Last June Pope Benedict began the Year for Priests on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart. He sent out a letter to all priests encouraging them to be always available for Confessions. He recognized that there is and has been a lack of use of this Sacrament by the faithful. He pointed out that, during the time of St. John Mary Vianney (1786-1859, France), the situation was the same. Yet, after a while St. John was able to get the faithful to regular Confessions.
Those going to Confession were people not only from his parish in Ars but also people from all over France. He would spend up to 16 hours a day hearing confessions. Here are some of the facts that the Holy Father wrote:
"... He (St. John Vianney) sought in every way, by his preaching and his powers of persuasion, to help his parishioners to rediscover the meaning and beauty of the Sacrament of Penance, presenting it as an inherent demand of the Eucharistic presence.
"It is not the sinner who returns to God to beg his forgiveness, but God himself who runs after the sinner and makes him return to him." The Holy Father urged priests to learn from St. John Mary Vianney to "put our unfailing trust in the Sacrament of Penance, to set it once more at the center of our pastoral concerns, and to take up the 'dialogue of salvation,' which it entails.
"...those who came to his confessional drawn by a deep and humble longing for God's forgiveness found in him the encouragement to plunge into the 'flood of divine mercy' which sweeps everything away by its vehemence.
"He awakened repentance in the hearts of the lukewarm by forcing them to see God's own pain at their sins reflected in the face of the priest who was their confessor.
"In his time the Cure of Ars was able to transform the hearts and the lives of so many people because he enabled them to experience the Lord's merciful love.”
Pope Benedict also noted that St. John Vianney would give light penances and he himself would make up the rest of the penance in their place. He so desired to make Confession as easy as possible for everyone. The Sacrament of Penance (Reconciliation) is essential for healthy souls and, in the case of serious sins, for salvation.
Your Advent folder has a good examination of conscience. At St. Michael’s we have Confessions everyday—even on Sundays. So, let us make good use of this Sacrament of God’s mercy not just now before Christmas, but often throughout the year.