When the confessional is unavailable…

Here in Tampa, our city and county program is called “Safer at Home.” Kudos to the one(s) who came up with the name. That gave me an inspired thought. I think we should announce a “Forgiven at Home” ministry for Catholics and Catholic families.  To be fair, almost every diocese has published the guidelines from the Apostolic Penitentiary in Rome, confirmed by the US Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Here at Sacred Heart we celebrated confessions as long as we felt prudent – outside confined spaces like confessionals. But eventually the downtown area went quiet. And as it did, we began to receive inquiries if we could hear confessions online, Facetime, via telephone, and several other inventive measures. Some parishes had a priest sit in the parking lot for “drive-up” confessions with other cars waiting sufficiently far away to allow privacy. We had no place to do that but we also did not feel it prudent to invite people to leave home. A parishioner told me (perhaps an urban legend) that one parish had the priest and penitent visible (and hence face-to-face) and confessed via cell phone.  I am going with urban legend on that one. [Update: a day later the US Bishops issued guidelines that specifically forbade cell phone use as part of confession. What not-so urban legend]

These days the church is closed. At the same time, we parish priests are restricted (meaning barred) from visiting hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, and the like by the medical facilities practices aimed at isolation and control.  Blessed are the hospitals with Catholic priest-chaplains on staff.

Still people want to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But in these days, that is simply not possible nor prudent.  This where we have the “Forgiven at Home” program.

In circumstances where access to Confession is limited or unavailable, the Church does offer the provision of an Act of Perfect Contrition:

“Where the individual faithful find themselves in the painful impossibility of receiving sacramental absolution, it should be remembered that perfect contrition, coming from the love of God, beloved above all things, expressed by a sincere request for forgiveness (that which the penitent is at present able to express) and accompanied by votum confessionis, that is, by the firm resolution to have recourse, as soon as possible, to sacramental confession, obtains forgiveness of sins, even mortal ones (cf. CCC, no. 1452).”  Apostolic Penitentiary  [underlined added]

Perfect contrition requires: an affirmation of the love of God, the sincere desire for forgiveness, and an ardent commitment to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation as soon as possible, when available. Perfection, in our common usage, is truly for God alone. Re-read the beginning of this paragraph again with the words, “True contrition, however human, requires….”

Take a moment this day. Sit alone and in the quiet. Take time doing an examination of conscience. Reflect on ways in which you experience the love of God in your life and the life of friends and family. Pray, “Have mercy on Lord, for I am a sinner.” Pray the Our Father: “forgive us our trespasses…” Mark you calendar when you will attend Confession when will all be over… and if that day comes and goes because of the coronavirus, mark the calendar anew.  When the day comes, celebrate the Sacrament. If you’ve sinned against another person, ask their forgiveness. Make restitution. You know what needs to be done.

Between now and then, despite the regret, shame, sorrow or more that you remember and feel for your actions – never doubt the forgiveness of the sins you offer up. As it says in the beginning words of absolution: “God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has sent the Holy Spirit into the world for the forgiveness of sin”

Know that the Holy Spirit raises up your prayers to the Father and is present to forgive sin.

All of this can be done in your backyard, in your living room, in your favorite chair: the “Forgiven at Home” program.

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