The Day of Penance is still several weeks away, but pastoral leaders already have spent several weeks preparing their parishioners for the March 26 diocesanwide event. That day, priests will be available to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation in every parish in the Diocese of Rochester between the hours of 12:30 and 7:30 p.m.
"The key to the success of this event is to give plenty of lead time and reteach those who haven’t gone to confession in a long time," noted Deacon Gary DiLallo, pastoral administrator of Ss. Mary and Martha Parish in Auburn.
Deacon DiLallo started preparing his parishioners for the Day of Penance in January by preaching and writing bulletin columns about the importance of regularly going to confession. In his Jan. 20 bulletin column, Deacon DiLallo explained what a Catholic who hasn’t celebrated the sacrament in a long time should say when he or she does meet with a priest for confession.
"Please don’t be afraid. It is very simple, and it is a great moment of grace," he wrote.
Celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation can be among the most blessed of human experiences, Deacon DiLallo said, yet many Catholics don’t take advantage of this opportunity as often as they should. Some are unsure of how to go about confessing their sins, while others are ashamed of their sins or have had negative experiences with the sacrament in the past. But he noted that education about the sacrament can help people overcome all of these obstacles.
Father Ed Palumbos, pastor of Church of the Assumption in Fairport, and Father Frank Lioi, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Auburn, also have published series of bulletin articles alerting parishioners to the upcoming Day of Penance and familiarizing them with the sacrament.
Father Lioi preached about the sacrament and the March 26 event several times during the month of February. Assumption parishioners, meanwhile, received copies of Matthew Kelly’s book, Rediscover Catholicism. The book includes a chapter on confession, which Kelly describes as one of the seven pillars of Catholic spirituality. Parishioners are reading the book on their own, and the parish will offer several opportunities during Lent for them to gather and discuss what they’ve read, Father Palumbos said.
Like many pastors, Father Stephen Karani, pastor of Holy Family Catholic Community in the Southern Tier, recently has preached about the sacrament of penance and placed signs advertising the Day of Penance outside his parish’s worship sites. The staff at Holy Family also has taken to the Internet, directing parishioners to various websites, social-media sites and YouTube videos that contain helpful information about reconciliation, Father Karani said.
Peace of Christ Parish in Rochester is making sure all of its registered parishioners are aware of the Day of Penance by including information about the event in the Holy Week schedule it mails out each year, said Father Robert Schrader, pastor. Peace of Christ also is spreading the word outside the parish by placing an advertisement about the Day of Penance in one of the local newspapers. Father Schrader hopes those measures will encourage many Catholics to participate in the event, and noted that the parish will provide ample assistance to those who are uncertain about how to receive the sacrament.
"Printed aids will be available in church on March 26 to assist those who may not have received the sacrament in a long time, and members of our pastoral staff will be present in church to assist anyone who may wonder where to go or how to proceed," Father Schrader said. "A further suggestion we may try to convey … is to remember that this is not a time for prolonged spiritual direction, but rather a time to simply confess the number and nature of their sins and receive absolution."
However, anyone who would like to engage in spiritual direction or in lengthy discussions about spiritual questions is always welcome to call the parish office and set up an appointment to do so, he said. Catholics who are concerned about potentially waiting in long lines during the Day of Penance do not have to wait until March 26 to receive the sacrament of reconciliation, he added, noting that Peace of Christ offers the sacrament three times each weekend.
Father Schrader said he does hope to see quite a few people ready to receive the sacrament on the Day of Penance, however.
"It’s a great idea to return to the sacrament of reconciliation and to receive a fresh start and to let the grace of healing begin," Deacon DiLallo added.