December 8, 2017
The following is my weekly letter to the Bishop Chatard HS parent community:
On Tuesday, we had twelve priests with us for our Advent penance service. Nearly 300 students took advantage of the opportunity to go to confession. The following is a message I have shared in the past. This year, I actually had tears in my eyes as I watched our penance service unfold…
I have been a part of many faith-based youth events over the years. There is still nothing I find as moving, or as powerful, as a high school penance service. Just peeking in the gym from the outside, it may not look like much – twelve priests sitting on folding chairs on the gym floor, students sitting in the bleachers, and music playing softly over the speakers. From inside of the gym, however, I have the honor of witnessing the beauty of what is really happening.
I see kids standing in line to go to confession. They want to set things right with God. Young people have so much baggage they drag around with them. They nervously stand in line, building up the confidence to drop that baggage at the feet of a priest and open up their hearts to the possibility of forgiveness and renewal.
Some flip through the “How to” pamphlets we’ve made available to them. They know it’s been a while since they’ve done this, and today is the day. They will walk out on that gym floor (in front of their peers), sit down with a priest, and share their story – their mistakes, limitations, and flaws. They will admit that they are sinners, that they are broken and in need of repair. Think of the courage it must take for a teenager to leave himself or herself so vulnerable.
From my position in the gym, I can see priests leaning in, intently listening to what the student has to share. I can see two or three priests at a time with their hand extended over the bowed head of a student as they offer the words of absolution. It is so awe-inspiring. The student then makes the sign of the cross and steps away from the chair. If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice a slight smile on the student’s face and a little more spring in his step. The courage it took to step forward has immediate results.
I am so grateful to witness this transformation. These kids have experienced God in a very intimate and personal way. The words we have posted all over our building truly come to life: You are loved. You have value. You are not alone.
Their hearts are full. My heart is full for them. My eyes are full of tears.
Has it been a while since your last confession? Advent is a great time to work toward a right relationship with God. Consider, as your son or daughter did, the possibility of a clean start. The courage it takes to step forward will have immediate results.