Turn the light off...on the "Light is on For You" Campaign.

When I was in graduate school I attended Our Lady of Grace Parish in Chelsea, MA and on Good Friday the priest (who is amazing BTW) preached a homily of reconciliation.  The theme was this: On behalf of the church I am sorry for all the wounding, all the hurting, and all the crucifying we have done to you- the people of God.

It was amazing. A priest (in the Archdiocese of Boston no-less) stood before the people of God and owned a tiny portion of the pain the church has caused.  It was remarkable and beautiful and now years later I hold onto that homily and that apology as a source of tremendous hope.  That experience stands in contrast to so many other experiences I have with the church.

So you might not know this but Archdioceses and Dioceses (regions that organize the church) have this campaign this lent called 'The Light is on for YOU'.  Each diocese is doing it differently but the gist is this, on Fridays during Lent (the 40 days before Easter) former Catholics (who are called non practicing by the RC Church) are asked to return to a Catholic Church and receive the sacrament of Penance (also known as confession/reconciliation).

I think that a tremendous amount of Catholics walk around with a sense of shame.  Sexual shame, social shame...whatever it is shame and guilt go hand in hand.    One of the things, that often inspires people to be done with the Catholic Church, or done with Christianity altogether, is that they realize that this shame is bullshit. They hopefully learn to claim their own dignity and their own journey and hopefully they realize that God is bigger than guilt and shame and that God is bigger than any church's set of rules or regulations.

Sometimes they do realize this, sometimes they don't.  But for a lot of Catholics shame and the sacrament of penance go hand in hand.  Thus, this campaign to bring back former Catholics through this sacrament seems incredibly foolish (at best) and incredibly righteous.

The Theology of the campaign isn't so bad.  They are talking about God's mercy.  Their is NOT a tone of condescension, the invitation is ultimately about encountering God. My issue with it is actually pastoral.  Because, no matter what they say in a youtube video or on a website most people aren't going to get that far.  Most former Catholics if they hear about it will roll their eyes and move on...

So what exactly are my concerns:

1. The Sacrament of Reconcilation is intensely clerical.

Going to a priest, saying your sins, and then He offers the words the confer God's grace. That's a lot of power for a priest.  Inviting people back into the church starts with responding to the clericalism that has wounded hundreds-of-thousands of people.

2.  The Sacrament of Reconcilation is creepy

In actual practice reconciliation can be very lovely. I have my students do it all the time and it isn't creepy.

But the Catholic imagination is built on the creepiness of the sacrament of reconciliation.  I received the first sacrament in 1989 or something like that and I went into a dark room, looking onto a silhouette of a priest (who was a deeply good man)  and told him some weird 2nd grader sins.  It was dark, scary, and I was afraid to do that right thing.  I don't know about you but I start thinking Angela's Ashes and think about all the teenage boys who are feeling so bad for masturbating and then go into a dark box and confess their guilt...It seems creepy not liberating.

3. They left being Catholic for a reason, and the implication is that the RC decided their reasons were sin.

Somehow I don't think the divorced woman things that choosing to be with a man who treated her well things that was so wrong? I don't think the woman who was drowning in her 4 children and decided to use birth control is fully clear that was a sin.  I don't think the gay man who tried to very hard to become straight has decided that he didn't try hard enough.

So those are my thoughts. I think that if I sat in front of my blog all day I could come up with a couple other points about why this seems so wrong to me, but what do you readers thing about this campaign (non-Catholics welcome to respond!).

So like Father Jim did a handful of years ago on Good Friday, I propose to you Church leaders (who never read my blog) Instead of telling us that we need to confess, why don't you offer us a space to consider the places that the church needs to confess.

Here is information from the Archdiocese of Seattle.

Leave the light on from the USCCB (the national Bishop club)

And here is a pretty uninteresting video about it...

+Finally, I have to say it before someone rips me a new one, of course their are sins to be confessed and reconciliation is needed. Having a formal way to encounter God's mercy is needed.  But really, the pastoral issues are huge when we talk about our former Catholic brothers and sisters.


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