church wants the sacrament of confession to be as available as reasonably possible to all the faithful. In the Code of Canon Law we read: “All to whom the care of souls has been entrusted in virtue of some function are obliged to make provision so that the confessions of the faithful entrusted to them are heard when they reasonably seek to be heard and that they have the opportunity to approach individual confession on days and at times established for their convenience “(Can. 986 §1).
It is true that priests in parishes are busy, and in some cases chronically over-stretched, but that said it is hard to imagine anything in the life of a priest which could be more important than making confessions available to the flock entrusted by God to his care. Besides there are few things that make a priest happier than to find among his penitents those who had been alienated from the life of the Church. In hearing confessions the priest becomes the great ally of the fresh start.