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Repetita Iuvant

I am now reading St Alphonsus Liguori’s Meditations Suitable For All Times.

The saintly man had a way of writing that is very intimate and familiar; it is like a friend talking to you. There is a warmth in his writing that is not easy to convey unless it is in the writer’s heart first. However, one trait of St Alphonsus immediately attracts attention: he is very, and wilfully, repetitive.

At the beginning, this may seem a bit disconcerting, with the same concept (the necessity to repent and convert now rather than waiting or hoping that one will get a chance of final repentance later) constantly hammered in basically every second page.

It might seem too much; but after a couple of hours of reading, one understands the logic behind it.

I read an exhortation to repentance now, and I may find it useful or well-written. In order to make a lasting impression, it will need to be crafted excellently. It might well be forgotten after a while.

The Saint’s constant exhortations do not work in this way. Being written always in different ways, but always repeating the same concept, the basic message etches itself in the reader’s consciousness surely and effortlessly. It’s basically unavoidable that the message “gets in”, whilst avoiding the boredom because the writing style is, actually, varied. The “Meditations” all have a different starting point – which is the object of the real meditation – but they all come, invariably, back to the same concept: get your house in order now, because you could drop dead before dinner time. After a while, one gets in the rhythm and understands, or embraces, the underlying message and the author’s unusual writing style. And no: it’s never boring. This is a saintly man pouring out in a beautiful language the love for Christ he has in his heart, not a V II priests rehashing common places about the “joy of Christ”.

This also makes the meditations useful if read in very little pills. Whilst I don’t think many people read them one at a time, they could actually be read in this way, at perhaps two or three minutes each, perhaps whilst waiting for the bus, or for the coffee to cool down a bit.

Repetita iuvant.

St Alphonsus, who was clearly a smart guy, knew it and put the principle into action.

Confession Time

Confession expert: St Alfonso Liguori

There is a very interesting article about confession on the “New Theological Movement” blog . The article gives the “layman” some idea of the difficulties every confessor must face, difficulties that we are perhaps not entirely aware of.

At the same time, the author of the article tries to strike a balance between the need for spiritual direction and the need to not let people wait in vain for a confession. This last problem strikes me as a rather  rare one,  as in my experience the priest who hasn’t the time to hear all the people who want to be confessed by him is doing things extremely well (Padre Pio, St. Philip Neri, St. John Vianney come to mind) or, more probably, very badly. Generally, confession lines are very short; which would indicate that, in case of problems, confession times are even shorter.

What I notice is that in many churches here in the UK confession time is limited to 30 minutes a week, one hour at the maximum. This creates in my eyes a vicious circle in which the limited possibility to go to confession will reduce the number of those seeking it – bear in mind that most Catholics do not think very clearly about that and will take every excuse to postpone – and, more strikingly, send the message that confession is not such a big deal after all, which will again act as a further deterrent to confession. The result will be fewer people queuing at the confessional, and perhaps the decision of the priest to further reduce confession time because…. no one’s there.

In my eyes, the time management problems mentioned in the article would be solved if the priest would act as follows:

1) stress from the pulpit the need for confession

2) make confession easily available.

Some priest might say that he is, in fact, always available for confession, but this seems to me a very disingenuous statement and, actually, one of the clearest signs of a mediocre priest. A priest who has already shouted to the world (through his confession times) that he can’t dedicate more than 30 minutes a week to confession is not exactly encouraging the faithful to knock at his door trying to get one. This reminds me of those company bosses saying “my door is always open”.

Similarly, a priest claiming that he hasn’t time to hear confessions because of his various social engagement, parish committees etc. would be well advised to rearrange his priorities starting from the fact that he is a priest first, and a social worker fifth, or seventh.

Looking at today’s UK, I can’t avoid thinking that the confession problem is largely a priestly creation, originated through: a) lack of encouragement to go to confession during the homily; b) short and “strange” confession times (eg. 30 minutes, and then the confessor has to go to celebrate Mass); c) priests often showing up late for confession time, so the 30 minutes are rather 25; d) in the sum of all this, the unspoken message that confession is not really so important.

If there was the habit – or perhaps, the obligation – for priests to dedicate more time to confession (say: at least two hours a week, divided in at least three days during the week, of which at least one suitably late after working hours) and the correspondent encouragement, frequently repeated, to go to confession, I think things would change rather rapidly. I may be too optimistic here, but I think that the biggest problem is not one of lack of will, but lack of encouragement. The sheep are not very intelligent animals, or particularly active. They must be encouraged and guided frequently, perhaps with a bit of a rod and staff here and there; but then they react, and go in the desired direction.

Let me conclude this with a short message to those among my readers who might be thinking about conversion, or thinking to come back to the sacraments, but are scared to present themselves in front of the confessor, fearing that he will skin them alive. Every practising Catholic will confirm to you that this is very, very unlikely to be the case. Even most priest who are lions from the pulpits are lambs in the confessional. If you go there with the right spirit, you’ll be absolutely fine and will get out of the confessional enriched by a beautiful spiritual experience, and wondering what the worries were all about.


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