March 21, 2014

‘The Light Is on for You’: April 2 confession initiative will demonstrate God’s grace and conversion in people’s lives

Father Clement Davis, pastor of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus, prepares to celebrate the sacrament of penance with a student of St. Rose of Lima School on Dec. 6, 2012, in a confessional at St. Rose of Lima Church in Franklin. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

Father Clement Davis, pastor of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus, prepares to celebrate the sacrament of penance with a student of St. Rose of Lima School on Dec. 6, 2012, in a confessional at St. Rose of Lima Church in Franklin. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

When Pope Francis spoke about the sacrament of penance on Feb. 19 during a general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, he invited his listeners to ask themselves a question.

“When was the last time that you went to confession?” Pope Francis said. “Two days ago? Two weeks? Two years? 20 years? 40 years?”

He then made an invitation to those among his listeners who had been away from the sacrament for an extended period of time.

“If it’s been a long time, do not waste one more day,” Pope Francis said. “Go ahead, the priest will be good. And Jesus is there, and Jesus is better than priests. It is Jesus who receives you, he receives you with so much love.

“Be brave, and go to confession.”

On April 2, Catholics across central and southern Indiana, both those who regularly go to confession and those who may have not done so for a while, will have the chance to experience God’s mercy and forgiveness in the sacrament of penance.

From 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m. on that day, priests will be available in each parish or parish cluster across central and southern Indiana to celebrate the sacrament of penance. Members of clustered parishes will be informed at which church in the cluster the sacrament will be available.

The initiative, called “The Light Is on for You,” has been successfully tried during the season of Lent in many dioceses across the country. The name refers to the light that would be on in a reconciliation room when a priest is available to celebrate the sacrament. (Related: See our website for resources, including "How to Make a Good Confession")

While Catholics who go to confession on a regular basis to varying degrees are welcome to experience the sacrament of penance that day, Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, vicar general, hopes that many people who have been away from it for a while will return on April 2.

His hope is based in part on his experience of the initiative when he was a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston where “The Light Is on for You” was initiated in 2008. He said that priests there welcomed many Catholics back to the sacrament of penance when it was so widely available in churches there.

“I think the Holy Spirit was at work in the Church in the invitation that was offered,” Bishop Coyne said. “There was the fact that there was the consistent time throughout all the churches. And I think people came to see the real gift that the sacraments of the Church can be in our lives.”

Father C. Ryan McCarthy has the chance to see the effects of the sacrament of penance on a daily basis as the pastor of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis, where confessions are heard before the start of each Mass. He said that, on average, nearly 90 confessions are heard at the parish each week.

He became familiar with regular lines of people seeking the sacrament of penance shortly after he was ordained a priest in 2001 and began graduate studies in Washington. He heard confessions there two or three times a week at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

“There was a constant flow of people,” Father McCarthy said. “You did your shift and you left. Another priest took your place. But the line was never gone.”

He described being present with so many people celebrating the sacrament of penance as “uplifting.”

“You get to see the work of God’s grace and the work of conversion occurring in people’s lives in very, oftentimes, intense moments of conversion, when they’re trying to leave their sins behind and start over again a new life of grace,” Father McCarthy said.

Peg McEvoy, associate director for evangelization and family catechesis of the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education, sees the sacrament of penance as a key element in the Church’s new evangelization that in part seeks to reach out to Catholics who have left the practice of the faith.

More broadly, she sees the sacrament as a treasure that the Church can offer to the entire world.

“I think one of the great gifts that our faith has to provide the world is an understanding of mercy, our tendency toward sin and our tendency to want to avoid dealing with sin in our lives,” McEvoy said. “We have a response for that. We have a way of keeping that relationship with God real and that truth-telling happening in our lives.”

She also sees the sacrament of penance as answering the basic human desire to confess one’s actions that are sometimes expressed on TV talk shows and in social media.

“That sense of trying to unburden ourselves is a human need,” McEvoy said. “There are better ways of doing that and worse ways of doing that. One of the best ways of doing that is unburdening yourself in a context where you are fully aware of the mercy of God. That’s what this sacrament is.

“It’s not just an unburdening, there’s also the hope that comes from that experience. I can change and get better.”

Mike Fox has seen hundreds of men experience the grace of the sacrament of penance over the years at the Indiana Catholic Men’s Conference where confessions are heard for more than four hours.

An organizer of the gathering, Fox said as many as 16 priests have celebrated the sacrament of penance at the conference with usually around 400 men going to confession.

“There’s something about going to confession when there are other people there,” said Fox, a member of St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis. “You realize that we’re all sinners. I think that it’s an easy opportunity for them to go.”

He hopes that the availability of the sacrament of penance on April 2 in churches across central and southern Indiana will similarly motivate many Catholics to experience the sacrament anew in their lives.

“Confession isn’t something that most people look forward to,” Fox said. “But when they go, there’s such a relief. It takes a load off of their shoulders. Just knowing other Catholics are doing this at the same time is a big benefit.”

Father McCarthy sees “The Light Is on for You” as a “wonderful opportunity” for Catholics to be re-introduced to the sacrament of penance. He encouraged Catholics who have not experienced the sacrament in a long time to return on April 2. (Related: See other penance services in the archdiocese this Lent)

“You never meet anyone who’s just been to confession who says they regret it,” Father McCarthy said. “But you meet lots of people who don’t go to confession for some sort of fear of the sacrament or fear of exposing their sins who regret having not gone.

“So, I think if you’re looking to live a regret-free life, God gives us that opportunity. He gives us a new beginning. We go to that sacrament, receive his grace and start over again.”

Father Patrick Beidelman, executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Spiritual Life and Worship, has similar hopes for “The Light Is on for You.”

He described the sacrament of penance as “an artery of God’s mercy from which so many are separated.

“When someone comes to confession who has been away from the sacrament of penance for a long time, it is a cause for joy,” Father Beidelman said. “One of the first things that I always say upon hearing someone who indicates that it’s been a long time since they’ve been to confession is ‘Welcome back.’

“I believe that is what God’s response is.”

(For more information about “The Light Is on for You” in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, log on to

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