Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Confession Is Scary: NOT!

I wish friends who are not Catholic or friends and family who left the Church years ago could have been with me tonight at my parish. I wish I could have taken photographs of what I saw, but because it was evening, my cell phone camera would not cooperate. Instead, my words will have to suffice.

My parish hosted a Lenten Penance Service, on this the Tuesday of Holy Week. Five priests, all affiliated with the parish, attended, along with maybe 200 or 300  people of every possible walk of life. The vast majority of folks were under 30, with middle aged people and elderly folks sprinkled in. Our sons were the only teenagers I saw there. We all sang, we listened to the Gospel reading about the Prodigal Son, we listened to an Examination of Conscience, and then all said the Act of Contrition together. Then, one by one, we each went to Confession. The whole process took my family more than two hours and I have never felt so uplifted by this sacrament, nor so well-prepared for Easter.

Popular images of the Sacrament of Confession include a darkened confessional with a stoic priest on the other side of a screen, listening without speaking and then doling out penances.

Yes, we have a confessional like that at the parish. Our pastor, Father Tom Odorizzi, C.O. did hear confessions  in the confessional - behind a screen if you like, or sitting in a chair next to him. Because I am 50, I am not accustomed to face-to-face confessions. I find them distracting. So tonight I headed to the confessional and yes, knelt behind the screen, and talked about the places in my life where I have fallen short. I had a conversation with Father Tom, who advised me to how to seek God's guidance to continue my heart's conversion.

While I chose the tradition form of confession, most folks did not. At four different points in the church, a priest sat in a chair with a chair beside him, in plain sight to all, hearing confessions. The folks on line - at least 40 in each line - kept a respectable distance so as not to overhear the conversation. People on line chatted with one another, prayed rosaries, read books or just stared out into space. One friend of ours, stuck at a line's end, ended up hanging out with us, yukking it up with us and an elderly couple - parishioners for 57 years - with whom we struck up a conversation.

I had never "watched" a confession before. But while I could not and would not listen, I watched a couple tonight. The penitent sat down in the chair and was greeted by a smiling priest. They conversed for about 10 minutes. At the end, the priest gave a blessing and in some cases hugged the penitent. The pentitent invariably walked away with a big smile.

It was truly a privilege - so humbling and so beautiful -  to see so many people seeking and receiving grace and reconciling themselves with Christ.  How graced we are to have these five men helping to lead us to Christ.

Was the evening scary? Is Confession creepy? Nope. What I experienced was joy-filled, loving, life-affirming. 


  1. We have Reconciliation services twice a year, with individual confessions following the Gospel reading, the examination of conscience and closing prayer. The priests then split into the Reconciliation room, the sacristy and the balcony, so we don't have the opportunity to watch the confessions. It is always nice to see the penitents come back into the sanctuary and sit or kneel to reflect and do their penances. Everyone always looks so peaceful. I have always had a difficult time with the sacrament of reconciliation - since I was abused as a child by a seminarian, the idea of being in a small enclosed space with a priest, out of sight of anyone else was very difficult for me. I know some churches have put glass windows in the doors of reconciliation rooms. I like the idea of having the sacrament within the sight of someone else. I have availed myself of the Sacrament, but it is difficult for me. I am always relieved when it is over. I know and trust our pastor, so that makes it easier.

    1. Your testimony is a powerful example of how traumas from the past can echo years and years into our lives. I am glad the Church has the flexibility to offer confession in so many different styles because this speaks to the fact we are all individuals, with our separate histories, styles and limitations.

      I remain, as always, sorrowed by what happened to you and grateful for your honesty. I pray for continued healing Paula.