Patrick Archbold is co-founder of Creative Minority Report, a Catholic website that puts a refreshing spin on the intersection of religion, culture, and politics. When not writing, Patrick is director of information technology at a large international logistics company in New York.
Have you given any thought to the economics of mercy?
The approach of Divine Mercy Sunday troubles me. What good is mercy if it is hardly ever available? The quality of mercy is certainly strained by the stinginess by which it is often granted.
As Catholics, we naturally wish for as much mercy as possible to be doled out to all who would seek it. In theory. In practice, we wish to dole as much mercy as can be doled out between the hours of 4:00 and 4:45 pm on Saturdays or by appointment.
Defenders of this woeful practice argue that even during the 45 minutes a week confession is available, not that many people take advantage of it, so why increase the hours?
People who think like this completely miss the boat.
Let’s think of the mercy of confession as economic activity. If I had a store that was only open for 45 minutes on Saturday afternoon, I don’t care how great the product I am selling might be, I am going out of business—fast.
What we need is nice big dose of supply side economics for the mercy business.
Supply side theory postulates that economic growth can be most effectively stimulated by lowering barriers for people to produce (supply) goods and services. The greater and more easily accessible supply in turn creates more demand.
The chintzy hours in which confession is available is a tremendous barrier to the growth in mercy that we all agree that we want. If the Church wants people to go to confession, then barriers to confession must be removed and the number one barrier to confession is availability.
And can we all agree that confession by appointment does not work for the general public? Confession by appointment may be fine if you frequent confession but if your haven’t been to confession in years, confession by appointment is an even greater barrier than limited hours.
Confession needs to be available throughout the day, week in and week out, everywhere it can feasibly be provided so that when the desire hits, people know that mercy is just a quick trip to the Church away. By Saturday afternoon, the feeling may likely have passed.
Quick story. Many years ago, I had stopped going to church and was mired in a life of sin. I hadn’t been to confession in years and I felt guilty. Many times I thought about going to confession, but the church by my apartment in Queens, N.Y., only had the skimpy confession hours to which we have all become accustomed. By Saturday, the guilt had passed and my desire for mercy had waned. I would think about it again a few weeks later, but Saturday wasn’t a good day for me, I had important stuff to do ya know. Rinse. Repeat.
Then one day, I happened along this Church in downtown Manhattan, St. Peters Church, just a few blocks north of the World Trade Center where I caught the PATH train to Jersey City every day for work. I happened to notice that this church had confession every morning before work and every afternoon at midday, as well. I didn’t go to confession that day, but the fact that it was so readily available stuck in my brain like a thorn.
Then one day, I don’t remember if it was weeks or months later, I got off the M-train at Fulton Street and started my walk over to the Trade Center to catch the PATH just like I did every day, but for some reason I cannot entirely explain, I took a right turn that day and walked the two blocks to St. Peter’s and went to confession. And then I went to Mass.
And then, every once in a while I found myself taking my lunch hour over at St. Peter’s going to confession and going to Mass.
Then suddenly I found myself going to morning Mass several times a week before work and going to confession at least once a week. In my own life, I credit the availability of confession at St. Peter’s as one of the main reasons I returned to my faith all those years ago, and for this I am eternally grateful.
I never did go to confession at the parish near my apartment.
I know that parish priests are under tremendous resource strains. I really do know this. But I also know that making confession as widely available as humanly possible is the best, and perhaps the only way to bring back people to the faith.
I truly believe that we must remove as many barriers to confession as possible. Increase the supply and demand will surely follow. If we do, many souls will be saved. Just like mine.