We’re keeping the light on

By Father Bill Pomerleau

Pastor of Our Lady of Sacred Heart Parish

Fr. Bill Pomerleau

A number of years ago, the Motel 6 burst onto the national scene with a series of radio spots proclaiming that “We’ll leave the light on for you.”

When writer Tom Bodett coined the tag line for the discount motel chain in 1986, it had  200 locations across the United States. Today, there are more than 800 Motel 6s across North America, and the chain is now owned by a giant French-based corporation that operates thousands of motels and hotels all across the world under different brand names.

MOTEL 6

I’m not quite sure if I’d call Bodett a personal hero, but as a former radio man myself, I admire how his folksy commercials have made just another chain into an American icon.

Down through the years, I’ve stayed at hundreds of inexpensive motels both here and abroad, and I’ve yet to run across one that didn’t keep its lobby lights on at night. Arriving in certain towns without a reservation, I’ve stayed at pleasant Super 8s when the local Motel 6 had a “no vacancy” sign next to its light. But when I think simple motel, I still think of the chain that Bodett made famous.

"We'll leave the light on"

In the last few years, a number of archdioceses and dioceses across the country have instituted the ecclesiastical equivalent of a Motel 6 campaign during Lent with the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 

The idea is simple. Get the word out that confession is simple, convenient and readily available at a time folks can remember, and people will come back to the sacrament.

In Boston, they’ve even borrowed a bit of that famous slogan we know.  All across eastern Massachusetts, churches and chapels are open for confessions each Wednesday night during Lent from 6:30 to 8 p.m.  Or as the archdiocesan Website puts it, “The Light is on For You.”

Many churchgoing Catholics might find this campaign a bit silly. After all, nearly every parish in the country has scheduled confession times on Saturday afternoons, and in many parishes, the priests are willing and able to hear your confession on Sunday. And then there are all those parish and inter-parish penance services. In urban areas at least, a simple phone call to any priest usually gets you an appointment for confession within a few hours.

But the fact is, times have changed, and we need to change with the times.

A few weeks ago, Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell strongly encouraged, but did not require, all parishes in western Massachusetts to keep their lights on for Reconciliation from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. each Wednesday in Lent. Since his suggestion came to the presbyteral council relatively recently, some pastors were not able to arrange their personal or parish schedules on time. Fortunately, the priests at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish in Springfield have been able to commit themselves to “keep our light on.” As pastor, I ran a few bulletin announcements and posted an invitation on the outdoor sign that is visible from Boston Road. 

Free Forgiveness

To my mild surprise, the strategy is working! While I cannot of course reveal the content of anyone’s confession, I am able to report that our Wednesday night hour has already attracted penitents who would most likely not show up in our reconciliation at any other time. And while I cannot report that there are long lines waiting for Wednesday night confessions, I can tell you that some penitents I have come into contact with lately have not taken advantage of the sacrament in some time.

Unlike in other places, the Diocese of Springfield has begun this effort without little outside publicity, much less a paid media campaign. If we had placed billboards on buses and aired television commercials promoting the program, there is little doubt in my mind that we would be now enjoying the fruits of this sacramental outreach.

In recent months, there has been much understandable attention paid to the trauma accompanying parish and school closings in our diocese. That hurt is real, and must be dealt with over time.

Our Lady of Sacred Heart Church

But at the same time, I suspect that we may be sadly unaware of another development that is occurring across the nations in dioceses like Springfield.  After years of drifting away from traditional reconciliation rituals, many U.S. Catholics – particularly young Catholics – are returning to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  The trend has been documented in other places, and I suspect that it may already be occurring here in Springfield.

Maybe all we need to help this trend along is scheduling strategy, and a catchy slogan.

Let’s spread the word that the church will keep its lights on for reconciliation!

For a schedule of confessions, Stations of the Cross, lenten events and Holy Week services log onto

 http://christ-mass.org/.

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