Confession Is Good For the Soul
I am no longer a practicing Catholic, but I do remember some of my experiences with the Church, as a school girl . The Catholic ritual that made the most impact on me was confession.
I call confession a ritual, because like all rituals it had strict rules and practices which you were expected to obey. For example when making your confession you always included the words “Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee…”
As I young child, I am afraid I didn’t have these contrite words quite right. Looking back, I distinctly remember blundering innocently , “Oh my God I am hardly sorry for having offended thee…”
I am amazed that not one of the priests hearing my confessions ever stopped to correct me. Perhaps, having heard these words intoned many thousands of times, the weary priests did not catch my misstep. Or maybe that mysterious dark screen that separates the priest from the sinner in the confessional booth muted my childish error.
I know that confession was expected to be a weekly exercise on Saturday, in order to receive communion on Sunday with a relatively clean soul. But there were so many more interesting things to do on a fine, bright Saturday afternoon. Walking to church to make a confession did not always make the cut.
Often several weeks would pass before I found myself once again ensconced in the confessional, about to spill my sins like birdseed onto the lap of the confessor.
I was always nervous about going to confession, even though my sins were of a distinctly quotidian kind. I might confess, for example, that twice I teased my little brother; one time I talked back to my mother ; and maybe three times I forgot to say my nightly prayers.
So far, so good. But I really didn’t want to admit to the priest that it had been four weeks since my last confession. I just knew that was going to get me in hot water.
So in a way that to this day astounds me with my duplicity, I would simply “add” an extra sin to the number of times I told a lie. Thus instead of confessing to one lie (the time I lied to my friend about how many outfits my Barbie Doll had), I confessed to two lies (now including the lie about how many weeks had passed since my last confession.)
The priest, unlike God, was completely taken in, and an embarrassing lecture was avoided. It is perhaps a matter of no small wonder that I didn’t follow up this cynical behavior at so young an age with a life of unremitting crime.
The great thing about confession was the aftermath. Stumbling gratefully out of the confessional, all that was required was to kneel at the alter, murmur a few Hail Mary’s and Our Fathers, and then make a beeline outside.
All these many years later, I remember the sense of freedom, exaltation, and, yes, holiness, that coursed through my eight year old body now that I had made my confession. The world looked newly-washed. The air seemed to hum with hosannas. I felt, for a few moments, invincible.
Of course, this state of heightened holiness disappeared very quickly once I reached home. Waiting for me there were all the usual temptations, including a little brother to tease and an overworked mother to sass. But until that moment of inevitable disillusionment, I felt that achieving sainthood might not be an unrealistic life goal.
Yes, confession can be good for the soul. However, sometimes a confession does not lead to an especially elevating moment.
For example, back in the late 90’s when my son was in his teens and completely enamored by the music and the lifestyle of the swinging ‘60’s, I blurted out to him that I was a teen in the late ‘60’s. However, I had had a much less exciting experience.
I confessed that I had never taken any drugs. Never gone to see the Beatles or been part of the crowd at Woodstock. In addition, I had never joined a massive anti-war protest (somehow the smaller ones I joined at the state capitol in Providence didn’t seem worth mentioning). Nor(and here I blushed slightly) ever taken part in group sex or partner swapping.
My son stared at me. For a long moment. Then with a look and reply that could only be regarded as pitying, he exclaimed, “Mom, you wasted the ‘60’s!”
Wasted the 60's? Yes, I can see that many would think so.
But harking back to my words as a young child making my early confessions, I can only say, “I am hardly sorry …”