It’s too bad that the great expression associated with the Holy Father, “the Pope of Mercy” (I believe John Allen coined it), has become polluted by the ecclesiastical politics surrounding the Synod of the Family. The Pope is absolutely right: what Christians need right now is an avalanche of mercy (which, as the Pope is well aware, is not the same thing as cheap grace).
I’m prompted by his excellent decision to make today a worldwide day of confession to write about an idea that’s been going around in my head: just as Pope Benedict XVI had the great idea to do initiatives such as the “Year of Faith”, Pope Francis should institute a “Year of Confession.” Every parish should be led from the top to emphasize confession and invite people to it.
Look–we all know what the Church’s biggest problem is: lukewarm Catholics, ex-Catholics, Christmas-and-Easter Catholics, you name it. The Church sometimes appears as a river as shallow as it is broad, with more than a billion people in the membership rolls, and no doubt hundreds of millions in the pews, but how many with a full communion with the Church and a deep, personal and sacramental relationship with Christ? As Ross Douthat remarked, most of our brothers and sisters who have been estranged from the Church are really only a good confession away from full communion with the Church. In fact, that’s what confession is for.Besides, as I know from personal experience–and as you probably do too–there is the dread Vicious Circle of Confession. The longer you wait without going, the harder it becomes to go, and the harder it becomes to go, the longer you wait. This is why it is so, so fundamentally important for pastors to talk over and over again about the importance of this great sacrament, the one that restores grace and full communion. As St John of the Cross says, grace shines into our soul like the sun in a room from a window–but we have to clean the window. That’s what confession does. They shouldn’t be brutes or sanctimonious about it, as the Pope repeatedly emphasizes. They should emphasize the benefit.
But if the Church is going to be renewed, it is going to be through sacramental grace. If this great lumbering Body is going to wake up and take seriously its mandate to defeat the Power and Principalities, it is when millions upon millions of Everyday Catholics become #FullCatholics through the power of sacramental grace.
Ideally, I would want a three-year cycle of:
- Year of Confession
- Year of the Real Presence (and the Liturgy)
- Year of Service
- (Rinse, Repeat?)
After all, the second biggest problem of the Church, after the lack of confession, is a lack of belief in the Real Presence. This is the biggest disaster. How are we to do anything if we do not correctly worship the God Incarnate?
This is the movement of the People of God. Receive mercy. Worship in gratitude. And then go out, and renew the face of the Earth.