In Defense of Confession
(You guys, my dad just fell off his chair)
So yes, reconciliation is a sacrament in the Catholic Church.
But I don’t go.
It has something to do with the confessions of my youth, which sounded like a grocery list and then Father Fiefel would rattle off the absolution, sometimes slipping into his native Polish and once even falling asleep during a classmate’s confession. He was 100 if he was a day, God bless him, but it was hard for me to believe that this was important.
Then, right when I was ready to be an adult in my church, our beloved parish priest, the one who was accessible and understanding and kind, turned out to be a pedophile.
And the impressive monsignor who came to our parish as a representative of the archbishop, and promised us all that this was the first they had heard of it, turned out to be a liar.
As did the archbishop.
My ability to believe that these men were somehow ordained by Jesus to forgive my sins was squashed.
The last few years though, I’ve felt the pull. We’ve been shepherded by an amazing line up of priests, in California and Oregon, and they have restored my faith in the priesthood. Plus, I’m in charge of not just encouraging my own kids to go to confession, but a whole Sunday school class of fourth graders. Which I have done faithfully, while praying that no one says “When’s the last time you went?”
This is not Proper Role Modeling for Young Catholic Children. I looked it up.
Then there’s the matter of John 20:21-23: The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
It’s that last part that got me. I don’t want to show up to the afterlife retaining anything.
So I went.
If I had wanted to rattle off a list of sins with my head down and my hands folded, I could have. Cultural Catholic Confession (or CCC, which could also stand for “check, check, check”) is in my DNA.
But I decided to come at things differently. So I started like this:
“Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been ONE MILLION YEARS since my last confession.”
“Oh boy”, he laughed. “This could take a while.”
It did. And that’s ok.
Afterwards I felt humbled, which is an emotion that lives right next door to grateful on a street I need to visit more often. I also felt centered and clean and determined to do better.
I did not feel ashamed or judged or like I was keeping Father from his afternoon nap, which is how I remember feeling when I was a kid.
All of this to say—It’s Advent, one of the times of year when we are encouraged to experience this sacrament. Most Catholic churches will be holding Penance services at some point in these weeks before Christmas. You should go. I should go. We all should go. It’s kind of like washing our hands before we hold a new baby. We should clean our souls before the Son of God is born unto us.