Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Are there people out there as traumatized by the confessional as I am? Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the idea of Confession (Reconciliation) and the enormous gift that Confession is to us; it’s just the actual going to Confession that leaves me limp-limbed (Hmmm - if confession is to the confessional, shouldn't we be entering the reconciliational? - but I digress)
Psycho-therapists would have a field day with what they would conclude was my traumatic First Confession - a trauma so severe it has assuredly left me with neurotic fears of dark boxes, curtains and grills. Goodness, come to think of it, perhaps that is why I profess to loathe barbequeing ... or, maybe it’s simply that I know it is a chance to leave the cooking to my dh. But I digress, yet once again.
As a matter of fact, I’ve had my share of traumatic Confessions since then, incidents which have left me panting on the floor in abject humiliation. One might even suspect God had planned it that way. But, surely, you say, a good God wouldn’t do things like that to His children. After all, isn’t He a God of love?
Precisely. And, He knows the inner man:
1) It’s the 1950's, and Sister Audrey brought her Grade One class to St. Joseph’s for First Confession. We had been rehearsing for weeks, and now I stood, prissily proud to be chosen first to confess. Sister gave me the nod, and I grandly and importantly processed to the curtain, entered with a flourish, made the Sign of the Cross, prayerfully folded my hands placing them on the top of the ledge just as Sister had taught us, and intoned solemnly, "Bless me, Fath....".
A deep voice came from the other side of the grill, "You forgot to kneel down!"
"Knnneeel?", I stammered, "but Sister Audrey said we should stand because if we kneel it makes us too short and you won’t hear us."
"I understand child," he said quietly, "but I’m asking you to kneel; don’t worry, I’ll be able to hear you."
"But," I replied, my lower lip trembling, "Sister said!!"
He repeated gently but firmly, "And Father would like you to kneel."
"Bbbbut??...", I began to wail, fearing disobedience to Sister.
"Please kneel down." he said.
I knelt. With folded hands stretched up, just reaching the ledge of the grill, I sobbed out my first Confession.
2) 1980. I had just returned to the Church after imagining for a dozen years I could make my way through life without God. A life-changing Cursillo weekend set me aright, and I attended my first parish Confession after the weekend. But the Church had changed since I left it in 1967. Some things were different; some were not. I had heard talk of face-to-face Open Confession, and assumed it was the new norm. Besides, it sounded cool.
So, once again, I found myself first in line for Confession. Since it was a makeshift church/hall, the priests set up grilled port-a-kneelers in doorways, the penitent on one side, the priest sitting in a room on the other. Fr. C., the dear old pastor arrived. I waited until he settled himself, sashayed up importantly, squeegied myself between the port-a-kneeler and the doorway, swept into the room, grabbed a chair, dragged it up opposite Fr. C., took off my coat, sat down, arranged myself in the chair, and finally looked up. His eyes were wide, his face aghast, registering, "Just who IS this woman, and what does she want of me?" I began stammering, "Oh dear ... you, ah ... you don’t, um ... know about Open Confessions ... do you?" He wordlessly shook his head, his eyes projecting force-eight shock. "Oh," I gulped, "but, I thought ... you see, ah ... someone told me ... um, I’ll ... ah ... I’ll just go to the other side if that’s okay with you." He nodded, still unable to speak. I scurried round to the other side, quickly knelt and murmured, "Bless me, Father...".
3) 1986. On retreat. A Jesuit retreat. Once again it was Confession time, and I spent an entire morning in my room painstakingly examining my conscience. It was so thorough, I neatly printed all my sins on a card.
Proud of my scrupulous examination of conscience, I confidently strolled round the corner to the tiny cramped hallway, and, to my dismay, saw two exceedingly long lines to the closed confessionals. I began calculating the shortest line when some movement caught my eye. There was an open doorway beside me, and inside was a darling old leprechaun of a priest beckoning. I pointed to myself and mouthed, "Me?" He nodded, so I looked around questioningly at the other penitents. They all shook their heads and looked down, so I went in, sat down, took out my list, and began quietly, "Bless me, Father..".
The Jebbie elf shook his head uncomprehendingly, cupped his hand to his ear and shouted, "What’s that, dearie, I don’t hear well; you’ll have to speak up.
I began repeating, "Bless me, Father", getting incrementally louder until he finally smiled and nodded. It was then I became aware of loud coughing and throat-clearing outside the door. To my horror, I realized the walls were paper thin, and my every word was being megaphoned to the waiting lines. This was surely to be death by embarrassment. I stared in panic at my lengthy list of sins, and then suddenly a light went on inside me. Triumphantly, I handed him the list, "Father, I’ve written them down. Here, why don’t you look at them and give me absolution?"
He pushed my hand away, saying, "Now, now dear, I want to hear every one of those sins confessed."
And so I did. And I lived. But, you’d think those wily Jebbies who spring deaf priests on unsuspecting retreatants would at least provide brown paper bags for their heads on the way out the door.
You know, some might be tempted to point fingers at gruff priests or wily Jesuits, but we Catholics know a secret. Yes, confession can be traumatic (more traumatic for those of us who need periodic pride-scrubs) but we know it’s good trauma. It’s lancing the boils of the soul and washing them with the disinfectant of absolution. Of course it’s difficult, but Catholics know there’s nothing finer than walking out at the end of confession free as a bird, and ... forgiven.
Let’s tell the world.