I made my First Confession at Holy Ghost Church, back when I was seven, in the good old anonymous darkened confessional. Every three months thereafter, Father Henkel and his current associate pastor would appear at St. Joseph School and we would be told that today we would be going to confession. After Father Henkel led us in a brief Examination of Conscience, we got in the line of the confessor of our choice and we waited for our turn. We had no choice about it but that made it easy, really. I recall with nostalgia that feeling of a clean white soul, and how disappointed I would be when I committed my first post-confession sin and started the business of blackening it once again.
When face-to-face confession came along, I was not a fan. It was not offered as an option in grade school and that suited me just fine. My first year of Catholic High School we were given a choice of screen or no screen for those quarterly confessions, and I always chose the priest who had the screen. But my Sophomore year they removed that option. They would take us into the gym for a penance service, and then all the priests spread out on the bleachers and you had to go confess face to face WITH EVERYONE WATCHING.
I was terrified but I had always gone so I screwed my courage to the sticking place and approached the pastor of my own parish. I didn’t know what to say or do and he was not helpful–not that he was unkind or anything like that, but he was unable to put me at ease. After that, I was never able to make myself go again. I would sit miserably in my chair watching my friends, LONGING to go, but just unable to get past that fear.
It was SEVENTEEN YEARS before I went to confession again. The occasion? My oldest child’s First Reconciliation.
Any parent knows that you can make yourself do just about anything for your kids. My child was going to confession and I had to set a good example, so into the sacristy I went, saying “Please bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been seventeen years since my last confession . . .” And you know what? It wasn’t so bad.
But once you are out of the habit, well, you are out of the habit, I guess. I mean, if a priest turned up here every three months and said., “Here I am! It’s confession time,” I’d be thrilled to go. But as it is, I always seem to find some reason not to go to the seasonal penance services John sometimes attends. And just forget showing up on Saturday night for the paltry half-hour of scheduled time for confessions, or actually making an appointment to go.
So how many times have I been to confession in the last 13 years? Why, FIVE of course, because I have five kids who all made their First Reconciliations during that time!
That means I went today. 🙂 (As did Lorelei, which is much more important.) During the service which preceded individual confessions, Father Randy offered a wonderful reflection. He explained how our repentance is an occasion for rejoicing in Heaven. And he reminded us that we are supposed to go to Jesus with our heavy burdens. He illustrated this by having one little girl hold a heavy trash bag full of boxes with child-type sins written thereupon, taking each box out to give to Jesus and then leaving her with a lightened load. Something about it really touched me and I wanted that unburdened feeling too.
There were many priests available to hear confessions, most of them in classrooms in the school building, and the halls were crowded with children and parents as we made our way to the room of the priest Lorelei had chosen, the associate pastor of our parish (the school Lorelei attends is not our parish school). When it was her turn to go in, she didn’t want to let go of my hand. She looked up at me with worried eyes and tried to bring me in with her. For a moment I was afraid she might refuse to go in. But she did, and then came out and told me about it while John took his turn, and then she went to the church to say her penance while I went in to say, “It has been four years since my last confession . . .”
I do feel unburdened. I’m trying hard to keep my soul stainless today. I think, just maybe, I’m going to try to get back in the habit again.
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