Jun 28, 2011
The first time I walked into a European church I was surprised by the many confessionals lining the beautiful walls, and even more surprised by the fact that they were occupied by priests—who stayed there for hours…waiting. My eight-year-old mind then determined the priesthood to be a terribly boring profession. If I was a priest, I decided, I would not be the kind that sat around all day waiting for people to come tell me their sins.
I had grown up in the American Catholic community, which has usually implied to me that Confession is an outdated sacrament—something you do every now and then, but not something priests ought to wait around in little boxes for. Yet, as I grew older and began to feel the pangs of loss whenever I turned from God, I desired the sacrament strongly, and frequently. Not merely to relieve guilt, but to make amends with someone I loved. But as I soon discovered, my beloved reunions were not so easy to obtain.
Confession in most American parishes I have attended is usually offered once, maybe, twice a week. Then, as a sort of fine print, bulletins will tell us that we may also seek confession by appointment. Now, being a human, I have my fair share of vanities and insecurities, and I know that it’s much easier to decide to participate in something that is already humiliating enough if the decision is made easily available. I know very few people who would have the courage to call up a priest to make an appointment for confession. I have asked priests after or before Mass to hear my confession and it rarely goes well. Many times I receive an annoyed response at my asking and hurried glances when I begin to tell my sins. It is as if I am imposing on the priest by asking for a sacrament. And so I feel bad asking—I pick and choose which priests to ask, try not to ask the same one twice, try to make the scheduled confession time the next week. But is this how it ought to be?
These priests preach about the lost sheep, about running to the ends of the earth to help the discouraged, the disabled, the unwanted. How hypocritical it is to then turn us away when we come as that lost sheep. Not only have I (and countless others) been made to feel guilty for asking for confession, let alone found it often quite difficult to even track down the priest, I have been made to feel guilty for feeling guilty. Now I am quite aware of the sin of scrupulosity. I know that justice, like mercy, is nothing without the other. But that’s why I’m in confession, isn’t it? Because I trust that God heals and that I can walk out with my sins off of my heart. A God without mercy would offer no such thing. A God without mercy wouldn’t make it so easy to come back to Him. I come back, not because I need to fulfill some arbitrary requirement, but because I hurt someone I love and I want to make amends as soon as possible. No, I don’t want to wait until Saturday at 4 p.m.. No, I don’t want to have you rush me through my apology. And no, I don’t want you to tell me that it’s fine and that I did nothing wrong. I did something wrong. If you discredit my vices, what credit then do my virtues have? If you tell me that lustful actions aren’t a big deal, then of what value is purity? I want the priest to take my sins seriously, for if justice is true and legitimate, then mercy may be as well. We wouldn’t need God to die on a cross for us if our sins weren’t that big of a deal.