Eastpointe — Come to the confessional, there is nothing to fear.
That’s one of the many messages of Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron’s pastoral letter, “Unleash the Gospel,” one year removed from Synod 16.
During the buildup to the watershed archdiocesan gathering of parishes last year, praise and worship services coupled with increased confession times and Eucharistic adoration were offered to prepare people to receive the Holy Spirit.
Now, the archbishop is calling on pastors to continue offering greater access to the sacrament of reconciliation as necessary fuel for the evangelizers of the Church.
Inspired by the archbishop’s pastoral letter, Fr. Eric Fedewa, recently installed as administrator of St. Basil the Great Parish in Eastpointe, started offering confessions a half hour before daily Masses.
“Offering confessions before Mass was something I appreciated when I was a seminarian,” Fr. Fedewa told The Michigan Catholic. “It allows parishioners and anyone in the area know when the sacrament was available.”
Fr. Fedewa introduced himself to the St. Basil community in the Nov. 19 parish bulletin, when he outlined a plan to hear confessions before daily Mass in addition to 3 p.m. on Saturdays.
“Whenever I stayed with my parents when I was home from the seminary, I found it very helpful to know I could go to confession before daily Mass at some parishes close by,” Fr. Fedewa said. “While the sacrament of penance is absolutely necessary for a Catholic to be absolved from mortal sin, it’s also central to growing in holiness as we receive an increase of sanctifying grace each time we frequent the sacrament.”
Fr. Fedewa added that reminding parishioners time to time when confession is offered, especially when it is offered right before Mass, makes it easier for people to take advantage of the sacrament.
“Jesus doesn’t want us to be carrying (sin) around,” Fr. Fedewa said. “I like to remind people that I try to go twice a month. When people realize the priest goes frequently, they are more likely to go.”
At St. Joan of Arc Parish in St. Clair Shores, it’s common to see three or four priests hearing confessions at 11 a.m. Saturdays, in addition to private appointments.
“We haven’t talked about expanding our times, but I’m amazed how many come through the line when you have three or four priests hearing confessions for an hour or two hours,” said Msgr. Michael Bugarin, the parish’s pastor.
Msgr. Bugarin said the parish has really taken “Unleash the Gospel” to heart, specifically relying on the sacrament of reconciliation to bolster the parish’s evangelization efforts.
“The Holy Spirit is doing some amazing things in light of the synod and ‘Unleash the Gospel,’” Msgr. Bugarin said. “We tell people to not be afraid and come experience the Lord’s mercy. If you don’t know how to start, just let us know; it’s what we’re here for.”
Msgr. Bugarin said the pastoral letter highlights the importance of confession availability because the sacramental grace that comes from confession makes people better missionaries.
“I think the whole concept of evangelization is all an effort to help people grow in relationship to Jesus,” Msgr. Bugarin said. “The opportunities for confessions help us realize how much Jesus loves us. It helps us deepen our relationship, which is the ultimate goal in everything we’re doing in ‘Unleash the Gospel.’”
Msgr. Bugarin said it’s important for parishes to constantly stress the need for confession as a way to unlock sacramental graces.
“I think if you offer confessions regularly, people will come,” Msgr. Bugarin said. “I’m grateful for parishes that have confession before Mass. But at our parish, Saturday seems to be prime time for people, so pastors have to come up with something that is the local custom, the local reality.”
Further up Interstate 94, Fr. Giulio Schiavi, PIME, a senior priest at San Francesco Parish in Clinton Township, offers confession 30 minutes before and after the Saturday and Sunday Masses, or any time a person in the area visits the parish.
“We’re available any time to hear a confession,” Fr. Schiavi said. “Usually, people call ahead to schedule an appointment, but we’re here before and after Mass to hear confessions. Almost every day we have someone coming, and almost every day a priest is available.”
For most priests, hearing confession is a special privilege to offer Jesus’ mercy to someone in need of it. Fr. Fedewa said it is a highlight for a priest’s day when a penitent who hasn’t been to the confessional in 20 or 30 years comes, asking for the priest’s guidance in making a confession.
“Some of the most joyous confessions I’ve heard are from people who haven’t gone in decades,” Fr. Fedewa said. “The big thing for people to know, when going to the confessional, is the priest is going in thinking you’re genuinely sorry for your sins. They know you are sorry, so they aren’t going to give you a hard time.”
While Archbishop Vigneron’s letter calls for parishes to offer “radical availability” of the sacrament, Fr. Fedewa said the best way to get people to go to confession could be the witness of the laity.
“A lot of people go to confession when they have friends who go,” Fr. Fedewa said. “The laity have a big influence through public witness. It’s never pleasant to say you have done something wrong, but the priest isn’t there to chastise you. So don’t be afraid of it. The fact (that) people go on a regular basis shows it’s not something you need to put off. Jesus knows you’ll never be perfect; that’s why he’s given us this sacrament.”