There is a visiting priest who regularly fills in when our beloved parish priest is gone. He\’s articulate, gets right to the point, and my kids love him—and the funny thing is that his homily is about the very same thing every single time he comes. No matter what the week\’s readings are, you can bet that Father R. is going to bring it all back around to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
And then immediately following Mass, he enters the confessional box and sits and hears confessions for \”as long as it takes.\” Until every single person who wants to has had his or her sins absolved. The line is always a mile long and it is such a beautiful thing to see so many experiencing the mercy and love of Christ in such a profound, personal, and important way.
But I admit that going to confession is not my favorite thing. I don\’t feel like I\’m \”good\” at it, if it\’s even a thing to be good or bad at. It doesn\’t feel natural to me because I didn\’t grow up confessing my sins to a priest. I\’m a convert. But I do it anyway. I go. Afterwards I\’m always so glad that I did. It\’s hard to describe just how it is to people who\’ve never experienced the sacrament, why it\’s about mercy and grace and love—as opposed to shame or fear. I understand the confusion surrounding it because it was one of the things about Catholicism that (initially) made the least sense to me, and the only thing that scared me about converting.
Now though? Even though it feels unnatural and clumsy and awkward? I see that it is good. I know I need it. My three kids presently old enough to receive the sacrament have never once been afraid, intimidated, or dejected as they sat behind the screen. They go willingly. One of them waited in line for over an hour once. When I asked my daughter several months ago if she ever gets nervous (like her mother) about going to confession, she laughed and said \”Of course not! I know Father ____! Why would I be nervous?\” And she looked at me like I\’d just asked the most ridiculous question in all the land.
Part of that is because we have a wonderful parish priest who is also an excellent confessor and very good with children. Part of it is that it is simply part of my kids\’ spiritual landscape—our family goes to confession. No big deal. But the other part? Jesus instituted the sacrament Himself! God knew what He was doing when He breathed on the apostles and gave them the authority to bind and loose sins! It\’s good, and necessary, for the soul.
And so I loved that Pope Francis not only heard confessions recently at St. Peter\’s Basilica, but also went to confession. Like, right in front of a bunch of people. Of course I\’m sure he, like any holy man, avails himself of the sacrament quite regularly so the fact that he went wasn\’t overly earth-shattering or particularly inspiring. But I love how he\’s talking openly about it and encouraging others that it is about mercy. That\’s the whole point.
Pope Francis gives us a gift when he tells us not to be \”afraid\” to go to confession. It is a blessing to hear him give voice to the things I feel as I wait in line, and say that it\’s normal, but then go on to say that it is, above all else, healing and freeing. That priests are good and that Jesus is there. He tells us to \”be courageous\” and then demonstrates that courage himself, and gets the whole world talking about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And somehow I think it both captivates and makes sense to the world because who doesn\’t, in their most honest moments, see the need for reconciliation? In personal relationships, in nature, in politics, in the Church? Pope Francis hit the nail on the head back in February when he said “someone can say, ‘I confess my sins only to God.’ Yes, you can say to God, ‘forgive me,’ and say your sins. But our sins are also against our brothers, against the Church. This is is why it is necessary to ask forgiveness of the Church and of our brothers, in the person of the priest.”
So this Lent, let\’s be courageous and pursue healing and mercy in the confessional. Let\’s believe our priests are good and that Jesus is there. Let\’s trust that the momentary feelings of nervousness, shame, or embarrassment we experience while standing in line are trivial–especially when compared to the radical grace and peace we receive upon exiting.
Because if Pope Francis can do it right in front of a crowd, you and I can certainly do it too!
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