Listen to the show:
Today’s host(s): Scot Landry
Today’s guest(s): Bishop Robert F. Hennessey, Auxiliary Bishop of Boston for the Central Region and Fr. David Barnes, Pastor of St. Mary, Star of the Sea, Parish in Beverly, MA
Links from today’s show:
- Fr. David Barnes’ blog
- The Light Is On For You
- St. Mary, Star of the Sea, Parish
Today’s topics: Confession and Preparing for Christmas
Summary of today’s show: Bishop Robert F. Hennessey and Fr. David Barnes discuss with Scot Landry the importance of Confession as a spiritual preparation for Christmas and on this Wednesday, the Archdiocese’s The Light Is On For You program makes every church and chapel available for Confessions that evening. Many of the myths and misconceptions of Confession are debunked and the wonderful spiritual benefits are revealed. Also, other ways to use this last week of Advent to make the best preparation for Christmas and the Incarnation of Christ.
1st segment: Scot said we hear a lot in Advent to prepare the way of the Lord. One good way to do that is to make a good holy confession between now and christmas. This Wednesday, every church and chapel in the Archdiocese will be open from 6:30pm to 8pm as part of The Light Is On For You.
The recalled the anniversary of Bishop Hennessey’s ordination to the episcopate on last Monday, December 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He’s been a bishop for five years. Scot said he meets many people as a bishop, but only sees them once. Bishop Hennessey said as a bishop you don’t have the same relationship with people as you did when you were a pastor. He loves going out to the parishes and doing confirmations, but he does miss life in a parish.
Fr. David was the youngest pastor in the Archdiocese when he became pastor of St. Mary Star of the Sea and he was parochial vicar before that and has been there 12 years. Bishop Hennessy said when he was pastor at Most Holy Redeemer in East Boston, he did more than 400 baptism a year and he still has people come up to him and say he baptized them. He said East Boston has been a gateway for newly arriving immigrants. Fr. David said he does about 75 in his own very large parish.
Scot said Cardinal Seán launched The Light Is On For You during Lent 2010. It is occurring just one Wednesday this Advent on Wednesday, December 21. Bishop Hennessey said a lot of priests said during Advent that they would spend a lot of time preparing people for the new missal and wouldn’t have as much time preaching on confession, plus one of the Wednesday’s would be the vigil of the Immaculate Conception.
Scot encouraged listeners to go to TheLightIsOnForYou.org for resources on preparing for confession. He asked how Fr. David was encouraging people to come to confession. He said he preaches about confession quite a bit and blogs on it and writes in the parish bulletin. The kids at the parish school have also gone to confession and hopefully they’re encouraging their parents. He said the more you talk about it and offer it, the more people will come to it. He notices that most of the people who come to confession to him now are under 40. The more you offer it and the more people know you’re waiting, the more they will come. He said for a long time people thought you didn’t need to come anymore.
Bishop Hennessey said he remembers in the second grade, Sr. Marie Patrick asking them why Jesus came as a little baby. She said he did so because nobody is afraid of a baby. During Advent, people who say they are afraid to go to confession, that God won’t forgive them, it’s important to remember that God doesn’t want us to fear him. Scot said we often picture God as a strong judgmental father, but Scot likes to remember the father of the prodigal son who races out to embrace his son and has a celebration to welcome the son home. It’s the priest’s role to be that loving father.
Fr. David said in the parables Jesus said there is more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over 99 who don’t need to repentant. Bishop hennessey said when we stand before God, it’s natural to be afraid, like Mary before Gabriel and the shepherds before the choir of angels, but Jesus came into the world to save us, not condemn us.
Scot said sometimes people forget the prayers and feel like they don’t know how to go to confession, but all priests are willing to help someone through the process. Fr. David said that it’s music to their ears because that’s the person who needs to go the most. Scot said some people might be embarrassed by their sins and voicing their sins is intimidating. Bishop Hennessey said the success of The Light Is On For You is that people can go anywhere and not be recognized. Scot said he also likes the anonymity of the confessional box. He likes that he doesn’t have to look someone in the eye so he can pray with his eyes closed.
Fr. David said it’s nice for people to see others also going to confession at the same time of all sorts and walks of life. Bishop Hennessey said a priest doesn’t want to yell at someone and drive them away. Regarding sins that people think are too big, Bishop Hennessey said it is impossible for us to commit a sin God can’t forgive.
For people who think they will confess something that will shock the priest, Fr. David said anyone who’s been a priest more than a week can’t be shocked. The confessional is not a place of punishment; it’s a place to receive the peace and love of Christ. Bishop Hennessey said when someone says it’s been a long time, the priest thinks that’s music to his ears. It’s a great thing to experience.
Bishop Hennessey said when they started the program a couple of priests were reluctant to do it, but after Lent they called him and said it was worth it because they had heard confessions of people who had been away for a long time.
Scot said having heard many thousands of confessions in his life for Bishop Hennessy to be a witness to the grace must be one of the joys of the priesthood. Fr. David said it’s a privilege. He said the best thing is a long line of confessions. It’s exhausting, but this is what being a priest is all about. Bishop Hennessey said when he gives a penance and they say “Is that all?”, he explains no penance can pay back the debt of the sin, we can’t make up for our sins. But it is an act that says we are willing to try to make some reparation and to start off on the right path.
2nd segment: Scot said Fr. David wrote about the Sacrament of Confession on his blog last Wednesday and one passage struck him:
If you are particularly embarrassed about some sin or another, just say it. Usually, sins of the flesh are the ones that are most embarrassing. What is so amazing is how these sins appear to exercise such power over a person and then, the moment a person confesses them, they realize that the power of these sins evaporates. Sexual sins embarrass people into not confessing. But confessing these sins deprives the sins of all of their imaginary power. To this end, let me say that the priest hearing confessions has heard the words, “adultery, fornication, homosexual activity, pornography, and masturbation” before. Unless you happen to be the first person ever to go to confession to that priest, you are not going to tell him anything he hasn’t already heard many times.
What struck Scot about this is the power that some sins have over because we feel shame and guilt and we’re not willing to ask forgiveness, even if it’s a sin that keeps rearing its ugly head with us. Fr. David said he thinks it’s St. John Vianney who said first the Devil comes and whispers in one ear that this sin isn’t the biggest deal in the world so don’t worry, then whispers in the other ear, now yo’ve done and God will never forgive you.
Scot said Fr. Larry Richards often says to men that they should just say “I’ve been impure with…” and every priest will know what you mean. But the grace you will feel and forgiveness will be multiples of grace over the embarrassment. Bishop Hennessey said a lot of healing comes when you can just voice the sins. That’s when people feel that great sense of relief.
Scot quoted Fr. David’s blog: “Remember, priests go to confession too. We know what it is like to be on the other side of the screen.” Fr. David said the priest is the first to need God’s mercy and to be a good minister of mercy he must go to confession too. He says people are often surprised to hear that priests need to go to confession.
Bishop Hennessey suggests people go to confession at least once per month. He recalls a retired priest kneeling down next to a young priest going to confession and it was a beautiful image. Scot said his friend Andreas Widmer tells the story of a priest who had fallen on hard times in Rome and became homeless. A priest going into an audience with Pope John Paul II noticed the homeless priest on the streets outside the Vatican and so he told the Holy Father about it. After the audience the Holy Father sought out the homeless priest and had him brought to dinner and at the end of dinner, the Holy Father knelt before the homeless priest and asked him to hear his confession.
Bishop Hennessey said a former cardinal of New York would mention going to confession the previous week in almost every homily. When priests remind the people in the pew that priests go to confession, it’s good for them. Fr. David said the present archbishop of New York says he slips into a pew at a random church in New York for confession.
Scot said every time he goes to confession at St. Anthony Shrine in downtown Boston, he sees a priest waiting already. Scot tends to go at 6:30am at St. Anthony’s. It’s moving to him that Archbishop Dolan might show up at any church in New York to ask a priest to hear his confession. Bishop Hennessey said there used to be a chapel just for priests to go to confession.
Fr. David also wrote: “After you’ve confessed all of your sins, let the priest know that you are done. A lot of people say something like, “For these and for all of my sins, I am truly sorry.” This helps the priest to know that you have finished confessing.” Scot said he never realized how important this is. Fr. David said often people are holding the hardest sin until the end and he doesn’t want to cut them off. Scot said he likes to get the big one out of the way first.
Fr. David said people who have been involved with an abortion carry that burden with them for decades. Sometimes they go on living a Catholic on appearances only because they’re so ashamed and bothered by the sin. He wants them to know that they should never be afraid. He said you almost always know immediately when someone is coming to confess that sin. Bishop Hennessey said the father of the prodigal son was waiting for his son and Jesus is waiting for people to give them that forgiveness.
Scot emphasized that to find a parish in the Archdiocese, go to PilotParishFinder.com.
3rd segment: Scot said Bishop Hennessey said he came to the show today in order to tell his Christmas story. He was told a story of girl going home to tell her grandmother that she was in the Christmas pageant. She said she was going to be the star, she would have the most important role. So the grandma told her friends to come see her granddaughter be Mary. But during the pageant, the granddaughter was nowhere to be seen until the star came in wordlessly to lead the shepherds to the manger and then came back to bring in the magi. It turns out she was literally the star of the pageant. The little girl told her grandmother that it was the most important role because she brought everyone to the baby Jesus.
Scot said this week is the easiest week to invite people to come back to the Church. Be one of the people that rejoices at the the full pews and that you can’t get your regular pew because so many people are there. Bishop Hennessey said he was just a meeting that told him that in the Central Region Mass attendance is going up.
Scot about other ways to prepare for Christmas in the last few days of Advent. Bishop Hennessey said it aggravates him to see new stories of people shopping on Christmas Eve as if they didn’t know Christmas was coming. If we’re not ready when we know the day and time, how will we be ready when we don’t know the day and time, either of our own death or the second coming of Christ. He said we tend to wait until the last minute. We can make last preparations this week, but to take a real look at ourselves and not kid ourselves. We need to make ourselves ready.
Fr. David said they just set up the rather large nativity set in his parish and you inevitably hear the question of where is Jesus. He said he reflects that without Christ the manger is empty. Now matter how much stuff we have in our life, no matter how many relationships, if Christ isn’t there, it is a great emptiness.
Bishop Hennessey said in all that preparation, on Christmas God wants to give us a gift, His Son. He pictures the Blessed Mother herself saying, “I have him right here in my arms for you.” He’s seen so much charity over the past few weeks, but with all the gifts we want to give to others, and God wants to give us his son.
Fr. David said we are born with a great desire for happiness. God tells us his son is the answer to that desire, but everything is competing for that. Stores spend months telling us if we buy these as gifts, we’ll be happy, but the lie is exposed when on the day after Christmas the sales start because we’re still not happy.
Scot asked people to create a list this week of things that will help us to grow closer to Christ this Christmas. He advised people to reflect on the Gospels of the nativity narratives this week before Mass. Christmas isn’t just about gifts and isn’t just about family or even about the birth of a baby. That baby is God himself.
Bishop Hennessey said on the top of that list is to go to Confession this Wednesday at any parish or chapel.
Scot asked Fr. David if they always do confessions at the school before Christmas. He said they do it before Christmas and Easter. He said it’s so important because he wants the kids to remember the rest of their lives that they can go to confession when they commit sin. They will also remember that the priests didn’t yell at them, but offered only forgiveness.
Bishop Hennessey will be at St. Peter’s in South Boston at the vigil on Christmas. He will be at the cloistered convent at Midnight Mass. Fr. David said he will have Masses at St. Mary’s and St. Margaret’s in Beverly Farms.