In Washington, every Wednesday evening during Lent, all Catholic churches are open for confession. All Catholics “are invited to experience God’s mercy and forgiveness through the sacrament of reconciliation,” the website says.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, in 2008, noted that the first “Light is On For You” drew so many people that it was an easy decision to offer it again.
“In many parishes each successive Wednesday brought more people to church for reconciliation, and in some cases during Wednesday of Holy Week priests heard confessions for three, four or five hours,” the cardinal said.
Since then, other dioceses and archdioceses, such as Denver, Dallas, Boston and Mobile, Ala., have started similar reconciliation programs.
When the topic arose here, one wag noted that the theme reminded him of a motel chain that “leaves the light on.” Yet, the idea is the same — “leaving the light on” is a phrase meant to remind us that someone cares about us and is worried enough about us to leave a house light on so we can find our way home at night or in storm. Not a bad image for the sacrament of reconciliation.
Keeping “the light on” during the Year of Faith refers to the light of the confessional — the little, white light that the priest turns on over the door when he goes inside. It signals that someone is there to listen. And, of course, that’s why we often call it “confession.”
I was reminded of this at a recent parish mission at St. Thomas More Parish in Appleton. The leader was Norbertine Fr. Tim Shillcox, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in De Pere. He cited another Norbertine priest who had told him the real reason we call it “confession.”
“It’s not that we ‘go to confess sins,’” that priest said, “even though we do. No, we go to profess what we believe: ‘to confess’ that God is merciful.”
So when we approach the sacrament of reconciliation, we are not only making an act of contrition, but we are also making an act of faith — we confess the belief that God loves us, that Jesus gave his life for love of each of us, and that this merciful love is just waiting to wash over us in this sacrament.
That explains a big part of what this Year of Faith is about, knowing that God is love; that God loves us; that Jesus died for us and that this Spirit of mercy is just waiting for us. That “light on” means that we also confess that there is no sin — as Fr. Shillcox said — from “tiddlywinks to whoppers, including murder” — that God cannot, and will not, forgive. In fact, Fr. Shillcox said, “He’s tripping over the divine feet” to shower us with mercy.
All we have to do is follow the light.
The light is on for you. Not just during Lent. Not just during a Year of Faith. Always. At every parish, within reach of every priest’s cell phone. Just ask. The light will always go on.
After all, as the evangelist John said, “The true light, which enlivens everyone, has come into the world” (Jn 1:9). He’s just can’t wait for all of us to confess what we know in our hearts: how much we are loved.