One of the very good things about the Sacrament of Reconciliation is that it really does not matter what the priest hearing one’s confession happens to think.
I am scheduled to have surgery on Thursday. The chance of death is low. One source I read placed it at roughly 1 in 250,000. But as low as that is, it feels like more of a window for death than a typical day. And so I am taking it as a rare blessing for an American young adult. I am taking it as an opportunity to consider my readiness for death.
Among other things, this calls for confession. It had already been two months since my last confession, so I had plenty to deal with anyway.
I planned to go to my parish’s regular hour on Saturday, but was unable. And so I took advantage of the National Shrine’s regular confession schedule. By the time I entered the confessional the priest had probably been there for an hour and a half.
I started my confession as usual, and after I confessed my first sin the priest stopped me.
“So, did you, or did you not break the law?” He asked, referencing the Church’s law related to the third commandment.
I used different words to re-explain what I had done, and he responded by asking me how I defined the word “work.”
I said that in this context I would define “work” as unnecessary labor which prevents one from using Sunday to rest and worship God.
I realized then that the tired elderly priest who was most certainly working on a Sunday in order to hear my confession was eating. And so I continued on despite my fear to how he would react to the sin that I had felt the most pressing need to confess. Because, while it was even worse than the first sin, it was less objectively a sin in the scientific “X done with Y attitude is always and everywhere a mortal sin” way. If this priest was questioning my first sin, then there was no way that he could grasp the gravity of my other sin.
The priest simply assigned me a Hail Mary and an Our Father and absolved me after I had read aloud the typical Act of Contrition provided by the shrine.
I left both excited from the stress of the situation and delighted with the knowledge that it did not matter what the priest thought. I had confessed everything which was burdening my conscience.
And that is a wonderful thing about the Sacrament of Reconciliation: even if the priest hearing the confession could not care less about the penitent or her sin, Christ is still present.
There have been times when I have been deeply wounded by the misunderstandings, or perhaps simple lack of care exhibited by priests in the confessional. But yesterday I received not only the grace to make a good confession, but also the grace to appreciate the grace–despite a jaded priest who experienced my sixty-second confession as a pelting with popcorn.