Betty Duffy

Monday, December 14, 2009

Salvation History

This weekend, one of my boys had his first Reconciliation. Our Parish had a mini-Penance service just for the seven children who received the Sacrament, and for their families.

The kids all lined up on their pew, looking fearfully towards the Reconciliation Room. A couple of kids held lists of their sins, some held copies of the Act of Contrition. One of the boys had been afraid even to enter the Reconciliation Room when they practiced before hand. But Saturday morning, each fearful child went bravely into the room, said their sins, and came out smiling. And so did my husband and I, my son’s Godfather, his older brother, and all of his Grandparents.

“You were in there a long time” my husband said on the drive home. “You must have had a lot to confess.”

“I just have a very delicate conscience,” I answer. My husband has mastered the art of Speed Confession and Speed Rosary. He has a very efficient spirituality.

I have had to discipline myself in the Confessional. I love Confession. It seems specially designed for someone who needs affirmation of forgiveness and who has a fervor for examining motive behind wrongdoings. I’ve often wanted to offer, not just a thorough confession, but also reasons and circumstances that led to my fall. It took some further examination of my desire to pinpoint motive to realize that is was a means of absolving myself of some personal culpability. It takes two to tango, after all. I wouldn’t get angry at others if I lived on an island.

One of my best Confessions ever was right after college. I’d spent the weekend at a friend’s wedding, which had been one long party. I was on my way home, feeling like a soulless wreck, and happened to pass St John’s Church right at the hour when daily Confession began there. It was one of those coincidences that looking back, feels like the hand of God, scooping me out of the pigsty and carrying me home.

The priest there was old, could barely hear, and his Confessor style was no-nonsense. I began rounding my way towards my sins, and he said, “Those aren’t sins. Tell me your sins.” So I started listing them, without explanation. After each one he stopped me and asked, “How many times?” And I was horrified to tally up the number and take responsibility for my repeated offenses. I had never seen my culpability laid out in such certain terms before, and I was struck with a true contrition that I had not possessed upon entering that Church.

Friday night, I got together with some friends from grade school. We grew up together, spent twelve years of our lives making mistakes, and picking ourselves back up. We all have children now. And we have all come back to our Christian faith. Some of our conversions have been dramatic, others, a long slow reclamation of tenets we never decidedly left. But one friend’s path homeward has been more troubled. After a ten year absence from our lives, we have just recently reconnected with her.

When we talked about our faiths, and how Christ has helped us to put our lives in an order we could not have achieved on our own, my friend said, “I can respect that. I’m just not there yet. And I’m not really sure how to get there.”

This friend was from one of the handful of other Catholic families in our small town. We experienced our First Reconciliation and First Communion together. We did our Confirmation together. I was present at her wedding.

We had remarked on how our childhoods had made us more like family than friends. We were thrust together by circumstance early in life, and forced to deal with, and grow to love one another’s eccentricities and differences. Even though there are chunks of one another’s lives we didn’t witness, getting together now somehow feels like going back to second grade, where we get one another’s sense of humor in just one word:

One of us opens the fridge and says, “Sarah, what the hell happened in here?” and Sarah answers, “Yogurt.” And we all crack up, because, it’s yogurt. Just yogurt. And yogurt is funny because it does wreak its own particular havoc on a fridge.

It occurred to me, as we talked about our faiths, that this familial experience has an even deeper resonance with my Catholic friend, because it is also a Sacramental history. I wasn’t sure if it would rub her the wrong way or not, but I said it anyways, “You could try going to Confession. It would be a first step towards getting there.”

And she looked at me, sort of surprised and said, “Thank you for saying that. I would never have thought of that. I might do it.”

It’s a first step towards coming home when we don’t know what other steps to take. It’s the prodigal son tentatively making his way up the lane to his Father’s house, unsure of whether or not he will be rejected or accepted. And of course, the Father runs out to meet him in an embrace.

So many times I’ve gone to Confession with just a partially contrite heart: I’m not really sorry, and I’m not sure I’ll change. I’m only aware that I don’t like where I am. I feel dirty, and alone. And so many times, with seemingly bottomless patience, I have been greeted by my Father and given the gift of a fully contrite heart, often shedding tears in the Confessional.

It’s always good to see my friends, to go back to my home town, and drive the familiar roads. I put on the Sufjan Stevens song, “Chicago” in the car, which is so ethereal and nostalgic in its own rite,

“If I was crying…
it was for freedom
from myself and from the land.

I made a lot of mistakes…

You came to take us,
(all things go, all things go)
to Recreate us
(all things grow, all things grow)”

The following morning, our family took a first step in creating a Sacramental history for our son. We went to church as a family to say, “Indeed, I have made a lot of mistakes.” And if I took an embarrassingly long time in the Confessional, it’s because I was crying for freedom "from myself and from the land."


Hope said...

In Hebrews 4:16 it talks about boldly approaching the throne of grace. I have sometimes literally ran to confession - so, so desperate for grace.

I've had the same confessor since I was received into the church nearly 5 years ago. I tell him that he knows my whole sordid story and I wouldn't know where to begin with another priest.

One time he said to me that he wanted me to understand two things before I started my confession. One was that Christ accepted me right as I was, in my sin and two, that His graces were pouring over me. I cried.

I've been a Christian for 20 years but I can say that receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation has helped me grasp grace in a way I never did before I received it.

Owen said...

Ah, dear Hope so right and great to see you here.

Betty, I echo everything my friend Hope said and add that it is amazing to me that I knew so little about grace as a long time Protestant minister.

God bless your family and its salvation history.

Dawn Farias said...

So many times I’ve gone to Confession with just a partially contrite heart: I’m not really sorry, and I’m not sure I’ll change. I’m only aware that I don’t like where I am. I feel dirty, and alone. And so many times, with seemingly bottomless patience, I have been greeted by my Father and given the gift of a fully contrite heart, often shedding tears in the Confessional.

Ah, yes. That's right. Thank you.

mrsdarwin said...

It never fails to amaze me that although I love the feeling of coming out of Confession all clean and contrite, I don't make the effort to go more regularly. I think that at root, I must be convinced that I'm really a good person, so it doesn't matter if I don't confess regularly. Now that I write that out, it looks pretty repulsive. But this week for sure! Our parish is widening the availability of confession before Christmas, and we have two services this week. I'll be at one, in all my self-righteous glory.

Sarah said...

I am smiling huge smiles right now for this post Betty. Thanks for the words of wisdom and your friendship throughout my life. I love your spirit of hope in this post. I needed to read this today!

Larissa said...

Oh dear. I'm a cradle catholic and I still struggle to go to Confession. It takes days to get the courage necessary to confess the same sin for the 325945345246th time.

Karyn said...

Well, that makes me feel better. I'm in RCIA and haven't been to my first Reconciliation. I'm both looking forward to it and dreading it. But this gives me a little more peace.

Jus said...

I love, love, love that song.

BettyDuffy said...

Sarah, I'm glad you stayed my friend even though I bit you at Julie's slumber party.

BettyDuffy said...

What a wonderful experience to have a priest who understands you and your history. I love my priest and I go to him as often as possible, but I do sometimes crave more anonymity in the Confessional. We were joking the other day that the length I'll travel for Confession depends on what I have to confess. If I'm going to the west side, you know it's bad.

Mrs. D. MAKE HASTE! (JK) When I lived with the Regnum Christi Consecrated women we went to Confession every other week. And we lived, more or less a cloistered life. Believe me, we had very little to confess in the way of real sins, so the focus became much sharper, confessing just the thought of sins. But I've always felt glad that I developed the habit of frequent Confession there. Naturally, it's not quite that frequent any more, but I still crave it.

I've often thought that it takes so much humility and courage to join the Catholic Church. I'll be praying for you!

Larissa, I too, confess the same things over and over again. Which is actually another reason why I like to Confessional hop.

Jus, Chicago is currently no 1 on my playlist. Everybody around here is sick of it, but me. I love, love, love the pictures you sent me. Absolutely beautiful!

Hope said...

The stuff I have had to bring to confession because of addiction has been very humbling. I sometimes think of Peter saying, "To whom else would we go?"

My confessor is also my spiritual director. One of the last times that it was incredibly difficult to spit out the words during confession the priest held his hands on my head during absolution until both of sensed that peace that gone from being head knowledge to heart knowledge. Confession is so humbling.

Young Mom said...

I think this is one of the big things that attracts my husband to the Catholic Church. In the Protestant churches sometimes it seems like sin either doesn't exist, or we are never free from it.
As parents, it is very powerful thing for you to admit you have faults to your children.
Great post!

Lana said...

I recently read that in the Christian Orthodox tradition it is customary to prostrate oneself before one's family members and ask for forgiveness before going to receive the Eucharist (on Sundays, particularly). I found that image--and the act--to be very powerful, especially as a parent.

Rebekka said...

It's seriously hard to get to confession where I am, you have to make an appointment weeks ahead of time with our busy priest, so I tend to look for sneaky opportunities, like a recent healing and reconciliation Mass at a different church. I turn into a total fountain. After this last one I cried 3/4 of the way through the following Mass. What a mess. Yet it's such a blessing. The relief is immense.

John said...

You should get the Avalanche. It has three other versions of of them is better than the original, I think.

Also, his Christmas album is great.

BettyDuffy said...

Why don't you bring them when you come up?

KristyW said...

I've just now seen this for the first time... and I'm crying