February 20, 2015

‘The Light Is on for You’: Confession initiative expanded after successful first year

Adam and Lauren Megel of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus pose for a family photo with their daughters, Madelyn, left, and Abigail, in October of 2014, a few months before a great loss in their lives showed them how much they are loved. (Photo by David Bugert Photography)

Like confessionals in many churches, a confessional in Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Church in Indianapolis features a light that shows if a priest is available to celebrate the sacrament of penance or, when a red light is showing, if he is currently hearing a confession. (Photo illustration by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

Father Christopher Craig was skeptical when he learned that priests across central and southern Indiana were to be available to hear confessions in parish churches from 6:30-8 p.m. on April 2, 2014.

It was the first time that the Archdiocese of Indianapolis would participate in a program titled “The Light Is on for You” that dioceses across the country had used to attract more Catholics to the sacrament of penance.

Father Craig, pastor of Most Sorrowful Mother of God Parish in Vevay and Prince of Peace Parish in Madison, didn’t expect that many people would come to confession that night.

“I fully expected to sit there for an hour and a half,” he said. “I was looking forward to it. I was going to sit there and catch up on homily readings and spiritual readings.”

As it turned out, he had a steady stream of people coming to confess their sins and experience the mercy of God through sacramental absolution.

“I was just amazed,” Father Craig said. “I was busy the whole time and stayed an extra hour.”

His experience of “The Light Is on for You” was not unique. Father Patrick Beidelman, executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Spiritual Life and Worship, said that a “large majority” of archdiocesan pastors said that the program was a success in 2014.

As a result, “The Light Is on for You” will take place in the archdiocese this year on two days—March 4 and March 18.

From 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m. on those days, 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 the sacrament will be available.

(Related: How to make a good confession)

Father Michael O’Mara’s experience of the program last year went a good bit beyond what happened with Father Craig.

Father O’Mara heard confessions until midnight at St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in Indianapolis, where he serves as pastor.

The parish’s pastoral associate, Aaron Thomas, whom Father O’Mara jokingly describes as his “boss,” was concerned enough about him that he sent him refreshments between confessions.

“I’d been in there for all that time, and it was 10:30,” said Father O’Mara with a laugh as he recalled the story. “So a kid comes in and he brings me a Diet Coke. I said, ‘Well, that was awfully nice of you.’ Then the little kid said, ‘Well, your boss sent it in because you might need a drink.’ ”

Although he spent nearly six hours hearing confessions well into the night, Father O’Mara enjoyed every minute of it.

“That’s when a priest is most being a priest,” he said. “When we’re hearing confessions and are one-on-one with our people, we’re with them in the muck of life.

“Anything that we can do like this connects us with who we are and what our main task is—to be reconciled with one another and with God.”

Father Craig thinks that the availability of priests to hear confessions across central and southern Indiana at the same time on the same day encouraged people to experience the sacrament.

“They were impressed with the availability,” he said. “We need to be available to people in the best possible times for them. And this seems to be something that works [for them].”

Father Sean Danda, pastor of St. Michael Parish in Brookville, agreed.

“ ‘The Light Is on for You’ is a reminder that God always leaves the light on,” he said. “We can always come home and receive the forgiveness we so desire and need. There is no sin too great that God would not forgive.

“The priest is there to extend that mercy, forgiveness and healing that we need in order to live in the freedom of being children of God.”

Father Beidelman hopes that the success of “The Light Is on for You” is a sign that more Catholics are returning to the sacrament of penance.

“I hope that people are hearing this as an invitation to utilize again a dramatically underutilized sacrament in the Church,” Father Beidelman said. “My prayer is that it’s the beginning of a trend, so that people have access to this great artery of God’s mercy in their lives.”

(For more information about “The Light Is on for You” in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, log on to www.archindy.org/thelightison.)

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