Let's hope that our churches are thrumming with activity

The Pope will be hearing confessions today, Friday, the third of Lent, in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. This is part of the “24 Hours for the Lord” initiative, which is taking place in Catholic churches around the world.

Of course, it is nice that the Pope is hearing confessions, and it is good to know that in so doing he is coming into contact with individual souls, because this is something all pastors need to do. As for the experience of going to confession to the Pope, one can but wonder what that must be like. Years ago, a priest who taught me, Fr KA Tomlinson, told me that as a student in Rome he had made the long journey to San Giovanni Rotondo to confess to the famous Padre Pio. I asked him what this had been like, and he told me that it had been just like going to confession to any other priest.

That is the great thing about going to confession. You do not need to go to the Pope, or even to a saint like Padre Pio; you can go to any old priest, and that is every bit as good. And that is wonderful news, because, just as most of us in this country are not very far from a supermarket, neither are we very far from a priest, so there is nothing really to stop us going to confession, except of course our sins, and in particular the sin of pride. But it would be a pity if we let our sins get in the way of experiencing the huge benefit and grace this sacrament confers.

This Friday and tomorrow is the big chance, when going to confession becomes even easier than normal. My own parish church is going to be open from 6.15pm on Friday, until 6.15pm on Saturday, with continuous Adoration and Confessions. Let’s hope a lot of people feel the call of the Lord during this period. Let’s hope too that our big city centre churches are thrumming with activity during these 24 hours.

If I were to select one marker of the decline of Catholicism in the last 50 years, it would be the decline in the number of people coming to confession. This falling off is an indicator of a general falling off in devotional life. Moreover, it is my experience than in places where the sacrament of confession is still frequented – one thinks of Italy, Mexico and Kenya – the Church is in a much more healthy state than in this country.

My conviction is that the decline in the Church won’t be reversed until the decline in Confession is reversed. So, the 24 Hours for the Lord is an attempt to revive the soul of British Catholicism.

Incidentally, the idea of renaming the sacrament “Reconciliation” does not seem to have made it more popular, does it? Why can’t we call it what it is – confession? That is a good honest word, the meaning of which all of us, even non-Catholics, immediately understand.