Nobody goes to confession anymore. Catholics quit going to confession years ago, right around the time it was renamed reconciliation.
“That’s not so. I went to confession last Saturday morning,” a Catholic said.
Confession on Saturday morning?
“I was in Manhattan so I dropped into St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street, the home office for confession. Seems there’s always a priest hearing. Years ago there were always half a dozen priests hearing. The friars are good guys. Patient. Sympathetic. Understanding. Light on penance. I’ve been going there for 45 years.”
And you’re still sinning?
“Not as bad as 45 years ago. But I needed to go. With Lent looming, a good confession was in order. It had been a couple of years since my last confession.”
“I’m afraid so.”
Isn’t that way too long?
“I admit I was overdue.”
How did it go?
“Confession always goes well for me, and this one was no exception, although it was different.”
“The priest wasn’t in a traditional confessional. He sat in a small room. There was an empty chair opposite him. So I walked in and sat down in the chair and confessed my sins.”
You sat? You didn’t kneel?
“I could have kneeled. There was a kneeler, and a screen to talk through if I wanted. But sitting seemed right and natural.”
What did you tell him?
“That’s between me, him and God. Confession is private, if you don’t mind.”
Could you at least say something about the priest?
“I could give you his name. It was on a sign on the door. But that wouldn’t be right. Like I said, confession is private. I’ll say this about him: he was a wonderful confessor – a real old-fashioned Franciscan, soft-spoken, amiable, easy to talk to, encouraging.”
You didn’t feel self-conscious telling him your sins face to face?
“Not at all. His demeanor put me at ease. Confession turned into a conversation. We even swapped a few stories. I felt like I made a friend.”
But what religious or spiritual benefit did you get?
“In confessing my sins I obeyed the Lord’s command to repent, and in receiving absolution from the friar I experienced the Lord’s forgiveness.”
Sounds good. Why do you suppose so few Catholics nowadays go to confession?
“Who knows. All I can say is that confession has always been a blessing for me, even all the times I resisted the grace of the sacrament. Now I hope to accept the grace so freely given.”
And if not, you can always go to confession again?
“Sure. The Lord is merciful.”
Did the friar impart any spiritual wisdom that you’ll remember?
“We were talking about the difficulties and burdens that come along in life, and we agreed that one good thing can be said for them – they remind us to pray. When life goes smoothly it’s easy to forget God and neglect prayer. But life’s difficulties and burdens remind us to turn to God. Prayer is always the way to go. ‘Pray without ceasing,’ St. Paul said.”
Did the friar make that point, or did you?
“We kind of arrived at it together in conversation. Talking with him brought it to light. If I hadn’t gone to confession the importance of prayer wouldn’t have been reinforced.”
How long were you in there?
“Maybe 10 or 15 minutes. I told him I hated to leave. We laughed.”
You walked out of confession laughing?
“Smiling, anyway. It was a good way to conclude the sacrament. I recommend it.”
Reprinted with permission of the Brooklyn Tablet. Bill Reel’s e-mail address is email@example.com.