I wrote a blog last week, prompted by a blog of Fr Tim Finigan’s, about confessionals: I asked the question, what is better, behind a grille or face to face? I came out strongly in favour of the former. But now, having just read an amusing, honest and uplifting blog by Laura McAlister on the practical difficulties she discovered trying to get to Confession when she returned to the Church, I realise I was wrong. Confession is about renewal, rebirth, reorientation of one’s life (especially after a time of lapsation); that is what matters, not the actual form it takes. Personally, I would still choose the grille but that is just a personal preference.
Laura relates – and I am sure others will identify with this – that having decided to return to the Church she realised she needed to go to Confession. So she went punctually to the scheduled slot at her local parish – to find the door was locked. She waited 15 minutes but nothing happened. So she went back the next week, accidentally ten minutes late – to find the door was now open but the confessional was empty. The priest had been and gone; he hadn’t waited for a possible latecomer.
Then she drove to a bigger church, relieved to see a sign saying that Confession was scheduled at that moment. She joined a queue, but was puzzled to find that no-one seemed to be coming in or out of the confessional as one would have expected. After half an hour everyone in the queue was growing restless. Finally “a lady walked into the church and announced, ever so apologetically, that the priest scheduled to hear confessions had forgotten about it. He was playing golf instead.”
A friend then suggested to Laura that she go to a weekday Mass and corner the priest afterwards, so that he could hear her confession on the spot. She did this – but unfortunately chose a day when the local primary school was having its own Mass.
Still determined, she decided to go to Mass every morning until she found a priest who would hear her confession. But she fell ill and the plan had to be delayed for a few weeks. Finally, she found another local parish, waited until after Benediction and “strengthened by the graces of the Eucharist, I confessed my sins. The priest was lovely. I cried a lot. He gave me absolution and for penance, a Hail Holy Queen.”
Looking back on these setbacks after two years Laura rejoices that despite “locked doors, golfing priests and nasty germs I returned to the Catholic Church.” I relate all this to remind priests to preach about Confession perhaps more than they do now, and to remember to be available, perhaps at their own inconvenience, for those in need of the Sacrament. After all, the point of being a priest is to save souls. A priest once told me that if he had to choose between celebrating Mass and hearing Confessions he would choose the latter. To bring stray or lost sheep back to the Good Shepherd was what it was all about for him.
As it happened, a friend called on me yesterday. He told me his practice of his Faith had been rather perfunctory until he happened to join a pilgrimage to Lourdes. He decided to skip the scheduled Mass in the underground basilica. Instead, he wandered over to the baths. There he discovered there wasn’t the usual long queue. On impulse he decided to go inside, never having bathed in the waters before. He told me that as soon as he came out of the water an inner voice told him to go to Confession. Needless to say, the grace he received in the sacrament brought about a permanent renewal of his faith.
Lapsed Catholics, aided and abetted by those outside the Church, might gripe about guilt complexes, fixations with sin, bad experiences in the confessional and so on. Actually it’s very simple: we believe that Christ died on the Cross out of love for us; we show our love for Him in return by being faithful to the Sacraments. Confession is about the renewal of a relationship of love between sinner and Saviour. Seen in this light, we should be dying to go; indeed, to stop going on the grounds we have nothing much to confess will lead to spiritual death. That’s a scary thought.