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What if we all went to confession?

Image by Peter H from Pixabay

A while back, my son Andrew got the idea to crunch a few numbers regarding ratio of priests to Catholics in the Diocese of Orange. According to the Diocese of Orange website, there are 1.6 million Catholics in the diocese and 270 priests, which comes to 5,925 Catholics for every one priest.

What does this mean in terms of the priests’ ability to administer the sacraments to the faithful? For example let’s consider the sacrament of confession. I have heard that spiritual directors typically recommend monthly confession for most people. (Of course, if one falls into mortal sin, one should not wait that long.) Father Matthew Spencer, whom I respect quite a bit, repeats that advice here. Father Edward McIlmail takes it up a notch, describing it as “praiseworthy” to seek confession every week.

If monthly confession should be our goal, what would happen if every Catholic in the Diocese of Orange were to actually start doing that, given the number of priests we have?

Now, those who stand in confession lines on a regular basis know that confession can take anywhere from one to 15 minutes (sometimes even longer than that), but let’s suppose that everyone became really efficient in making their confessions, and we were able to achieve an average time of 2 minutes per confession. With 1.6 million Catholics in our diocese, that comes to 53,333 hours of confession time every month, if I haven’t goofed up the math. With 270 priests in the diocese, that means each priest would have to spend about 197.5 hours per month hearing confessions, or 6 hours and 35 minutes per day.

Even if every Catholic in the Diocese only went to confession once a year, thereby fulfilling the bare minimum of the second precept of the Church, that would still mean that each priest would be hearing confessions for just over half an hour each day on average.

From what I have observed, most parishes offer confession for about an hour or so every Saturday, and maybe for another hour on one weeknight each week.

While it is easy to say that parishes ought to offer more confession times (and a few do), I also recognize that priests do lots of other things besides saying Mass (including daily, Sunday, wedding and funeral Masses), writing homilies and hearing confessions. I would imagine that in some ways running a parish is a bit like running a business, except that whether or not your business receives any money at all is largely up to the benevolence of the customers, who must be served either way.

My point is not to criticize parishes, but that these numbers ought to wake us up to the urgency of the vocational crisis. (Some say that it is not a crisis of vocations, but one of those vocations being answered. I will leave that topic for another day.) We have such a shortage of priests right now that, if Catholics were to all start actively practicing their faith, we couldn’t handle it. (Perhaps this is a good opportunity to plug the Serra Clubs of Orange County, whose mission is to support vocations through prayer and awareness.)

Finding morning confession times

I am always amused when a movie or TV show has a “confession scene” in which a penitent walks into a church after years of walking way from their faith and immediately finds a priest patiently waiting in a confessional, as if (a) you can just show up for confession at any time and a priest will be there waiting, and (b) there won’t be any line outside the confessional when you do. Actually, finding confession times to fit your schedule can sometimes be a challenge.

Most parishes have a designated weekly confession time either Saturday morning or Saturday afternoon, and many offer confession at least one evening during the week. The Norbetines offer confession weeknight at St. John the Baptist in Costa Mesa and at St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado.

However, if you prefer to go to confession on a weekday morning, finding an available time can be more of a challenge. Here are a handful of parishes I have found in the Diocese of Orange that offer weekly confession on weekday mornings:

St. Anne , Seal Beach — 8:30 to 8:50 a.m. Monday-Saturday
Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church, Anaheim — 8:30 to 9 a.m. Monday-Saturday
Saint Barbara — 8:45 to 9:15 a.m. Mondays
Korean Martyrs Catholic Center, Westminster — 8:30 a.m. Wednesdays
Our Lady of La Vang, Anaheim — 9 a.m. Thursdays
Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano — 7:30 a.m. Fridays.

Additionally, most parishes note that confession is also available by appointment.

(Side note: While Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church is physically within the boundaries of the Diocese of Orange, it is actually part of the Eparchy of Phoenix. Also, the form for confession is apparently quite different in the Byzantine rite.)

A couple of parishes also have morning confession times once a month, on or before the First Friday:

St. Norbert, Orange — 9:15 a.m. every First Friday
Holy Family Catholic Church, Seal Beach — 9:15 a.m. every First Friday
St. Bonaventure, Huntington Beach — 9:15 a.m. every Thursday before First Friday

Feel free to let me know if I’ve missed any parishes in the diocese with additional weekday morning confession times, or if any of the above information has changed. I initially used to find these confession times but double-checked them on each parish’s website.

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Be PERFECT? Can’t I just be pretty good?

I’ve been trying to spend more time reading the Bible lately and have been noticing that various passages — often passages that I’ve heard many times over the years — will just jump out at me with new meaning. For example, in Leviticus, we read, “You shall make and keep yourselves holy, because I am holy.” (Lv 11:44) Jesus reiterates this in Matthew, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Perfection is a pretty high standard. I know I’m not there, and I don’t see myself getting there any time soon. I can imagine the response Jesus would get if he were to appear on a modern-day talk show and say those same words:

“Oh, come on! You don’t really expect people to be perfect do you? Isn’t it enough that they try their best?”

“Aren’t you concerned that you’ll make people feel guilty when they can’t live up to this standard? Isn’t this a form of imperfection-shaming?”

“Don’t you think this will alienate imperfect people?”

“Why do they need to be perfect if God loves them no matter what?”

“Who’s version of perfect do you mean, anyway?”

While this verse sets a bar that none of us can achieve on our own, the beauty of it is that it doesn’t lower the bar. It challenges us to try to rise up to it until we can reach it. To the extent that we fail, we rely on God’s love and mercy to take us the rest of the way. Nevertheless, spiritual perfection is to be our aim, and our lives a constant journey in that direction. We don’t measure ourselves against the standards of our time, the sins of others or the sins we could have committed but didn’t, but against the standard of perfection.

This verse also implies that, to the extent we are imperfect, it by our own choice. (“Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault!”) There would have been no point in telling us to be something we can’t be. Jesus doesn’t ask us to be perfect students or perfect business managers or perfect drivers, but he commands us to aspire to the spiritual perfection of our Father. We must detach ourselves from whatever imperfections come between us and God and be willing to let the Holy Spirit perfect us.

It is worth noting that the statement is not, “Aspire to perfection.” It is, “Be perfect.” Here in this present moment, we are called to perfection, to turn away from all that is sinful, all that is not of God, and turn back to holiness. What is holding us back in this moment? What graces do we need to ask for and receive? What temptations are holding us back?

Moreover, this verse reminds us that there really is a standard of perfection toward which we can strive. Perfection is not a moving target; it is we who move in relation to that target. We might get closer in one way but further away in another, the bull’s-eye of the target remains in the same spot. We are not told, “Be perfect, as you define perfection for yourself,” but, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It is God’s standard of perfection that matters; not ours.

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