I arrived in the mostly empty main church hall about half-an-hour before Mass. With an inward sigh of relief, I saw that the queue for the Sacrament of Reconciliation was mostly empty. Only one other person was sitting in the pew placed strategically outside the Confessionals, an elderly lady. Giving her a smile, I sat down.
The priests of our parish usually start hearing confessions about fifteen minutes before Mass, but if you allowed the queue to build up, you might find yourself attending Mass without having received the Sacrament. So being second in line pretty much guaranteed my chances.
Sitting at the pew, I began to reflect on all my sins – the very reasons why I was in this queue in the first place. I always found it helpful to run down the list of the Seven Deadly Sins, recalling events since my last confession where I failed in any one of these aspects. Where have I been unjustifiably Angry? Wrathful even? I thought of people who I held grudges against, the people I felt it hard to forgive, people I loved who I felt angry at because of the bad decisions they made which hurt themselves. Anger at myself for being so useless and helpless to do anything about all these. The Pride I possessed that made me think I was important enough to solve all these things myself rather than trusting in God.
I found myself having to take a deep breath, which I released in a sigh. Sloth, Greed, Gluttony, Lust, the list when on and on. Recent failures, past failures, failures upon failures. Sins repeated over and over again, ad nauseam. Numerous acts of contrition, promises to do better, and failing every time. Worse still, sometimes I found the weight of my sins did not bother me as much as it should. And it always brought me guilt when others shared with me their struggles, and how they fought so hard with a particular sin – Lust, for example, when I was feeling resigned and apathetic in my own struggle.
I wryly noted that I should have done this reflecting before I even set foot in the parish. There was no way I could prepare a complete account of my sins in the half-hour I had here now. That was probably a Slothful act. Conversely, I’ve also found it useful, time permitting to then do the same reflection in reverse, to view my live through the framework of the 7 Heavenly Virtues – Faith, Hope, Love, Justice, Prudence, Temperance and Diligence. Evaluating these Virtues in the light of Aquinas’ definitions, its a good exercise to see where one is lacking in their Christian life and adjust accordingly. But that is a whole article for another time.
If anyone could see my thoughts, perhaps they would say I was being morbid and overly scrupulous, nit-picking at my faults to bring myself low. But a healthy dose of self-honesty goes a long way towards making one humble. People always question why we Catholics have this quaint practice of confessing our sins to a priest. Why not just go straight to God? I think the answer is that Catholicism recognizes that salvation doesn’t happen in some airy-fairy, spiritual realm. Rather, we need to feel that mercy in a tangible, physical way. That is why Jesus Christ chose to fully incarnate Himself, to become both fully God and fully Man, so that all men may feel in their bones as well as their hearts that they were saved.
So the very situation I was in, sitting on this hard wooden pew in the air-conditioned Church building, staring at the empty Confessional while waiting for the priest to arrive, all this became the means to my salvation. Sitting here reflecting on my sins, my struggles became real, tangible – spiritual warfare made physical. And when I finally entered the Confessional in order to confess my sins, the priest, a man ordained by the Bishop in an unbroken chain of apostolic succession going back to the founding of the Church, truly became the alter Christus, the other Christ, to bring healing and freedom to me and so many others. And then I was free to live as a Christian once again, with all the successes and failures that entails.
At long last, Father arrived. The most pleasant priest in our parish, he beamed at everyone arrayed in the queue and entered his side of the Confessional. Moments later, the white sign above the door that said “Present” lit up. The elderly lady next to me got up to enter from the other side. Soon. I looked back at the others in the queue, which had grown since I had sat down. So many people of all ages in the line. Looking ahead, a middle-aged couple walked past me, smiling at me as they walked past. I recognized them – one of their children had been my Catechism classmates. I looked around at the rapidly filling Church, unable to see any of said classmates around after 10 years. That didn’t necessarily mean anything, but it made me recall those who I knew had fallen away from the Church. I felt a little sad, but also more resolved.
Yes, I was here to be forgiven. And with that forgiveness came a mission. To be the best Christian I could be. To light the way for those who are lost. To be patient and deal with the challenges God places before me.
The elderly lady stepped out of the confessional, and I rose to enter in her place. The inside of the Confessional was small and brightly lit. I knelt down before the screen and said the all-too-familiar words: “Bless me Father, for I have sinned…”
© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Garrett Christopher Ng