Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

19 November 2012

Reelin' In The Years

Recently (not the first time; please God, not the last) I had the privilege of hearing the Confession of a person who said that it had been double-digit years since the last time.

You bust your hump day in and out; you thump the tub for the New Evangelization; your blog gets fewer hits than a bong at a college party; and for what?

For this!
It's only a model.

I am quite happy to "just show up" for such graced encounters.  As far as I know, I bore no responsibility for it except by showing up.  Hence the importance of my showing up, the need for some warm, consecrated body to show up when/wherever he's called for--whether at the hospital, at the school, in the (Confessional) box, or at the funeral parlor.

A little of everything happened that day.  Two Sunday Masses at the parish; Confessions before the other two; three baptisms; a bereavement service to preside at and preach; and a Mass for a nearby parish's Confirmation retreat.  The ontological and emotional roller-coaster!  Thank God, I sat in my seat, buckled up, and enjoyed the ride.

Not every Lord's Day is this busy for me.  More of them ought to be, I suppose.  Amid the quantity of engagements, one person's Confession lit me up like the pale green indicator that announces before every weekend Mass at HGA that "The Father is In."

For decades our parish has had a priest available for the Sacrament of Reconciliation before every weekend Mass.  In recent years we have distributed a handy-dandy guide for people who'd like some help with the procedure and possible content for Confession.  For a while there have been apps for this.

For all the great gadgetry, there's been no dramatic, sustained upsurge in  Confessions.  A year or so ago, I gave an interview for the local daily.  I don't recall if he asked me this, but I imagine that he may have, as in: 
"What sort of response do you expect from the recent technological aids to Confession?"
"Like much online content, it may amount to a curiosity that merits passing review and little more.  Nothing substitutes for the genuine conversion of heart that prompts a person first to make an unsparing examination of his actions, words, and emotions, and then to lay it all out there to a priest whom Jesus and the Church have authorized (1) to receive that person's testimony about himself and (2) to deliver on behalf of Jesus and the Church the judgment of mercy.  That's all the Lord wants to do for us.  Great fear and shame need not bind us any longer."

"Let someone with a deep love to give / give that deep love to you / and what magic you'll see."

Let Mr. S limn "that deep love," such as priests and other lovers are wont to give:

Pray for vocations.  Pray that young men and women will experience the support of family, social network, and parish in considering the call to the priesthood or consecrated life.  Pray that young people will cultivate the chastity and charity that suits married couples for the long haul and for each day.  Pray that the Confession lines will get long enough to exasperate priests like me.

The best way to pray for it, however, is to do it!  Do the best you can.  "Anything worth doing," Chesterton said, "is worth doing badly."  The deliberate withholding of a grave sin is another matter, however, so be as thorough as possible.  You will not shock me.  You will not disappoint me.  I don't know who you are.  Even if I see you face to face, I don't care who you are.

(Understand me here: in that sacramental moment you are a wounded member of Christ's Mystical Body.  Your personal story is always very important, very sacred; but as regards the indiscriminate mercy of Christ, "the Spirit blows where He wills" (Jn 3:8), and I am directing that Cross-Current to you.  Your status in the parish, the community, the whatever, is not my focus when I raise the hand in absolution.  Rather than serve to squelch your individuality, divine mercy instead subjects that individuality to the Greater Whole known as the Church, who is now better off for your unique repentance.  Your searching and fearless disclosure somehow may assist another person to do likewise, in a manner known only to God.)

A priest has asked his flock to go to Confession in lieu of giving him Christmas presents (q.v.).  A good idea!  Our parishioners are generous.  Personally I would not object if they made a good Confession instead of making a dozen cookies, or even mailing a gift card.  (But remember, according to a recent post, that Catholicism is about "both/and"!)

In case you are wondering, or comparing someone else's experience, or your own previous, unsavory experience--for which I express regret on the Church's behalf:

You will not get yelled at.  In nearly thirty years of going to Confession I have never been yelled at, although I suspect that over the years a priest or ten has been exasperated with me because of my slow letting-go of unworthy attitudes and practices.

OK- I really can't guarantee everyone won't get yelled at, so to be more precise:

I will not yell at you.  In over nine years of hearing Confessions I have not yelled at anyone, although I have been exasperated with people because of their slow letting-go of unworthy attitudes and practices.  Si animadvertis, habes: You spot it, you got it.

In truth, all this time you have been yelling at yourself, far too loud and long.  It has to stop.  Why not now--this weekend, or sooner, if you'd like?  Give a call.  Stop by.  Don't be afraid to "inconvenience" us.  It will make our day.


  1. The problem with "previous, unsavory experiences" is that they stick. They REALLY stick. It's kind of like spiritual rape. No, thanks...not even taking a chance on that one.

    Also, the problem with blogging priests (not you, although I've never read your blog before, so maybe I'm wrong) is that it's like seeing the tiny little man behind the curtain upon which is projected the image of the great Oz. After reading one priest's blog in which he sneered and jeered at one poor woman who had the spectacularly bad luck to run into HIM in the confessional, and then invited readers to join in the sneering and jeering, I'm not bloody likely to trust in the "seal" of the Confessional.

    I'm sure you're a nice guy, and all, but I just don't believe any of you any more. Sorry. Go yell at your fellow priests and tell them to cut the crap if you want the rest of us (you know, the people who work to put a roof over your head and food on your table) to trust you all again.

    Until priests dial down the arrogance, the pride, and the judgmental bullshit, I'll save all my confessions for God Himself. Never was a big fan of middlemen.

    1. Thank you very much for your candor. The comparison to rape is appropriate on many levels, and in some way is related to the scandal of clerical sexual abuse: the experiences and the painful memories endure; they cry out for redress and healing. I recognize that much healing must take place, especially on the individual level. One wonders how the very Church whose priests have committed or perpetuated these wrongs can dare to be an instrument in the healing of those wrongs; but she must, because, in the face of human sin, the Church continues to be the "sacrament," the living sign, of salvation. One "tiny little man" at a time, one priest at a time, strives to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation as an agent of God, and no less a human being on that account. If offended parties choose to absent themselves from the Church and the Sacraments, prayer will be our only (though never insignificant) outreach.

      There are many instances where middlemen--mediators--are a necessity in the world, and not just a necessity but a way for human participation in God's wise and loving plan. The Church has built this into her own "economy" in light of the one mediatorship of Jesus (1 Tim 2:5). Priests are not meant to foster confusion between principles and individuals. I can only do my best, for God and for people. When I do, untold good can result; when I don't, untold harm. Being a "nice guy" helps; but I recognize many instances in the Scriptures where Jesus, Paul, and others weren't "nice" in the sense of accommodating error. To be sure, priests need patience--just like parents need with children, and we are called "Father" for good reason.

      I hope I do not misunderstand this dimension of the Oz comparison as you present it: the blog platform can be (not only for priests, but for anyone) a soapbox, or a fortress behind which to volley cannonballs of "arrogance, pride, and..judgmental bullshit" much like the pulpit can be so misused. At the same time, it is hard for many to discern the truth from the above-mentioned items, especially when personalities obscure principles.

      If an offending priest, or one "with a bone to pick" reads my blog, I hope he considers my words a crap-cutting initiative in its own fashion. Your comment moves it in that direction, for which, further gratitude. I pray that you, and all victims of verbal, sexual, any kind of abuse by priests, may find the way to healing. If the Catholic Church forever remains an unacceptable path or player in that process, I pray you find it wherever you must. For our part, my fellow clergy and I will put one foot in front of the other each day--not just for a steady paycheck, not even because many people still trust and utilize us, but because of the mandate we've received from Jesus.

  2. I think this is wonderfully written, Father. I am so grateful to have excellent priests such as yourself guiding our way!

    1. Jessica, your prayer of gratitude and for vocations is very much appreciated. Pray also for all-around openness to the Holy Spirit at work through wounded healers.

  3. I found the above commenter (the first one) pretty rude and hurtful, but I think you handled it well and with much charity. Thank you for the good example, and the wonderful post.

    Btw, you should tell your parishioners that you have a blog--I bet they would read it! :-)

    1. Thanks, Becky, for the kind comment.

      I told members of the Youth Group about my blog once. Since we were watching a video, we had the internet running and I navigated my way to the blog. One frank fraulein saw the current post as I was scrolling through it and blurted out, "Too many words!"

      Note to self: Do not depend on teenagers for affirmation. Or anyone else.

  4. You are breaking the Seal of the Confessional by: (1) saying the day that the person went to Confession and (2) the number of years since the last time and (3) your name. Someone from your parish might read this post and realize to whom you are referring. But even if that were not so, revealing ANYTHING from the penitent's confession is breaking the Seal, at least to some extent.

    Because of your indiscretion, some persons might not go to Confession with you, who need to do so. And some persons might not go to Confession with any priest who blogs. You are harming souls.

    1. Your comment exhibits due sensitivity to the nature of the Sacrament, which I share. It prompted further consultation and amendment. The famous last words, "What I have written, I have written," proceeded from a man who also had the opportunity to correct, change, and grow, but (as far as we know) chose otherwise. Thank you for helping me to be a better priest. Let us pray for each other.

  5. I know of loads of folks who never make it to either confession nor Mass because both the alotted 15 to 30 minutes (of which the priests around here often actually only alot 10 minutes maybe) per week for confessions and the 'vigil Mass' (usually at 4pm-ish) are smack-dab in the middle of the busiest days of the workweek (Saturday and Sunday) when the bulk of the servant classes must slave away in retail markets and the like; so that, Christians who shop on the weekends and beer guzzling Football fans can have their good times.

    1. Thank you for reading. I understand both components of this sorry state.
      (1) A priest-friend of mine schedules and announces Confession availability during "off-peak" hours, to good effect. (2) Many people are consigned to work the unyielding schedules of hospitals and other necessary service providers, not to mention retail establishments.

    2. I knew you would understand. Perhaps folks need to be reminded that it is not right to shop, attend sporting events, eat breakfast and dine out outside the days of Monday and Friday.

      Neccessity I understand by neccessity. The poor will always be with us. In general, civilised man surrendering to retail is a betrayal which made achieveable abortion and the host of other social evils.

      As for myself, I would be enabled to own a small business, clothe children and please a wife, if Christians obeyed the commandments regarding usury and days of rest. It is near impossible to compete against the injustice of self-interest at the expense of the marginal.

      So much for grocery stores being closed on Saturday.

  6. The Sacrament of Reconcilliation, along with the Eucharist are the two mainstays of my life. I can't imagine how I ever made it through life before I had them. I go to confession when my conscience tells me to go. Usually every four weeks, lately every week and the shortest time between confessions was two days. The more you go, the more you grow, the more the Lord opens your eyes to what sin is and specifically, what your weak areas are. Sometimes, I don't like what I hear in response, but never have I heard anything that did not need to be said. Jesus Christ is there, speaking to me through that priest and I am forever grateful for that. It is an amazing gift and to not take advantage of it usually means, you really don't want to have to walk in humility and/or admit your sins. You can tell them to God, but you have no assurance of absolution.

    1. Your witness is very much appreciated. I pray that people will become more open to the Truth for the formation of their consciences and the necessary adjustments that will follow.