Lisa Says: It was Wednesday morning, the last day of Lent. I went to the cathedral to make a confession. When I arrived, I noticed at least fifty people already waiting. Tempted to immediately stake my place in the winding line, I was instead convicted to spend some time on my knees, examining my conscience and naming my sins. After all, as I’ve mentioned before, my 2013 Lenten spiritual journey wasn’t my best effort. Once I finally made way into the line, I wondered if I would even make it up to the confessional before noon Mass. Folks continued to fill in behind me.
Then the waiting all turned a little odd. It took on the feel of the stand-by queue for a ride on Space Mountain at Walt Disney World. As we slowly crept closer to the main attraction, people joked, made new acquaintances, chit-chatted about mutual interests such as sports or places of employment. One man behind me even started gossiping about a couple of priests in town. Really? Did I just hear what I think I heard? I can’t recall ever standing in line for confession surrounded by such a casual tone. I did my best to block it all out by burying my face in my smart phone and continuing about my examen. A few minutes later, the noise must have gotten to another because I heard someone “SHHHHH!” the Chatty Cathys.
A woman in line ahead of me was praying the Rosary, and as she rubbed each bead, its rose scent drifted my way. [Sidebar Thought: Some say Heaven smells like freshly baked bread, but I think it smells like roses. What about you?] Her prayerful witness was powerful and contagious. I followed her lead and began to pray a Rosary, too. Peace, at last. But three decades into the Rosary, the man in front of me hastily turned around and said, “Did you see that? That man just cut in front of me!” I looked up and sure enough, a new face had made his way between the Rosary-praying woman and us. Huffing and puffing, shaking his head and shoving his hands into his pockets, I think my neighbor wanted me to confront Budgey McFudgey. For a moment I considered it, if only to calm the man down. But on second thought, if a person is so motivated as to cut in front of 50+ people to make a confession, he’s probably in desperate need of the graces. Let him have that place in line.
As I inched closer to the confessionals and the clock ticked closer to noon, I noticed two priests were hearing confessions. This was a good sign confessions wouldn’t be cut short before I had my opportunity. Then I noticed people waiting a little longer to confess to one particular priest. When it came time for the man in front of me to enter the confessional, remember the one who had been so indigent about the aforementioned line-cutter, well funny thing, he allowed me to go ahead because he, too, wanted to wait for that one priest. Now that’s ironic.
And so came my turn. I walked in and knelt behind the screen; the priest opened with a prayer; I stated my sins; the priest assigned me penance; I prayed an Act of Contrition; he offered my absolution. It was all matter-of-fact and mechanical. But I was thankful to be freed from my sins and made way to the adoration chapel to complete my penance.
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Joel Says: It was Wednesday afternoon, the last day of Lent. I had missed confession following noon Mass at the cathedral. Now what? I emailed a good priest friend to ask if his parish had any more extra confession times for Holy Week. “No, but I can help you with that,” he replied. I met him the afternoon of Holy Thursday at his parish after a brief stop in the adoration chapel. He greeted me with a big smile and hug. We chatted a bit as we walked to the confessional.
We sat down facing each other, no screen, and we began the Rite of Penance. I enumerated my sins. He spoke of God’s love and mercy, and assigned me a penance. We prayed together, and he offered absolution. When we had concluded, we remained for some time, just catching up. Finally, we left the confessional and parted with a hug and a promise to pray for each other.
The experience had been profoundly beautiful and deeply personal. I went back to the adoration chapel to give thanks.
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What’s the difference between hers and his? Nothing that really matters. We both went, confessed, and were forgiven. We both received the graces given through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. While our experiences were wildly different, at the end of the day, they are the same. We examined our consciences, made good confessions, and received absolution from our sins. We were washed clean by a shower of grace in the form of God’s mercy.