April 23, 2009

The Old "3 and 3"

Sometimes it's just overwhelming to realize how much the Holy Spirit arranges for what we need spiritually at a given time.

I became a Catholic back in college, in between sophomore and junior year. I was baptized on a Saturday afternoon toward the end of the summer. By the following Saturday, I knew it was already time for my first confession! The little parish near campus had a fairly typical confession schedule: Saturday afternoon, 4-4:30. From that day forward, I went to confession every Saturday afternoon and then returned to campus for the vigil Mass.

I was surprised to discover that no matter what I said in confession, the old priest always delivered the same counsel and penance, which I heard so many weeks in a row I can still reproduce it now:

Thank God for having made a good confession, and tell Jesus that you love him. For your penance say three Our Fathers and three Haily Marys. Now, make a good Act of Contrition.

Perhaps my confessions were all more or less similar, though I know that some were much graver and more complex than others. But no matter what I said, I always got the same thing. I can only guess that maybe that's what he said for every confession.

But here's where I'm amazed by Providence: As a priest, I woudn't want to think of saying something so brief and generic to a penitent, much less the same penitent twice. But as a nervous and somewhat scrupulous neophtye, this was just what I needed. I was put at ease so that I could examine my conscience without worry, and I became more free in what sins I would admit because I had no fear of having the priest confirm my feeling that I was off to such a bad start as a Catholic.

I laugh a little about this now that I am a priest myself; it doesn't take much time in the confessional before nothing much shocks you anymore, and you soon realize that original sin is quite unoriginal in its various derivatives.

But recalling my own early experience from time to time reminds me that not every penitent needs a lot of counsel. For some, the last thing they need is more religious input. As a young priest, you always want to make that amazing "surgical strike" in penitential counsel, but sometimes you also need to let go of this ambition too. Some penitents just need a calm and reassuring word, and a renewing connection to the God who delights to see us leave the unreality of sin behind.

7 comments:

LM said...

As a cradle Catholic, my parents never took me to Reconciliation. So I never really thought about it. We went to Church every Sunday and Holy Days. But never thought about confession. Daily Mass is one of the few ways I made it through college. But I still did not know out Faith. Of course now I know more. I have taken my 9 year old to confession 4 times since she received her First Communion a year ago. My point, it would be so nice if I knew what she thought about the sacrament...

LM said...

Everyone go and nominate "a minor friar" for the 2009 Cannonball Awards! http://thecrescat.blogspot.com/2009/04/and-nominees-are.html

Smiley said...

i find confession the best sacrament. the more i go for confession the more i realize how far i am from God and how much i need to work at being Perfect like my heavnely Father is perfect. As ctholics we are luck confession presents us with the oppurtunity of starting with a clean slate.
Dear Bother friar yes you are lukcy that your confessor was nice, sometimes i have had the preist tell me that i am using the sacrament like a laundry putting the same sins in again and again. wow that hurt a lot. when you become a preist pelase remeber that people are trying to be good being human and having original sin we all fall again and again and we need help to go on not condemnation in the confessional.

Victoria said...

That is exactly what my priest used to say to me in primary (elementary) school when I went to confession. Maybe your priest and mine swapped notes! lol

Brother Charles said...

Or perhaps it was the same priest! This was the diocese of Norwich, CT.

pennyante said...

I've gone back and read several of your earlier posts. They have been very helpful to me especially because you are not afraid of sharing your experiences with us.

Thank you again...

Brother Charles said...

It's been good to meet you too, pennyante. Be well in the Lord.