June 23, 2009

Father, Will You Hear My Confession?

Our earlier daily Mass is at 6:45, and--at least when I celebrate it--it's over by 7:10 or so. The next liturgy is Morning Prayer, which isn't until 8. There is almost always some part of the empty, in between hour in which I can be found around the church and sacristy, either tidying up after the first Mass, setting up for Morning Prayer and the second Mass, or just getting started on my rosary for the day.

A handful of people have discovered, over time, that this is a time when they can go to confession. Of course I'm happy to hear their confessions, and at that time of the day I still have the energy to gratefully receive the opportunity of penance if I happen to be inconvenienced by them. They are almost always very brief encounters, little snippets of the larger and deeper conversation between an individual soul and the Lord.

I always laugh inside a little bit, though. I would never have done such a thing back when things were the other way around. Perhaps I'm just shy, but I didn't see priests as approachable enough to just ask for confession at a random moment. Even if I really felt it was time for a confession, I would wait for the regularly scheduled times.

I laugh because this is a good thing. Back in the earlier years of my Baptism I used to go to confession a lot; at least once a week for several spells. I still go at least once a month, and sometimes more often than that. But I protest that universal law instructs religious to approach the sacrament frequenter. (CIC, 664) I didn't always go to confession for the right reasons, though, and that's why it was providential for my to have been shy about approaching priests about it. Some of my frequent use of the sacrament was about contrition, for sure, and some of it was just because I had a lot of zeal and was working hard in prayer and interior asceticism in those years. But I also went to confession all the time because I was having a hard time accepting myself as a sinner. I only wanted to imagine myself as perfect, and so I would use the sacrament not so much to celebrate the forgiveness we have in Christ as to get rid of the sin that was interfering with my beloved idea of myself as so very devout. Holiness too can become an idol. "The devil is not afraid to preach the will of God, provided he can preach it in his own way." (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 94)

So I'm grateful for the folks who interrupt my morning with their confessions; I'm just glad I didn't ever think to do such a thing when I was younger in the faith. I don't know if this is normal, but after my priestly ordination I was hearing confessions before I even offered my first Mass, and penitents continue to challenge me with their honesty and earnest devotion.

14 comments:

Paul Zalonski said...

I think good priest is always changed by the confessional ministry. Certainly a priest's humanity is refined more and more by confessing the penitent. You tell the quality of the priest if he regularly avails himself to the sacrament as a penitent and as a confessor. Blessings on your good work, Friar Charles!

aimee milburn cooper said...

I love confession, Father, and you are privileged that souls come to you, "interrupt" you, in this world where so many don't understand what confession is really for, and don't use it.

I teach a full hour on it in my course, encourage frequent confession, not because I think we are such sinners (though certainly we are), but because it is such a wonderful tool for opening up the soul ever more deeply to the Lord, allowing the Lord to constantly clean us out and open us up, so that He can then enter us so much more deeply in the Eucharist. One image I use is of a dirty sheet crumpled up in a laundry basket - and we are progressively drawing it out and stretching it open in front of the Lord, so that He can, through the priest, take the power hose of the Holy Spirit and power clean it out, so it becomes clean and light and airy!

I teach confession in conjunction with teachings on the Eucharist, the prayer life and the moral life, taken together as the key, indispensable tools given us by the Church for truly becoming the dwelling place of the Lord here on earth, now, as much as possible in this life - which is necessary if we laity are really going to succeed in bringing holiness to the world. Holiness is not just good behavior - it is union with Christ, who IS salvation, and Christ we are meant to be bringing into the world through ourselves, so we have to do everything possible to really open ourselves up and let Him in, as deeply and thoroughly as possible.

I'll tell you one more thing: a good confessor is worth his weight in gold to someone serious about the spiritual life and growing in holiness. I've gone through long periods where I've driven regularly to the next town for confession, just for the privilege and spiritual benefit of having a truly holy confessor!

So I pray that God will bless you in your ministry as a confessor, and that you will grow in holiness, so as to truly impart holiness, which is Christ, into the souls who come to you, seeking Him.

Julia said...

I'm one of those who will ask a priest for Confession!

On my college campus, there aren't organized times for confession. The priest is around about 8am-8pm, so confession is available whenever you want. Almost everyday I would hear someone ask him for confession before or after daily Mass.

Requesting confession is especially important for daily Mass goers because a mortal sin on Monday would otherwise keep them from Communion all week. And then maybe the person would just skip Mass altogether, or maybe go and receive Communion unworthily.

Even if there are venial sins and not mortal sins, I've had days where I've just been itching for Confession. I'd much rather respond to that prompting when it happens rather than wait for a half hour block on Saturday!

Brother Charles said...

Wow. Thanks friends, for all of this encouragement!

pennyante said...

I want to thank you, Fr. Charles, for your openness and willingness to share part of your interior life with us.

Your writings are a blessing and a grace from God to us who read them daily.

May God always bless you and guide you to an ever more holy relationship with Him as you journey toward Him.

I completely agree with aimee when she speaks of the importance of a good confessor. I am grateful to have one like that. And it appears that your group of people have found one in you too...

Brother Charles said...

It's so true, friends, about the importance of a good confessor. I've really done better when I've been blessed to find one.

As a priest, I try to do what I myself appreciate in confession:

1. To always take the penitent seriously, and not to dismiss any of their sins if they don't seem serious to me.

2. To only ask questions about details or clarifications if it's pastorally necessary, and then only after I ask permission.

3. To challenge the penitent to conversion, but only if I have offered some practical tools that offer concrete direction.

4. To agree on a penance that is clear and for which it will be clear when it is completed.

5. To offer absolution as devoutly and attentively as I can.

pennyante said...

Fr. Charles, you are offering the People of God exactly what they need and deserve from their priest confessor.

I hope that your priest readers will take your list and apply it to their own penitents. We deserve nothing less.

It is difficult enough for many people to humble themselves to confess to a priest even though they understand that the priest stands in God's stead... To have a priest appear in a hurry or be harsh or to diminish the penitent in any way is more than a lot of people can bear...

Thank you...

aimee milburn cooper said...

#1 one on your list is great, Father. I've had priests dismiss my sins as nothing - one even told me to try something I was confessing a temptation to, because "it might be a good thing."!!!!! Trust me, it would NOT have been a good thing! :D

Brother Charles said...

Thanks Aimee...that has always driven me crazy too.

Dealing with someone else's conscience is a delicate thing, and a confessor there is always a lot you don't know.

Sometimes you do have to help someone see that something isn't really a sin, though, but you have help them, not dismiss what is on their conscience.

GrandmaK said...

This was instructional. I have never asked for a priest to hear my confession because I was afraid I would inconvenience him. Though I will not just go out as ask, I will keep it in mind. One gets used to Saturday afternoon and confession. Thank you!!! Cathy

Julia said...

Nice list. I am sure you are a very good confessor, Father.

On #3: The one question I've been asked a few times that I like is: "Is this sin normally a problem for you?" If someone has a continuing struggle with chastity, for example, a few words about the use of prayer, avoiding occasions of sin, and not getting discouraged may be warranted. If someone else who normally lives chastely confesses the same sin, it could reflect that there is some kind of other problem going on.

On #4: Yes! Unclear penances are so difficult and can even be distressing!

Hidden One said...

Father, please keep offering those Confessions.

Myself, what I would give to be within range of a priest who would hear Confessions like that!

Julia makes an excellent point about daily Mass goers missing out on the Eucharist all week. Very excellent.

Snup said...

Hi Fr. Charles!
I agree with #1 totally. When I was a senior in high school a priest totally didn't take me seriously and I essentially left the Church over it. I didn't come back for nearly 10 years....

Paul in the GNW said...

I am sad to say that I am guilty of inconveniencing Priests for confession at odd times and I'm a much worse offender than what you describe. It hasn't been very frequent lately, but for years I struggled with chastity and quite regularly needed to get to confession. During the earliest part of my struggle in particular, and in a few bad periods later on I went to confession more than once a week.

In the earliest period of that struggle I was living in an area where confession was only scheduled on Sat. and there were lines at that. So I began, at the suggestion of my priest, getting to daily mass early and lurking near the sacristy. That led to on a few occasions just popping into the office and once knocking on the door of the Rectory around dinner time.

Fortunately confession and prayer and God's grace have helped greatly. Now I live in an area where within a reasonable drive there are a few parishes that offer confession daily, or on selected week-days. Still, at times I still find it necessary to hijack my Pastor for a few minutes.