It's November, time for the annual complaint from secular and religious people alike: Christmas decorations already? Christmas music? Christmas shopping? Too soon! Too soon!
While some businesses are taking a stand -- or what passes for a stand (holding off until the day after Thanksgiving is now "noble?") -- most businesses are floundering, and they don't feel like they can pass up even a day or two of trying to nab some holiday revenue. At the Dollar Tree, the plastic holly and berries crept onto the shelves even as we hunted for swimming goggles to take us through the final weeks of summer vacation. Yeesh.
Well, this is the first year I've had any sympathy for the stores, though. I don't think I've ever truly understood what "busy" means until this year. The only way anything get done -- and I mean anything, from visiting family to getting to the bathroom on time -- is with extensive and ridiculously early preparation.
And so, in solidarity with unwilling pre-planners everywhere, I hope you will bear with me as I offer you this "holy cow, it's sort of almost Advent" suggestion for how to prepare to prepare for Christmas.
Over on Fr. Z's blog, a reader writes:
A priest became pastor of a smaller rural parish, of approximately 300 registered families. The first Sunday of Advent, he announced to the parish that he wanted no Christmas presents from the parish that year – no gifts of money, or food, or gift certificates. Instead, the present he wanted from his new parish was for every member of the parish to go to confession during Advent.
To that end, he would add times for confessions during the week, bring in outside priests, and make the sacrament as available as possible.
To his surprise, the parish took him up on his offer.
He said that, during the four weeks of Advent, he initially tried keeping track of the numbers of penitents, but was only able to keep track of the numbers of those who had not been to confession in more than 20 years – nearly 200, in his small parish! Many of the penitents told him that the reason they had been away is because no priest had told them they should go, or even invited them to go. Because of one priest’s invitation, an entire small town grew in grace through the sacrament of confession.
Man, isn't that great? A great idea, and a great outcome. Why not forward this suggestion to any priests you know? (Oh, and I would second what one of the commenters said: priests or parish workers, if possible, please supply an examination of conscience and/or at least an act of contrition to help out the rusty and the nervous! And a "confession line forms here" sign can make all the difference.)
This idea really is the perfect Christmas gift: fits any budget, comes from the heart, benefits the giver and the recipient, is good for the entire community, and keeps on giving throughout the year.
The only part you have to really work on is planning ahead (unless you're lucky enough to have a life or a parish that makes it easy to just pop in to the confessional on a whim!). And that, my friends, is my pre-pre-Christmas gift to you: a little nudge. Plan to get to confession! Put it on your calendar! Make it happen! Find an app to make it easier! And pass it along.