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

12 June 2016

A Grate Experience

The following was a social media response of mine that really got out of hand--you might call it disorganized--but I don't apologize for it. I decided to say it "publicly" because it might apply to other people.

The mystery of all sacraments, but of Reconciliation in a particular way, is this: like Our Lord, it is fully divine and fully human. God empties Himself to make Himself fully available to humanity precisely in the emptiness of our sins. And we priests get to make both God and ourselves available in the sacrament: the fullness of Divine Mercy, but also the whole span--full to empty--of human skill and ill. 

When a priest might critique the quality of a person's Confession

This has become a principle for me, a hard one, a terrible one, a necessary one: I want to be open to whatever truth I can glean from even the harshest criticisms I receive, wherever they come from and whenever they come. I sometimes think of a bloke by the name of Shimei (2 Sam 16:5-13) who started cursing King David publicly and the King forbade his court to retaliate because he believed "the Lord told [Shimei] to [curse him]." I don't know whether any of the priest's criticism applies to you in truth or not, but if it does and you can learn from it, why not? 

Now, if the priest was "having a bad day," or maybe you reminded him of someone else in his recent or distant past or whatever and wasn't able to maintain the necessary distinction "in real time," that's on him and I hope he, like any other human person, can address that area of growth so he can be a better bridge to Christ and not an obstacle, as one Church document exhorted priests to be. 

The actual celebration of this sacrament needs Mercy (i.e. perspective, a new understanding), as whenever a priest has come across less than favorably in the ear of the beholder. Sometimes the moral truth offends or drives people away, and in such instances even Jesus wouldn't backpedal. But when it comes to "grate-side manner," the Church in her humanity becomes the needful recipient of people's forgiveness. 

Some have let one interaction forever preclude any future ones from any priest. There is likely a sort of victimization sometimes experienced, which unfortunately can't be addressed because of the seal, except in terms of a general outreach to return to Confession--the very sacrament that unwittingly might have dealt so much pain to a person. That it remains the privileged forum for mercy in their lives requires heroic strength and grace to accept. 

There are so many contextual layers and angles in any communication, and the divine/human one called Confession merits a seal so sacred and inviolable, that the discussion of particulars must not take place on social media. Priests can't speak about it in any way that would violate the seal. Penitents themselves have to be very careful about what they share with people because once it is said publicly, others wrongly can spread it further, which hurts the penitent and can come around to compromising the seal. 

Just on the merely human level, outsiders don't (and shouldn't) get the full picture, and perhaps neither does confessor or penitent. The fullest part of the full story is Divine Mercy.  He knows all, and says none.

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The person offered the obiter dictum that the priest with whom he had a difficult experience was hearing his confession in another diocese, or was a priest of another diocese, or both; this is no consolation to me, because we're all on the same team.

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Regarding remarks from another commenter, randomly written
Any validly ordained Catholic priest will do. I know it's hard to part with a helpful confessor as any relationship's end can go. Reopening traumatic experiences with a new confessor can be rough. But our spiritual health requires regularity. Simplicity never hurts, on the part of confessor or penitent, because on one hand it reminds us that not every Confession need become a full-on conversation (especially if there's a line). Plus, the less is said (not omitting anything that should be said, of course), the less there's a chance of adding unnecessary layers to the text. I know that Confession may be the only counseling a person ever seeks or receives in his life, and a relationship with give-and-take, with a body of mutual understanding, develops. At the same time, Christ's Church has persisted throughout the ages and throughout the world precisely because to a real extent her priests are "interchangeable parts." If one's sacramental practice departed with his "favorite priest," I might not be ministering among you today!