The Reluctant Penitent

This cartoon cracks me up. I identify with it in a roundabout way. I, too, need to get confession “beaten” out of me. I am not one of those who has a lovely catharsis after I’ve been given absolution. Nope, I breathe a huge sigh of relief !! I think sometimes I am stuck in the Confession memories of childhood:in church- waiting nervously with my schoolmates,under the watchful eyes of Sister, while listening to the yelling coming from the Confessional, trying to remember WHO had gone in there last. Yes, there was lot of yelling in those days. I think it was a game of my male classmates – to see who could get Father going the loudest. So many boys came out of the box just beaming or even laughing. In retrospect I guess it could have been catharsis.

But my reluctance goes way back. It’s certainly not for a lack of sin! Reconciliation and the grace of a good confession are recurring themes in homilies, especially in Advent and Lent. My pastor, especially, has a fondness for sounding the wake-up call-often. After one of his weekday Masses last year, my friend and I were discussing our reluctance to go to Confession. She brought up the reality of always confessing the same sins over and over…the feeling of getting nowhere, never improving. We talked about how so much of what we saw in ourselves as sinful, were bad habits or ingrained parts of our personalities. It seemed so pointless.

Father Michael was very ill at the time and I could only call or write to him. So that week , I wrote a letter about this to him. He called me , but I missed the call. Father M left me a memorable, lovely voicemail, though. Father Michael advised:

” I wouldn’t be so worried about Confession and repeating the same thing . I always say to penitents-when we confess the same thing over and over again, which we do for years and years and years, every one of us, somehow it’s like chipping away at the Pietà and eventually something beautiful emerges, which is our freedom from our burden. Michelangelo basically knew that the Pietà was inside that piece of marble. And by chipping away and chipping away, it soon presented itself. So, don’t be too worried about that sacrament; it’s just an instrument of grace.”

So I was inching my way along to going. But not long after this, I was in church after Mass on Saturday and the children in the Religious Education program all arrived for Reconciliation.The Pastor showed up and perhaps six more Dominican priests. He assigned the other priests to different ‘stations’ and then said something like ‘please allow the children to be first, then you people who are my age can come up’. Well that was so weird- what a way to put it! I was the only other person present who was his age . I felt like a target. I left.

I fired off a text message to Father Michael in the church parking lot. I was upset- feeling guilty, yet intimidated and somehow targeted….a little paranoid too. I knew that Father Michael would be able to put it all into perspective. So immediately Father Michael texted me back:

“You are filled with grace. No crowd or priest has any right to intimidate us!!!! I am still not feeling so well, so I am experimenting with ‘bland food’. Hope it’s a good day despite the reconciliation intimidation.”

Always the good shepherd, I think Father Michael understood that some of us sheep need some space. At the time, I was comforted so much by his reassuring words. But I cannot ignore Father’s gentle reminder of the ‘instrument of grace’  always available to us. I joked about having confession “beaten” out of me. It’s really more like a wearing down. I do go….eventually. I think for those who can readily respond to its graces, it is a joy. I’ve known people(a few) who loved  Confession. Must be nice….