A first confession, part I
I tried to go on Tuesday night but by the time I got there they’d closed the line since 500 people had already shown up. I was delighted to be turned away because too many people wanted to participate in the sacrament of confession. Last night I got there a half hour before confessions were scheduled to start and there were already about 40 people waiting. I’m sure the priests saw at least 600 people last night, probably more.
As I stood in the entry hall, waiting for confessions to start, I watched the priests arrive one by one, walking through the grand doors with a calm confidence as if they were walking into their own homes. There was a noticeable change in the feeling of the room when each priest arrived, dressed all in black and carrying his white robe. Each had that air of quiet authority you have when you’re about to do something very important.
I got in the line to have my confession heard by our pastor, for whom I have the utmost respect. His intelligent, thought-provoking homilies and dedication to orthodoxy were a big part in my final decision to become Catholic. (I should note that I found him and our parish church thanks to commentor Steve G., after taking him up on his kind offer to help me find an orthodox parish in this comment back in ’05).
Because of overcrowding, many of the priests were set up behind temporary canvass walls in the main part of the church. The lights were dimmed and glorious, ethereal chant music played over the speakers. It was very easy to fall into a prayerful mindset in that environment.
I wasn’t apprehensive at all as I stood in line and did some final reflecting on my sins. I wasn’t embarrassed to tell the priest since I know how seriously he takes his role as confessor and, besides, I’m sure he’s heard it all before. I simply reviewed my list to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything.
When my turn came I walked behind the black canvass divider to see that it was a very small space, barely enough room for both of us to sit, and this would be a face-to-face confession. I took my confession booklet out of my purse to use as a memory aid, and I started. And as soon as I said the first syllable of “Bless me father for I have sinned,” I started crying. Hard. It just came out of nowhere, this sense of profound sorrow and regret.
At one point he interrupted to ask me some questions about my past actions, kindly probing to understand what may have motivated me to lead this kind of life. I had expected to hear disappointment, judgment and chastisement in his voice; instead I heard only empathy, kindness and wisdom. I was caught off guard when he suggested a possible contributing factor to how far away from God I’d fallen. In all my years of soul-searching and introspecting and rambling to girlfriends on the phone, I had never considered this. It was a piercing insight that cut right to the core of who I am.
I would like to say that when Father absolved me of my sins I felt immediate relief and joy. But, honestly, I felt nervous and guilty (though grateful). Now that the weight of what I’d done had finally hit me, it felt like there’s just no way that I could really be all right with God. I actually think it’ll take a while longer before I *feel* the relief of being absolved of my sins.
Now that I’ve done it, I don’t see how people live without the sacrament of confession. It’s so cathartic, so healing. As I drove home I kept thinking, “I can’t believe this is free!” My ten minutes in the confessional were worth ten years of sessions with the best psychotherapist in town. And though it’s hard for me to internalize the fact that I’m truly forgiven, I feel I’ve been through a physical and mental detoxification. As I lay in bed last night I felt close to God. I felt peace.