The Light is ON for You Again!

This Lenten season marks the tenth year of a special kind of homecoming in the Church of Washington – “The Light Is ON for You” campaign, which invites people to come home to any Catholic church on Wednesday evenings during this time of spiritual preparation to receive God’s love and mercy in the sacrament of Confession. The invitation is once again offered this year as we enter this important liturgical season.

We launch this pastoral initiative during Lent, the forty-day season before Easter, because that is a time traditionally associated with penance and conversion of heart. We choose our theme because we wanted to suggest a homecoming. “Leaving the light on” at home is what family members do for one another.

We have another good reason for choosing our theme. The light on the confessional is the customary sign that a penitent may enter. Our goal is simple: we want to extend a simple invitation to people to go to Confession – to let them know it is available and convenient – and to assure them that they will be lovingly received into their spiritual home.

The sacrament of Reconciliation is the story of God’s love that never turns away from us. We can always come home to God, and to the Church, even if we have been away for a long time – and even if we have been there all along but still feel the need to find new life in Christ through this sacramental moment of healing and hope.

In announcing the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis emphasized that “mercy will always be greater than any sin, and no one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive” (Misericordiae Vultus, 3). Furthermore, this gift of divine mercy renews and transforms people’s hearts and lives. Renewed, refreshed and reconciled in this sacrament, we who have sinned become a new creation. “Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope” (Id., 10).

The Church believes in the forgiveness of sins. Not only did Jesus die to wash away all sin and not only in his public life did he forgive sin, but after his resurrection Jesus also extended to his Church the power to apply the redemption won on the Cross and the authority to forgive sin.

In the sacrament of Penance we meet Christ in his Church ready and eager to absolve and restore us to new life and in the last ten years, people have more and more been accepting this invitation. “So many people, including young people, are returning to the Sacrament of Reconciliation,” notes Pope Francis, and “through this experience they are rediscovering a path back to the Lord, living a moment of intense prayer and finding meaning in their lives. Let us place the Sacrament of Reconciliation at the center once more in such a way that it will enable people to touch the grandeur of God’s mercy with their own hands. For every penitent, it will be a source of true interior peace” (Id., 17).

While God never hesitates to forgive, sometimes we might hesitate out of embarrassment or some other reason to approach him and seek forgiveness. But no one should let any anxiety about openly confessing their failures keep them from taking advantage of this blessing and grace. The confessional is not a place of condemnation, but healing. Priests hearing confessions “are called to embrace the repentant son who comes back home and to express the joy of having him back again,” affirms Pope Francis. They “are called to be a sign of the primacy of mercy always, everywhere, and in every situation, no matter what” (Id., 17).

During Lent this past decade, countless numbers of people have gone to Confession at churches along city streets, in suburban neighborhoods and in the rural countryside. One pastor noted that through that simple invitation, knowing that the light was on for them, “their hearts had been touched. In the voice of the Church, they heard the voice of the Father himself saying, ‘Come back home.’ And they came!”

Those who do seek this sacramental mercy come out of the confessional saying that they feel like a great burden has been lifted from them. And the longer they have been away, the heavier that burden was. What a joyous relief it is. Now, and particularly in this Jubilee of Mercy, we are encouraged to invite our family members and friends to “come home” as well to receive this sacrament of healing.

The most important blessing of “The Light Is ON for You” campaign is the spiritual healing and sacramental forgiveness of so many people across the archdiocese. The light in our churches is a beacon of hope to people, inviting them to come home to the Father’s love and mercy. In this Year of Mercy, this Lenten campaign reminds us there is still time to return to the Lord, who makes all things new.