Dear Pope Francis,
I mentioned last week how I was planning to go to confession on Wednesday night. I did, and it was not at all what I was expecting.
I think as Catholics we sometimes get stuck thinking of the sacrament of reconciliation in this really stereotypical way. You and a priest in a dark cramped room, listing your sins and failings one by one and the priest keeping a tally to decide how many Hail Marys and Our Fathers you’ll need to say to atone for being such a bad person. Hellfire, brimstone, and judgement everywhere.
While I can’t say I’ve ever actually had an experience even remotely similar to that in a confessional, the idea was still present when I was waiting in line Wednesday night. I was the only person under the age of about 50 present at the penitential mass, except for a boy of about 8 who was there with (I assume) his father.
Seven priests were available for the sacrament, and I ended up towards the back of the line because it took me a few minutes to decide which priest I wanted to go to, plus there were a lot of people there
The dynamics of the lines were really weird. Some moved quicker than others, and every so often someone would leave the line I was in to restart the line for another priest. The man in front of me let a couple of other people behind him go first to those other lines. It seemed like he really wanted to talk specifically to Fr. Bill. Rather than get into some weird confession line stand off with him, when Fr. Dolan’s line was empty I switched.
Other times I’ve been to reconciliation, there’s been a card with a big long prayer which I suspect I’m supposed to have memorized but have never ever remembered the words to. When I had my first reconciliation in the second grade we were taught to say “Bless me Father for I have sinned, it has been x days/weeks/months/years since my last confession.”
This time, there was no cramped confessional, no card, and “God doesn’t care how long it’s been, he’ll forgive you anyways.” Fr. Dolan sat on a chair in a corner to the left of the altar, I sat on a chair beside him. He asked what was bothering me and I told him what was going on. I told him how I knew we weren’t supposed to take communion if we weren’t in a state of grace but I’ve never stopped taking communion. He told me I had probably never really left the state of grace. We talked about some other things, and then instead of giving me a bunch of prayers to say as penance, he absolved me of my sins and told me to “keep growing.”
I’ve been given unique tasks as penance before, but Fr. Dolan definitely holds the new high score for both originality and brevity. Although now I think about it, “keep growing” is probably the most time consuming task I’ll ever be given.
It feels good to be reconciled to God, and I’m glad I went because I feel like it opened me up to being more honest outside of this blog about the role faith plays in my life.