I’ve had this post on my computer since February 10, the day before Pope Benedict announced his resignation. In the last few days we’ve heard quite a bit about God’s mercy and forgiveness from our new Holy Father, Pope Francis. Since it snowed again last night, and I’ve been given another day off, I figured I’d better share it with you now…
At the Life Is Very Good rally on January 25, where youths from the Arlington as well as other dioceses around the country gathered before the March for Life (see my post about that amazing day here), there were lots of priests from churches in our area in attendance. At least two of them were priests that I knew from when they served at my parish. During the rally, from early in the morning until right before the Mass, priests were available to hear confessions. Now, I don’t go to confession as often as I like (at the beginning of 2012 I made a resolution to go to confession once a month. That lasted about two months) , and I normally average about four to five months between confessions. At first I reasoned to myself, Okay, I went to confession during Advent, so that’s what–two months? I’m still good to go for a little while. I think I’ll skip it. Well, it just so happens that I have the confession app on my phone, and I pulled it up anyway, just to look at. Maybe to reassure myself that I really didn’t need to go to confession.
Do you have the confession app?
Once you’ve logged in, you are taken to the first page, and you are given a few choices. In the Examination of Conscience, there is a list of all ten commandments. When you click on each one, it presents you with questions related to that particular commandment. I’ve shown you the ones for the first commandment, “I am the LORD your God; you shall not have strange gods before me.” You can check the “sins” that are relevant in your situation. Once you’ve gone through the commandments and pondered each one, you can go to the Confession Guide, which is pretty much a “cheat sheet” with the procedure for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a list of the sins you selected, and the Act of Contrition. (You would think that this would make things run more smoothly in the confessional; as you’ll find out, it doesn’t for me.) It is quite helpful for examining my conscience, though, and usually once I’ve done that I leave my phone turned off.
Whether it was my conscience, my guardian angel, or Jesus himself, I don’t know; but I was prompted to get up and stand in the line of youths for a waiting priest. I knew deep down that it’s always a good idea to go to confession whenever you have a chance. Who was to say the bus wouldn’t crash on the way home? Besides, there was no good reason not to go. I would be confessing the same sins I always do, but so what? I’ve found that the more often I receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the easier it is not to commit those sins–and it always helps me re-kindle my relationship with Jesus, and I want to spend more time with him in prayer. The more I receive the Sacraments, the deeper my desire for Jesus, the happier I am, and the better my relationships are with the people around me. Win-win.
Anyway, I stood in the line, phone in hand. There were people handing out confession “cheat-sheets,” step-by-step guides to confession, (no doubt the Act of Contrition was printed on it as well), and I politely declined one. I’ve got this, I thought. I’ve done this so many times over the last seventeen-plus years; I know how this works. (Can you see where this is going?) When it was my turn, I sat down next to a nice young priest I had never seen before (no screens here; all the confessions were face-to-face) and he waited patiently while I pulled up my confession app and typed in my password. “Sorry,” I mumbled. “Just have to pull up my app here…Okay. Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It’s been—” My phone said 7 weeks. 7 weeks? How does it know that? I was thinking two months…that’s close enough, right?
“…uh, about two months since my last confession.” Click. Now I was staring at a list of sins I had checked off in the examination of conscience. Did I really click on all of those? These aren’t left over from the last time, are they? Suddenly the list became a blur; I switched off the screen and mumbled the sins that I could remember off the top of my head. “Fortheseandallmysinsiamsorry.”
By the way, for years, I never said this part. I would just say, “And that’s all I can think of.” (Ugh.) I don’t know why I never thought to say out loud that I was actually sorry; of course I was, isn’t that why we go to confession? Even though in my religious education classes I had taught, I handed out “How To Make A Good Confession” papers and briefly gone over it with the kids every time I would take them to the church for the sacrament (usually during Advent and Lent). Finally about a year or so ago, I was in the confessional and had finished listing my sins and I heard Father say, “And I assume you’re sorry for these sins, right??”
“Oh, yes, of course.”
Chuckle. “Good. I was just making sure.”
I felt like a bonehead.
So anyhow, I’d finished listing my sins, and the priest started to say something–I don’t remember what; maybe offering prayers, maybe to tell me my penance– and I interrupted him. “Oh, and yelling at my kids. Forgot that one.” (If you’re a parent and don’t commit this sin on a regular basis, you’re a saint. I want to know your secret.)
Father sighed (I think he might have shaken his head a little bit). “Now pray the Act of Contrition.” Act of Contrition…Act of Contrition… I’d said it many times, taught it to my kids and my CCD students… now how does that go?
“I’m sorry, Father, I forgot it.” I could feel my face burning. Why on earth didn’t I take that darn cheat sheet when it was offered to me?? Patiently he began to recite the prayer, and I joined in. He granted me absolution, told me what prayers to say for penance, and sent me on my way. At one point he put his hand on my head, which made me giggle. I imagine that God might have been giggling too–not at my stupidity, but because He loves me. (Have you ever seen a small child say or do something that makes you laugh? If they ask you why you’re laughing you can only answer, “Because I love you.”)
As I walked back to my seat in the arena, I was reminded of what G.K. Chesterton is credited with saying: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” (My mother and I laughed together at this just recently when we were talking about our boys and the less-than-exemplary thank you notes they write.) I stumbled through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus in His infinite love and goodness forgives me and loves me, warts and all (pardon the cliche’). And the next time I go to confession? I’ll leave my phone in my purse and use a cheat sheet.
“Let’s not forget that God never gets tired of forgiving so let’s never get tired of asking for forgiveness.”–Pope Francis (source)