Today is the feast of St. John Vianney, the patron of priests. St. John Vianney is most known for his many hours spent in the confessional. He used to sit in the confessional hearing confessions each day for 16 hours (and this was before air conditioning)!
At mass this morning our pastor mentioned in passing that it was not easy to sit in the confessional for more than an hour or two and that even his experience of 3-5 hours at a previous assignment could be a challenge.
This made me think of a parish I went to briefly in Dallas called Blessed Sacrament. At the time the pastor was a priest by the name of Fr. Paul Weinberger. I remember when I first went there I was stunned to learned he heard confessions for 16 hours over the course of one week. I had never heard of a modern priest hearing confession so many hours in one week before. I did go to confession there once and the line formed around the inside of the Church. Around the time I left Dallas, this wonderful priest who had been given this parish 10 years prior when it was deep in debt and had managed not only to get rid of all debt but also redecorate the inside of the Church and repave the parking lot was ordered to transfer. Blessed Sacrament was indeed a poor parish of poor people of various and diverse ethnic backgrounds. Fr. Paul unified them all under English, Spanish and Latin masses. He said he wanted to "spoil the poor." But he was transferred to St. William parish quite a ways away from Blessed Sacrament.
I decided to look up his previous parish, still fairly large holding at 2000 and compare the hours available for confession with his new parish, a much smaller 725. The parish that used to be able to fill 16 hours of confession in one week is now only offered 2 hours and 15 minutes of scheduled confession time. And Fr. Paul's new parish of less than half his previous parish has 8 hours and 40 minutes of scheduled confession time.
I have not been to either parish since I left the Dallas area but I have to wonder, it is Fr. Paul that brings so many to confession? Is it simply, if you offer the hours, they will come? I cannot believe the people changed since, being such a poor parish, it is not likely many moved very far. So the question becomes, does the priest make the difference or does the hours make the difference or is it both? I honestly cannot say I know the answer to this but I think they would go hand in hand. The better the priest who encourages frequent confession the more hours he will offer confession and the more parishoners will go to him for confession. So then the question becomes, "What must happen to get more people back in the confessional?"