Lenten initiative an answer to pope’s call to celebrate gift of God’s mercy, forgiveness
Story by S.L. Hansen
LINCOLN (SNR) - At the urging of Pope Francis, dioceses around the world will offer the sacrament of confession, as well as Eucharistic Adoration, for 24 consecutive hours over March 13 and 14.
Called “24 Hours for the Lord,” this Lenten initiative is intended to encourage all faithful Catholics to spend time in repentance, prayer, and contemplation of the Eucharist.
The Holy Father will open the observance with a penitential celebration in St. Peter’s Basilica March 13. Immediately following, there will be a 24-hour period during which confessors will be available at multiple churches throughout Rome.
The pontifical council issued a statement saying that these “24 Hours for the Lord” will “enable all people, be they near or distant from the Church, to reflect upon and celebrate the great gift of God’s mercy and forgiveness.”
In the Diocese of Lincoln, the Cathedral of the Risen Christ, 3500 Sheridan Blvd., Lincoln, will have confessors available from 6 p.m. Friday, March 13 through 6 p.m. Saturday, March 14. Priests from the area have been asked to volunteer their time in one-hour increments to serve all Catholics.
At the same time, there will be Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, allowing all to spend uninterrupted time contemplating the goodness of the Lord in the presence of the Holy Eucharist.
JD Flynn, special assistant to Bishop James D. Conley, said that the Holy Father’s call to participate in this observance is in keeping with his gentle but persistent urging to remember the Lord’s mercy.
“One of the first things the Holy Father said when he was elected is that the Lord never tires of offering His mercy, but we tire of asking for forgiveness,” he said.
Flynn added, “All of us are aware of our sinfulness and how that stands in the way of our relationship with God. Confession is the gift that Jesus gave us to know clearly that our sins are forgiven by God.”
Both he and Father Sean Kilcawley, who is organizing this effort for the diocese as director of the Family Life Office, agreed that this is a good time for practicing Catholics to reach out to family members, friends and even co-workers who have not been to confession in a while.
“I think the best way to invite someone is by setting an example to them and extending the invitation,” Father Kilcawley said. “In other words, this would be an opportunity for somebody to say, ‘There’s 24 hours of confession at the Cathedral. This is something the Holy Father is doing and called all the dioceses to join him. I’m going to go…Would you be interested in coming with me?’”
Those who do not live close enough to the Cathedral to attend confession there are encouraged to take advantage of the Lenten confession times offered at their local parishes… and to invite somebody else to come along, of course.
Father Kilcawley hopes Catholic laypersons will not give up, even if the first response they get is negative.
“It might be scary for that person who hasn’t been to confession in a long time,” he pointed out. “So say, ‘Just come and pray with me, then.’”
Father Kilcawley said the most important message this 24-hour observance delivers is that God’s mercy always awaits each of us.
“We want to be a visible sign of the fact that our Lord never tires of forgiving us,” he stressed.
Those who have been away from confession for a long time can trust each priest to respond with kindness and patience. Father Kilcawley said that priests welcome the opportunity to help somebody receive absolution.
“It’s really a moment of awe,” he said. “It is a privilege for them to be that vessel of Christ’s mercy and to tell that person that they are loved.”
Priests are also more than happy to help a person who’s a little rusty at the sacrament.
“Oftentimes, when people will come in and say it’s been 15 years or 20 years since my last confession, I start out with, ‘Do you want help?’” Father Kilcawley said. “We can walk them through that examination and talk to them about anything else that is weighing on them.”
The hope is that many people who have not been to confession in a while will find the experience soothing and uplifting.
“No matter what is in their hearts, that is the part of them that the Lord wants access to. That’s the part that He is most anxious about,” Father Kilcawley assured. “Jesus came to save sinners and he came to bring healing. Our mission is to offer that to people, especially in this sacrament.”