Sunday, December 31, 2023

‘Your confessional is ready’: Buzzing into confession at a Denver Catholic high school

Bishop Machebeuf: From the Parents' Perspective

As you walk the halls of Bishop Machebeuf High School in Denver, you won’t find any lines for confession. Instead, students simply pick up a buzzer — like the ones you see at your neighborhood restaurant that tell you when your table is ready — and wait for it to light up.

Father CJ Mast is the chaplain at Bishop Machebeuf. He said, “At first, [the idea of using the buzzer] was kind of a joke; we were just laughing about it. But then I think it was our principal, Mr. Siegel. He said, ‘Well, let’s just go for it. If it’s a flop, it’s a flop. But it could be a great thing, and it could work out, so let’s just go for it.’”

Once the red light goes off, the students know it is their time to head to Mast’s office for confession. This idea came out of inspiration and prayer as Mast entered his first year at the school.

“When I was thinking through when I first got assigned to Machebeuf, and I was thinking through how do I structure my day, you know when is Mass going to be, when am I going to do Bible studies, when am I going to hang out with the students? One of the things that came up was when am I going to do confessions,” he recalled. “And for high schoolers, I think they’re one of the busiest people in today’s culture, and you know, it’s really hard for them to come [to confession] before school.”

The students pick up a buzzer in the morning and write down the top three times during the day they can be buzzed out of class, which gives Mast an idea of when to call them to confession.

Paola Chacon-Arredondo, a junior at Machebeuf, said using the buzzer has helped her state of mind. “There’s nothing to worry about and I think that’s what’s really nice about it, is that Father CJ doesn’t want you to be afraid to go and confess,” she said. “He’s inviting you, and this is why he has the buzzers, and I’ve seen that it’s really helped.”

Without a line, these teens don’t have to feel awkward or like they are being judged for their sins. “I used to be so scared to go to confession,” Chacon-Arredondo said, adding that she thought she might scare away the priest with her sins. But the ease of the buzzer system allows her to feel more relaxed, which takes some of the pressure off.

Nebyu Ablel is also a junior at Machebeuf. He said when Mast took over as chaplain at the beginning of the school year, he was afraid to confess his sins, so he didn’t seek out confession. But over time, Mast told him it would be okay, just like Father Julio (Amezcua, Machebeuf’s former chaplain) before him.

The teachers at Machebeuf are also fully supportive of the use of the buzzers.

“I just think it’s wonderful. [It] brought some humor to us when we first heard about it, but it’s really flourishing,” said Ralph Pesce, dean of faculty and the humanities teacher at Machebeuf. “Because it’s fun, I think it also encourages students to go to confession. It’s one of those sacraments that people are very daunted to go to. It can be scary for students, especially if they haven’t gone in a long time, if they’re trying to bring up the habit. And so, with this way of having the buzzers for confession, I think it makes it approachable for the students, and it makes it less daunting for them.”

Theology teacher Christian Grandon agreed. “I’ve seen it work really well,” he said. “It’s not something that’s been terribly disruptive. The students just discreetly say, ‘It’s my time.’ We can really help them stretch and develop those virtues that will serve them in ways that their formation outside of here in the secular world is lacking.”

While the buzzer system may have started with a laugh or two, it is a light-hearted way to bring teenagers closer to knowing the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

“I think that so many of the problems of youth are because the world has stripped away meaning,” Mast said. “I think the culture is a perfect example of this. You kind of have to reinvent yourself. [The rhetoric is] that you can become whatever you want to, you say what you are… And so to place the students back into [a place where] there is a God who is Jesus Christ, and he’s come to redeem you; he has come to give you meaning and purpose in your life and offer you that eternal life. I think it’s so beautiful.”