The older we get, the more difficult it is to amaze us, to surprise us although the present political situation has amazed, surprised and sometimes confounded people as it unfolds.
However, we’re not talking about politics here, we’re talking about confession or the sacrament of reconciliation. This is the time of year parishes schedule penance services, round up the neighboring priests and publish a time in their bulletins and announce it at weekend liturgies. It’s SOP — standard operating procedure. By now the penance services have been completed, and we’re all waiting for the Triduum to begin tonight, Holy Thursday.
Although Lenten penance services are over, I have to mention one in particular that was way off the charts and far, far away from “standard.” The first inkling that this would be different surfaced when parishioners all received a letter inviting them to come to the service. That was certainly unusual but not unheard of.
When I pulled into the parking lot at St. Nicholas in O’Fallon — and I was early — I thought I had the time wrong and it had already started because the parking lot was at least half full, something I didn’t expect. The church appeared to be a little over half full as well. It soon became apparent, with people still coming in, that it would be full, and it turned out that about 500 people — estimates ranged from 400 to 600, so I’m trying to err on the side of caution — went because they wanted to go to confession. This was little short of incredible; forget surprise, it was way beyond that. What were all these people doing here? Evidently, most of them were going to confession. A moving service with prayers and singing led to the dispersal of 10 priests throughout the church who had come to assist. Long lines moved silently, prayerfully, bringing each person to a confessor.
I received another jolt when most of the people stayed for the concluding prayer and final song. As we know, some people choose to leave church after Communion, most probably with excellent reasons, but they leave, nonetheless. On this night, in this place, many people stayed at the service.
And they weren’t all from St. Nicholas. They came from St. Clare, from Corpus Christi from Holy Childhood, from many other spaces and places. It gave everyone a chance to see our awesome God at work. When God works through us, all things are possible, including gathering hundreds of people to receive a sacrament.
As the Triduum is upon us, we can surely appreciate the celebration of the Last Supper at the Holy Thursday liturgy where many presiders wash the feet of Christ’s disciples; we can participate in the solemn Good Friday service and rejoice at the Easter Vigils when people are baptized and welcomed into our churches. While it’s good to be Catholic, this is an especially good time to celebrate our faith. Happy Easter.