Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Healing Hands

Growing up Catholic, I was always taught the importance of going to Confession. In second grade, Reconciliation was a really big deal. I remember all the preparation and anticipation as my classmates and I got ready for this sacrament. I remember having butterflies in my stomach and feeling dizzy before my first Confession. Why? Well, I’d never done it before (obviously) and it was kind of scary to have to admit out loud all the things I’d done wrong.

When it was finally my turn, I choked. I remember thinking, Shoot. What have I done wrong lately? Yelled at someone? Didn’t make my bed? I came up with a few things for the priest—Father Herdigan heard my first Confession because the line for Father Len was too long and mom didn’t want to be waiting around forever—but I felt like it was kind of a letdown. First, I had thought I was going to be in a dark confessional and could hide, but it ended up being face-to-face. Secondly, I didn’t feel any kind of big healing power when I was done. It was more like, Okay, I just tattled on myself, I’m going to say a few prayers, and then what?

Unfortunately, it set the stage for what would become a strong aversion to going to Confession. Now, don’t get me wrong…I liked going to Catholic grade school, but I was annoyed that I didn’t have much choice when it came to going to Confession. We had to go on a regular basis because it was a requirement. (I just remembered a funny time when I was waiting in line to go to Confession and when it was my turn to go into the confessional, I opened up the wrong door and walked in on the priest. It was Father Maher. Oooops.)

As I got older, I became more and more disenchanted with the whole process. Heck, until last night, I hadn’t been to Confession in probably fifteen years. As I got older, I never saw the point and even began to resent the idea. I always thought that if I was truly sorry for something, God would know that, and if I asked Him for forgiveness, it would be granted. To a degree, I still believe that. And yet, I had reached a point in my life where my soul was feeling a little dirty. A few too many dark spots. And just asking for forgiveness didn’t seem to be enough. So, after much thought and careful consideration, I decided to attend the Advent Reconciliation Service at my current parish, Holy Family.

The service last night helped me learn what Confession is really all about. I learned that it’s not necessary to go through the whole laundry list of wrongs that I’ve committed—like muttering mean things under my breath when I get cut off in traffic or silently cursing the dentist when he’s drilling into an already tender tooth or getting impatient in long lines. Those “sins” happen because we’re human. It’s the bigger sins that pose a problem. Like being intentionally mean in thoughts, words and actions because anger and bitterness have taken a foothold or holding a grudge against someone for a long-past wrongdoing.

Face-to-face confession is a little intimidating, but I decided to bite the bullet and do it. The priest who heard my confession last night exuded warmth and kindness and as I really opened myself up and spilled out the darkness that had been tainting my soul, I swear I felt a burden being lifted from me. In a way, his hands on my shoulders were almost sucking that darkness right out of me. I found myself getting a little emotional and as my voice quivered, he quietly reminded me that it’s time to let go because the only person I’m hurting right now is myself. In my heart, I already knew that was true, but hearing it from him caused all my defenses to crumble. As he gave me my penance, a few tears slipped out of my left eye and he used the thumb of his right hand to wipe them away. He cupped my face and reminded me that everything was going to be okay, gave me a blessing and a gentle smile and sent me on my way.

The power of Confession had always been lost on me before. I never really understood it. I understand it now. It goes beyond just confessing things out loud. It goes to that deeper healing and understanding and really feeling the power of God’s love and forgiveness. And I’m feeling it.


Catherine said...

Okay...I have lots of things to say about this.

First, my first confession was face-to-face, too, and that was terrible.

Second, I ALWAYS cry at confession! And I hate it!

Third, when I went to confession in the Vatican, I was standing in line COUNTING ON MY FINGERS how many years it have been since my last confession. When I got in, I told him that it had been twelve years since my last confession, and he goes, "How old are you?" and it was almost funny to admit, "Twenty." BUT THEN, he made me feel like I hadn't sinned enough because after my confession he asked if that was all. And I said, "Uh...yeah?" And he asked me if I had a boyfriend, and I said no, and he asked if I had ever had an abortion or done drugs. What was he trying to say? When I said "no" to both, he gave me one Our Father and five Hail Marys and told me to pray for peace in Africa. WHAT?! I skipped twelve years of confession and that was it? What a let down.

I guess I need to sin more.

Martha said...

Okay, so at least I'm not a total weirdo for crying. I felt like such a ninny. And, since you're home on break right now, maybe your three sisters can goad you into a little "harmless" sinning so your next confession is more worthwhile.