As I approached the busy main entrance of the convention center getting ready for my volunteer shift at the recent National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC), I happened to spy a couple of young men dressed all in black with large white lettering on the back of their t-shirts identifying them as ‘SEMINARIANS’. They were working hard to attract attention to their large hand-written piece of cardboard, shouting at the top of their lungs that the Sacrament of Reconciliation was being conducted in one of the large convention center exhibit halls between the hours of noon-6pm.
“Step right up!” “Free Confessions!” “Sixty priests standing-by to absolve you of your sins!”… The approach was admittedly unconventional, but succeeded in its purpose of getting my attention.
I have to admit that I have been putting off going to confession for quite some time. Oh sure, I have plenty of rational reasons… the standard hours of confession offered at our local parish on Saturday morning just don’t work with my schedule… the seasonal opportunities to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation prior to Christmas and Easter are way too busy, etc.
Last year, for example, my wife and I stood in line for over two hours before we were able to see one of ten priests brought in to hear Easter confessions. I walked away from that experience feeling a whole lot less holy than when I walked in.
It’s not that I don’t have some sins to confess. Heck, I have plenty of things that I could be doing better…including my ongoing battles with patience. The good Lord certainly didn’t provide me with an over-abundance of that particular virtue… and the irony of having to stand in a long line for two hours to confess that I am not patient enough seems like some sort of evil penance.
So, the appeal of 60 priests waiting to hear my confession with ‘no waiting’ was just too good of any offer to pass up. And I’m so glad I took advantage of the opportunity. It was an awesome experience!
It took me awhile to find the exhibit hall, but once I entered the expansive entrance, I was immediately greeted by three eager seminarians who welcomed me and offered a pamphlet with a step-by-step refresher on how to perform a proper confession.
After a quick review of the pamphlet and of my conscience, I approached the front of the line and was greeted by two more youthful-looking seminarians who stood at the doorway of an expansive auditorium. I looked out over a sea of chairs set up in clusters of two… with a priest in one chair, and a conference attendee sitting across from each priest.
One of the seminarians asked me, “Screen or Face-to-Face? ”
For some reason the the setting caused me to think of a similar question that might be asked by a hostess of a busy restaurant. The seminarians laughed when I responded that I preferred to be seated in the non-smoking section, preferably a booth near a window… but I would take first available.
I was directed to an available chair across the convention floor, and found myself sitting across from a larger, jovial looking priest who immediately offered a hearty handshake and welcomed me. The priest asked my name and where I was from, and told me to begin whenever I was ready.
Having gone to Catholic parochial school, I quickly got into ‘confession mode’ and told the priest how long it had been since my last confession and then articulated 3 or 4 items that I really wanted the Lord to know that I was sorry for. And then the most amazing thing happened. The priest didn’t follow the script. He didn’t instruct me to say ‘three Hail Marys’, or ‘two Our Fathers’.
Instead, the friendly priest looked me in the eyes, and talked to me. He told me that I needed to remind myself that Jesus loved me and wants me to be happy. He told me that the way to greater patience is remember a time in the past when I was patient, and try to build on that experience. The priest continued to talk in a kind, but all-so-knowing manner, and then instructed me to repeat the words, ‘I Love Jesus’ multiple times throughout the day. The priest then absolved me of my sins, gave me another hearty handshake and wished me a ‘great day’. I didn’t know what else to say except, ‘Thank you, Father. You have a great day too!’
Pope Francis recently commented that Confession should not be thought of as a ‘torture chamber’ (see links below). As if to emphasis the pontiff’s point, I found my recent encounter with the jovial priest at NCYC to be just the opposite. It was quite inspiring, and I now have a new benchmark that all my future confessions will be compared against.
It was a quick and deeply meaningful encounter with a caring priest who really seemed to get beyond the words of my confession, and tap into what I was thinking and feeling. Wow! It’s been several days since that Sacrament of Reconciliation and I’m still feeling the warm glow.
I hope you have a great week!
“The confessional must not be a torture chamber but rather an encounter w/ the Lord’s mercy which spurs us on to do our best.”–Pope Francis
- VATICAN – Pope: we all need forgiveness, “the Pope also goes to confession, every 15 days “ (asianews.it)
- Pope: Sacrament of Confession is not a ‘torture chamber’ (catholicnewsagency.com)