Our doors will be open. Our lights will be on.

“Ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spritus Sancti. Amen.”

“I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

I remember as a little boy the priest saying the Latin words from the other side of the screen while I would make the sign of the cross in the darkened confessional. It was done. My sins were forgiven. It felt right.

“The Light is On for You!” We do it twice in the liturgical year, during Advent and during Lent. Over the years, it has become one of my favorite diocesan-wide initiatives.

On Wednesday, March 15, from 6 to 9 p.m., each parish in the Church of Pittsburgh will have its doors open and its lights on offering you the sacrament of reconciliation. Confession is all about the mercy of God; it’s all about Jesus. And this is our special chance to take advantage of God’s mercy, to take advantage of the forgiveness of Jesus. The light is on for you. It is on for everybody.

Our church doors will be open. Our lights will be on for lots of our people to receive this sacrament of God’s mercy, especially during the season of Lent, a season especially about God’s mercy, about the forgiveness of Jesus.

Put a smile on God’s face

Our church doors will be open. Our lights will be on for those who practice our Catholic faith, who attend Mass regularly but for whom confession may be much less a part of their lives on a regular basis. It’s an opportunity for them to “catch up” with God’s mercy, with the forgiveness of Jesus.

Our church doors will be open. Our lights will be on for those who practice our Catholic faith, who lovingly continue to attend Mass regularly but for whom confession has become nonexistent, who maybe have not received the sacrament since they were children. As a friend told me recently, until “The Light is On for You!,” he hadn’t been to confession since his sins got embarrassing!

Our church doors will be open. Our lights will be on for those Catholics who are still part of our faith family, but folks whom perhaps we see in church only at Christmas or Easter or at weddings or funerals.

Our church doors will be open. Our lights will be on for those Catholics who have not been with us — for a long time, a short time or maybe close to a lifetime.

If there is someone out there, someone who is reading my message who thinks that they are no longer a part of the church, this message is for you, too. It is the perfect time to come home, to come home to God. Please remember. You are still very much a part of the church, a very important part of the church. Come to your neighborhood church. God is waiting for you to offer you mercy, Jesus offering his forgiveness.

On Wednesday, March 15, this is your chance to put a smile on God’s face.

Take some serious time to look inward. What have you done wrong in your life? What have you failed to do? Where have you allowed love to fall short? If you and I are honest, we know the answers to those questions. But this is not intended to be a guilt trip. It is a meeting with God’s mercy, to receive the forgiveness of Jesus.

So what is holding you back? Is it fear? Remember this. Just about everybody fears the thought of speaking their sins out loud to a priest in confession. But as one who has made the confessional as a penitent a regular part of my life, the simple acknowledgement of my sins begins the healing. Sins can no longer hurt us once they are out in the open, turned over to an all-merciful God, to the all-forgiving Jesus. Confession is an intimate connection with Jesus.

Remember something else. A sacrament is an outward sign of God’s presence. That’s where the priest comes in. Every priest is a visible sign of the presence of Jesus. The priest is there to help. Don’t worry if you are using the words from your first confession. Don’t worry if you don’t know exactly what to say. The priest will help you along. He could not be happier that you are there. Hearing confessions, representing the forgiveness of Christ, is a joy of his vocation. I know it is for me.

It’s your choice whether to go face-to-face or behind the screen. No way is “better” than the other. Over time, you will no doubt find one way is more suitable for you than another. The best thing to keep in mind March 15 is that the best way is the way that helps you make a good confession.

And remember still something more. Every parish in the Church of Pittsburgh will take part in “The Light is On for You!” Every parish will have its lights on for you.

Relief and love

On the website for the diocese (www.diopitt.org) there are all kinds of material you might find helpful. “What is the Sacrament of Reconciliation?,” “A Short Guide to Confession,” “FAQ on Reconciliation” and a quick guide to finding a confessional near you.

The big question: If you have not been to confession in a long time, what will happen to you in confession that evening? If I can use my own experience as a gauge, the answer is: relief and love.

I certainly wish and pray for all that for you and more. Guaranteed: If you come to confession, you will receive the mercy of God, the forgiveness of Jesus. Your sins will be forgiven. And you will be able to go back into the night in peace, knowing God’s mercy, the forgiveness of Jesus.

So think about it. Our church doors will be open. Our lights will be on. FOR YOU.

In preparation for confession, let me share with you one of my favorite act of contrition prayers:

“Forgive me my sins, O Lord, forgive me my sins; the sins of my youth, the sins of my age, the sins of my soul, the sins of my body; my idle sins, my serious voluntary sins; the sins I know, the sins I do not know; the sins I have concealed for so long, and which are now hidden from my memory.

“I am truly sorry for every sin, mortal and venial, for all the sins of my childhood up to the present hour.

“I know my sins have wounded your Sacred Heart,

“O my Savior, let me be freed from the bonds of evil through your most bitter Passion, my Redeemer.” Amen.