Busted Halo
feature: religion & spirituality
April 23rd, 2013

Confession for Convert Dummies


confession-for-coverts-1-1All 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…)

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.

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.

The Author : Annie Turner
Ann Turner is a passionate convert to the Catholic faith, who is also passionate about life in general, small dogs, food and wine, friends, nature, and the blessing that comes from just showing up and being a witness with other people. Follow Ann's faith journey & more at: itsthegodthing.blogspot.com. Ann is also the published author of over forty children's books. She loves to hear from her readers.
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  • Stephanie

    Love this! Made me crack up. I left the Catholic Church for 22 years and had my first confession since my return this past Lent. I grew up with the “holy garden shed” yet chose the face to face which was a little weird, but I enjoyed it. I also couldn’t remember the Act of Contrition when asked to recite it and told the priest that I could Google it on my phone. He kind of looked at me funny and just told me to say I was sorry to God.
    Confession stories are always funny to me. It is more common I think to have little mishaps than we are really aware. We just don’t hear about them because of the Sacramental Seal!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=718170644 Kathryn Heemskerk

    I figure if I get the nerve up to come I want face to face, because it is in the face of my priest that I witness the love of Jesus shining….the words of absolution to me are like salve on my wounds and the peace and joy after is unbeatable. I do know that I would have had no idea what to do in the confessional and probably would have really caused a ruckus, but because I became Catholic only 20 years ago I have only gone face to face, and it took till a year ago to embrace the practice of regular confession. I am so ever thankful I did. It’s when you share your experiences like this that some of us other fumblers can feel like we are not the only ones needing a little Catholicsm for Dummies!

    • http://www.facebook.com/ann.w.turner.1 Ann Warren Turner

      Kathyrn, I so agree with what you wrote. The words of absolution seem to take me out of the one-to-one relationship, almost out of the room, probably because the Holy Spirit is hovering near. I think we should start a Club for Fumblers! I also think, like you, that I need to move into more regular confession. How else are we going to get better in the end?

  • http://www.facebook.com/veronica.zamarron.16 Veronica Zamarron

    Great story! My experience is opposite of yours. I grew up and attended parochial school in the ’60s, in the midst of Vatican II. I learned to confess in the “garden shed” or confessional, with the sliding divider between me and the priest. Then, the church started to encourage and emphasize “face-to-face” Reconciliation. Whoa…that was just too much for me! The first time I made my confession this way, I actually drove to another parish, so I could “anonymously” confess my sins to another priest! I was too embarrassed to tell my own parish priest my sins! Silly, I know….but old habits die hard. :-)

    • http://www.facebook.com/ann.w.turner.1 Ann Warren Turner

      Veronica, you have to do what works for you, right? Probably because I was brought up with no religion at all, I have no real preconceptions about how things should be. So face-to-face Reconcilation works for me, but that’s just me!

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