Betty Duffy

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Examination of Conscience

I had a booger of a sin to confess. After hem-hawing around about whether or not to go to my home parish or some other far away parish, I toyed with the idea that my sin might not be a sin at all, and maybe I was just being scrupulous. But I couldn't kick the guilty sensation it caused, and finally, this morning, enough was enough. I had to humble up, confess the dumb sin and get it over with.

So I drove the forty-five minutes downtown where there's Confession before Mass every day, as long as you get there early enough. I arrived on target to take my place as the tenth person in a very slow-moving line.

The baby was a little querulous, didn't want to be held and such, but struggled with his limitations on the floor just as much. Everyone's tensions rose progressively with the passing of the hour, and the realization that the line seemed not to diminish. The man behind me sighed between Hail Marys.

At last it was my turn. The man before me came out of the confessional, and the priest followed right behind him explaining that he had to prepare for Mass, but if the rest of us could stick around, he could finish hearing Confessions after Mass.

The line behind me was equally as long as the line before me had been, and looking back, I could see the collective disappointment as people made their decision--would they stay or would they go? Personally, I wanted to puke. Long drive, long wait, loud baby, and no Confession--unless I could wait until after Mass--which would be a long shot. The kid was not going to be quiet.

I slunk to a nearby pew, quietly raging at all the people who went before me in line. Do they think Confession is therapy or something? And the priest--didn't he see how much effort I had put into even being there? What if I really couldn't stick around until after Mass? He could have heard just one more--as long as it was mine.

I set the baby down, letting him wander all over the pew, touching people nearby. That's the price you pay for making me wait--the attack of my baby.

Did I mention that Adoration was going on all this time? That I was in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament throughout my harrowing wait?

Only when the bells rang for Benediction, did a little alarm sound in my brain that perhaps before I bend the priest's ear with my oh-so-humble Confession, I should address the air of entitlement I have acquired towards the Sacrament itself--towards all the Sacraments.

I had just been given an hour in the Presence of the Lord, to be followed by Mass, to be followed, if God wills, with the gift of mercy and forgiveness. How much more can a person ask for? That it all happen on my schedule? Can the priest, and all the people waiting in the pews for Mass just hold for a sec, while I get my drive thru-Confession? I promise it won't take long. And then you can all rejoice that a lamb that was lost has been found! See, I'm here!

It's a gift, God's mercy. A gift you can unwittingly reject all the way up to the door of the Confessional, and even on the way out.

Showing up for Confession is not a favor I'm granting the Church. Having a priest available to provide an outward sign of God's mercy is a favor the Church offers to me. And lucky me, I live in a country where priests are not murdered for performing the Mass, where they don't have to travel incognito to secret enclaves of Christians. In times of heavy persecution, people wait years to receive the Sacraments. In Medieval times I would have made a very public, months long pilgrimage to Confession rather than an anonymous forty minute drive on any day of my choosing.

It has never been easier for people to obtain the gifts of the Church. It's the malady of the rich--those who are given too much too easily lose sight of its value.

During Mass, I uncovered about twenty other notable sins hiding behind that big distracting one that brought me out. It made the difference between partial contrition and complete cleansing with tears of compunction and gratitude. Another gift.


Kimberlie said...

A gift indeed. I treat it too casually too. I get just as harrassed as you did, waiting in a long line, someone taking FOREVER, whine, whine, whine. Instead, isn't it wonderful that there is a long line? Isn't it wonderful that someone who had a lot of sins on their conscience was finally able (after many years maybe?) to unburden their hearts and receive the healing and grace from the confessional? I truly desire to be unselfish but I am just so stinkin' selfish that I happen to think that everything is all about me.

Wonderful post! Love it!

Anne said...

I always complain when I wait in line for half and hour and get a drive-thru penance and absolution when I was craving a little side of therapy ala priestly advice.

And here's another gift-this searingly honest and great post! Thanks for writing it! Your blog always satisfies!

Hope said...

I've often wondered how it would be if confession was available every Sunday in my little church. The parish we belong to has weekly confession 30 miles down the highway in the bigger church. No one goes. There are no line ups.

I go to my spiritual director for the Sacrament, who was the priest in our parish when I was received into the Church. I went more often when I was in the mire of addiction - I felt like I was running for confession a few times, so, so aware of my need of mercy and grace. The need is still there every bit as much but I think I am less aware. Which makes me wince as I type.

LazyBones said...

Sometimes I just love your blog. This would be one of those times.

karyn said...

I very often have the attitude that I'm doing the Church a favor by coming to Confession. We only have Confession on Saturdays, so I have to drive 20 minutes into town (on lovely country roads) and walk right in because usually no one is ahead of me and drive 20 minutes back - such a hardship (sarcasm). Thank you for reminding me of my need for an "attitude-adjustment". I cringe when I think of how I would react if one of my children came to me, asking for forgiveness, but with an attitude.

thelicensedfool said...

Truly great post. I remember 10-15 years ago when I used to have to wait in a lint of about 20 or so people for confession.

A few weeks ago I went to a different priest than usual (I was over that way) and I was the only one there. The priest had to walk over to me and ask me if I was actually waiting for confession as he hadn't expected anyone to come.

Long lines and an hour wait..? I wish we had that over here.

claire said...

I am definitely guilty of this entitlement mentality toward the sacraments (among other things), and I often take them for granted. However, I can certainly understand how frustrated you must have been by the situation you described in your post.

Lady.Rosary said...

Sometimes we forget that we are not the one who should feel like the Church owes anythig such as going to confession. It's a matter of humility and awareness that indeed, we should be the thankful one for having that opportunity given to us.

Erin said...

Wow. Very powerful post. I often forget about confession. I hate to admit it, but it's true. Where I live, confession is only offered once a week... on Saturday... before mass. I never attend Saturday mass so I usually forget about confession. I go once or twice a year when several priests are invited to our church for a large confession before Easter and Christmas, but it's rare that I even think to go more often. And even then I, too, get impatient when the line is long. As if I should expect a short line during a large confession just before a major holiday. Duh.

I'm glad to know I'm not the only one. And thanks for the reminder.

ElizabethK said...

I'm embarrassed to write this, but it has never occurred to me to put the availability of the Sacraments into historical context. I'm embarrassed because I actually study the English Renaissance as part of how I make a living. So I should have, but I didn't. But now I will. Thank you.