Confession Without the Screen Door

Today at our ministry I participated in a Penance Service, held for the residents of the nursing home. As I waited outside the chapel as Father heard the confessions of the residents, a wonderful lady in a wheelchair looked up at me with a fearful look on her face:

"Is this 'face-to-face'?"

It took me a minute to understand exactly what she was talking about. You see, ever since I'd given my first confession years ago, I'd always sat in front of my confessor. As an "up front and direct" individual, I always found it better to address my sins and seek absolution directly, rather than behind a screen or lattice. The personal feel of it gives me a sense that we (the priest and I) together are asking God for this sacrament. It has also allowed me to sit and have good discussions with priests (some new and some old) about life, faith, and even the next NFL game.

But what scared this poor lady was that she was used to the confidentiality of the screen in the confessional.

In my usual, joking way I tried to make this wonderful woman feel more at ease about giving her confession. "I always gave my confession face-to-face," I said smiling, "because my priest would know it was me either way!"

She smiled, and said she was a little scared. "Then he'll know it's me saying all these bad sins!"

I understood her concern, because it was one I've heard often enough from non-Catholics. "Why do I have to confess my sins to another person? God forgives, not a priest."

There are many fine liturgists and theologians that can answer these arguements a lot better than I ever could. Being a lowly Novice and ex-car salesman, I've still got a lot to do to catch up to with brothers like Sean and Charles.

But since it was just me, I did the best I could:

"You know, he's not there to judge you or tell you that you're a horrible person. It's a celebration of the gift we've been given from Christ's perpetual love for us. It's just hard because we're willing to hold onto our mistakes a lot longer than God ever will. Even I still get nervous before going." (I don't think that was exactly what I said, but that was the jist of it)

She felt confident as I wheeled her into the chapel in the nursing home. And as I walked out and closed the door behind me, I felt something had worked through me...if only for an instant. I know a Spiritual Director could have given better advice...but sometimes we need to be present to each other, even if we think we're under-qualified for the task.

As the priest wheeled her out of the chapel, I could tell she'd been crying. But the expression on her face told me they were good tears. I took her down to the lobby where everyone else was eating cookies and talking.

I don't know if anything great happened today. Perhaps I just saw someone in need and did the best I could to provide comfort. Yet it was one of those times that I felt that something, some sense encouragement from a power greater than myself. I won't jump to conclusions, but if that was how Francis felt each day he spent with the lepers...I understand why his story has perservered all these years.

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