Queues for Confession on a Saturday night

A tent for Adoration in Leicester Square, central London (Photo: Mazur)

It is so easy, when you blog about Church affairs in relation to the world, to focus on what is wrong: either scandals within the Church or flamboyant examples of secularism outside it. We can get so caught up in this or that outrage to our Christian sensibilities that we forget the fundamental thing: Christ came to bring us the Good News. I capitalise these words to distinguish them from ordinary good news, like fine weather or a letter informing you that you have overpaid your tax (which I received this week).

Christianity is Good News because it is life-changing. We all mock those sandwich-board men (not so many of them around these days) who used to walk about the streets with the message “Repent and be saved”. But the message remains at the core of the Christian faith. True repentance changes your life, so that you become open to the love of Christ. I used to stumble over those words in the Gospel, “My yoke is easy and My burden light”: how on earth could this be true, given the palpable evidence of the Cross? It is true because faith (slowly) transforms us; our understanding, our hearts, our will, until the light of Christ pervades everything – including our crosses.

These thoughts were prompted by reading of an evangelising initiative last weekend in London. Called Spirit in the City, this festival of Christian faith was hosted by four Catholic churches in the heart of London: St Patrick’s, Soho Square, Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory, Corpus Christi and Notre Dame de France in Leicester Square. It began with Adoration and outreach, included a Marian street procession and culminated in an international Mass presided over by Archbishop Vincent Nichols. The purpose of this annual festival is “to share the good news of Christianity” with those of any faith or none. There is no mention of “liberals” or “traditionalists” in the Church, or good or bad bishops; what a tonic.

What struck me particularly was that, as the report says, “passers-by were given the chance to visit prayer and reconciliation tents for Adoration and Confession”. It seems a queue formed last Saturday night for Confession, due to demand. I wish I had been able to participate in the festival. Jogging along in the usual round can put one into a spiritual rut; events like “Spirit in the City” bring one back to basics: not the ill-fated “back to basics” campaign of John Major’s premiership, where no one knew what the phrase meant and people feared it might mean turning the clock back to an age of prejudice and repression. This was about worship, sorrow, adoration, repentance and rejoicing: spiritual basics – the big stuff.

I happened to read a blog yesterday that thought the Sacrament of Confession in the Catholic Church over-legalistic: that it was about the relative weight of mortal and venial sins and about negotiating the appropriate weight of the penances to be undergone. We Catholics can sometimes fall into such a mindset, forgetting that Confession is dead simple: going down on our knees because we are in the presence of our Saviour, Christ, and have (again) fallen short in love.

The festival included workshops about “Life’s purpose” and “Finding happiness”. Most people don’t have the faintest clue why they are alive or how to be truly happy. I hope the festival touched some confused minds and lonely hearts last weekend. Young Catholics were involved in the programme and in helping to evangelise tourists. Thank God for them – and for Fr Alexander Sherbrooke, parish priest of St Patrick’s. A priest from the West Country emailed me the other day; he had been to a talk given by Fr Alexander and wrote: “He is a very fine, humble, gifted priest – the Pope need look no further than Fr Alexander for a replacement for Bishop Budd when he retires.” I see I am moving from basics to bishops; I’ll stop here.