All right, I admit it; there are a ton of things about not being brought up Catholic that clearly put me at risk. Or at least at a disadvantage. Case in point:
I usually do Reconciliation three to four times a year face-to-face with my favorite priest, a man of deep learning, wide experience and compassionate soul. He’s been there for my family in times of joy and times of great pain, and there is nothing I wouldn’t trust this guy with. But given how busy this amazing man is, I just couldn’t ask him to do Reconciliation and spiritual direction with me before Lent this year. So, I emailed the priest at the parish I now attend. And I know he is enormously busy too, as we’ve just lost our parochial vicar. This priest, a fine man, suggested the times for confession at the afternoon mass on Saturday.
Ok, I thought, and being the compulsive lady I am, I emailed my Catholic friends about confession in this mode — what to expect; what was it like for them; did they have any advice? But everyone seemed to be occupied, so I motored off to the Vigil Mass a few days back, determined to submit myself to some serious soul cleansing as part of my Lenten discipline.
I went in the church, parked myself in line, and prepared for a wait. I was a bit perplexed by the confessional at the back of the church, which I had never really looked at closely. It kind of resembled a garden shed — OK, a holy garden shed, but still a garden shed — with this curtain thing in front and a light on top; red to signify in use, green to signify “come on down!” Finally, it was my turn, and after whispering that I had never done this before to a friend who was giving out the parish bulletins, I walked into the narrow room. My eyes took in the crucifix on the wall, the strange shaded window to the right, and what I thought was a red vinyl seat in front of it. Taking a breath, I sat on the seat and immediately the lights went out. Plunged into darkness and not fitting terribly well on the “seat,” I fell to the floor. Luckily, I did not curse. (One of my Lenten resolutions I am happy to say I have kept so far…)
Breathlessly, I stammered, “Fr. John, I’m so sorry, it’s Annie!” (Did I know about the complete anonymity of the confessional? No. Remember how I am at a disadvantage here?) “Is it supposed to go all dark like this? I’ve never done this before!”
Remarkably calm, he assured me it was meant to be dark, and I hitched myself up on my knees on the “seat” which I finally figured out was not for sitting on. Then I told him the sins I knew needed to be exposed to the bright light of God’s love and the fresh air, and he gave me my penances, which were more in the way of just good priestly advice about dealing with my tendency to curse and the gossip I had recently indulged in. He suggested I insert a “Glory Be” whenever I thought I was about to swear (that works pretty well), and that I say four prayers for the people I had disrespected by gossiping about them. (That works too!)
He then asked if I could make an act of contrition, and I mumbled that I didn’t really know the words to it, but I did confess that I knew I had messed up, that I would try to do better, and that I was grateful for God’s mercy.
Then out through the curtain, checked in with my friend who had a wide grin on her face. “Did you hear me?” I whispered. “Yes!” she answered. “I fell on the floor!” “I thought that’s what happened.” And, the two of us giggling slightly, I went up to the pew, knelt and said my prayers. But throughout the mass my lips kept tugging upwards into a smile as I saw myself sprawling onto the floor of the confessional, no longer anonymous, and certainly no longer quiet.
Whew. I am going back to face-to-face reconciliation with spiritual direction as part of it. But I learned something from this: God doesn’t particularly care whether I am sitting on a sofa facing a priest, or head over heels in a dark confessional telling a priest about my snarky nature. He just cares that I confess and believe that I am forgiven and loved, in spite of it all.