March 28, 2010

Refusing

I've written before about how sudden requests for confession have been one of the surprises of my priesthood. Well, today was the first time I refused to hear someone's confession. Perhaps it was a sin of selfishness brought on by the occasion of distracted stress, or perhaps it was good boundaries and self-care. I'm not sure.

Palm Sunday is the most stressful Sunday morning of the year. Not only is it the longest Sunday liturgy, but there is more to do in between the Masses. Between the middle and last Masses today I had exactly thirty-two minutes to greet parishioners, extinguish candles, re-set books, bring in the vessels to be re-set and brought out again, put out bread and wine, put out palms, greet servers, check in with musicians, get vested, pray my private preparation and be ready for the procession with palms. So, when I was right in the middle of this procedure, carrying out bags of palm, ripping them open and slicing the rubber bands with my trusty pocket knife, someone approached me for confession. I said that I just couldn't do it at that moment. I did point him in a direction where I was pretty sure he would find a priest who had a minute, but I still felt bad. I hate to have to do something like that for the first time.

The request was obviously unreasonable under my circumstances, but the incident reminded me that it's one thing to be able to keep appropriate boundaries, but it's quite another another to really accept them in one's scrupulous heart.

16 comments:

pennyante said...

I'm really amazed at this:

"I had exactly thirty-two minutes to greet parishioners, extinguish candles, re-set books, bring in the vessels to be re-set and brought out again, put out bread and wine, put out palms, greet servers, check in with musicians, get vested, pray my private preparation and be ready for the procession with palms."


Don't your extraordinary ministers extinguish candles, reset the vessels, put out bread and wine and put out the palms? In my parish, the priest does not have to do that. My parish is small and so we all help with these duties.

Fr. Daren J. Zehnle said...

I've done the same in similar situations, too, though I haven't usually had another priest nearby; in such circumstances I offer to meet them in the confessional after Mass. It is some small comfort at least to know that we are obliged to "reasonable" requests for the Sacrament at any hour.

Brother Vito, OFMCap said...

Don't beat yourself up too much!

Peace, and may your Holy Week be filled with the Spirit.

-Vito (The Lowly Novice)

Qualis Rex said...

No, you totally were not out of line. As long as you were not dismissive (and I would have a VERY HARD time believe you were) then you did the right thing; you presented the problem (telling him mass was about to begin and you needed to prepare in order to meet the needs of the ENTIRE congregation), you gave him a solution (going to a priest who was available) and I'm sure you made it clear you would be happy to see him DURING mass and regularly scheduled confession hours.

FYI, I couldn't get to "my" parish today, so I had to settle for the closest NO one for mass in Spanish today. Not going into the particulars here, but by the grace of Our Holy God your parishoners are lucky to have you.

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

I think you were fully justified and should not have a guilty conscience. It sounds like you are very available in general to your parishioners. That is probably why there was no hesitation in asking you.

Wishing you a prayerful and unstressed Holy Week!

Brother Charles said...

pennyante: We used to have a Sunday sacristan, but he was "downsized."

Fr. Daren: I do the 'after Mass' offer all the time. An old priest once taught me what to do when people are worried about committing sacrilege if they communicate: tell them to make the best Act of Contrition they can and offer to take upon oneself whatever sin is committed. Then hear their confession after Mass, if they still want.

Vito and Elizabeth: Thanks!

QR: Domingo de Ramos can be the biggest day of the year in Spanish speaking parishes. I bet it was a grand Mass!

Anonymous said...

Your a wonderful and thoughtful person. Posts like this is why I love your blog so much. Please keep up all your good work.

4narnia said...

hi Fr. C! i don't feel that there was anything wrong with your telling the person that you couldn't hear the confession "at that moment." and, you did direct the person to a priest who may have had the time. i know what you mean about Palm Sunday being a busy Sunday with so much to do. since we were off from religious education today, i spent the whole morning at the other parish i go to and helped out with many of the the things that you describe in your post: extinguishing and lighting candles; re-setting books; bringing the vessels to be re-set and brought out again; put out the bread and wine; made sure there was enough Palm available and, between all of this served at my regular 7:45 am Mass; was the second lector at the 10:15 am Mass and was altar server at the 12:45 pm Mass. after the last Mass, i stayed and helped clean up the church. i didn't get home until after 3:00 pm today! if it would make things easier for you at SH, i would be willing to help some of the time or all of the time on saturdays as the saturday sacristan - i have a lot of experience! :) PEACE! ~tara t~

Sharon said...

pennyante: We used to have a Sunday sacristan, but he was "downsized

Father, when you say "downsized' do you mean that the sacristan was a paid employee? If so, have you tried asking for volunteers? In Australia, as far as I am aware, all church helpers, except for the church cleaner, are volunteers, this includes the choir, the organist etc.

Anonymous said...

My experience with the Capuchins is that the friars make themselves available for confession whenever requested. Here, there were justifiable reasons for not being able to do it (suppose the penitents spiritual condition required a more detailed examination? You would also not want to short-cut that sacrament). So, given that other priests were available (the penitent could have gone to the office and requested a priest), I don't believe you were wrong.

Qualis Rex said...

Father Charles, "grand" in the sense that there were a lot of people there with colourful handiwork palms, yes. Not grand in execution, rubrics, music or the priest.

In the US, the church is deathly afraid we are "losing our Latinos". This was a mantra since the 80's when the US govt was actively sending Evangelical missionaries to Latin America to combat Liberation Theology. So, they think "if we can't beat 'em, join 'em" and make the masses as campy, loud and folkish as possible ('cuz that's the only thing we understand).

The bitter irony here (oh yes, there will be irony) is that for the children of these people born here in the US or those of us who have lived here for over 10 years, the whole campesino thing is both outdated AND irrelevant. So, either they redo the mass to accommodate Reggaeton, or the church needs to smarten up and go for a more eternal look. That's the ONLY long-lasting way to keep people in the pews, Latino or not.

Sorry for hijacking the thread. I'm just overwhelmed with what I saw today.

NC Sue said...

I agree with other commenters that you did nothing wrong in refusing to hear confession in the midst of everything else you were doing to prepare for the next Mass. But I also feel it's time for you to downsize your own responsibilities a bit. Your parishioners should be able to help you. Lectors, for example, could be asked to help you position items for the next Mass. And after the chalice has been purified, extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist could set out the wine, water, and wafers for the next Mass. In addition to lightening your load, this ensures that some of your parishioners will be able to assist a priest who may be called on to cover for you in the event of illness or other emergency. They'll know where to find things and how best to help him prepare as well.

GrandmaK said...

I have nothing more to add to all the previous comments. Just want to let you know I support you in your action. And God bless you abundantly this Holy Week! Cathy

4narnia said...

hi Fr. C! just another comment to say i agree with Sharon and Sue. i would be more than happy to help out on saturdays before and after the 5:00 pm Mass as a volunteer sacristan if it would help free you and the other Friars to be more available to the people. also, if you need any help with anything before and/or after any of the Holy Week services this week, just let me know. PEACE! ~tara t~

Lee Gilbert said...

"An old priest once taught me what to do when people are worried about committing sacrilege if they communicate: tell them to make the best Act of Contrition they can and offer to take upon oneself whatever sin is committed."

This is the exact opposite of what a good Dominican friar told us in high school, that one should never approach the Sacrament in a state of mortal sin, period. The only thing that would remit mortal sin is a perfect act of contrition, but it is difficult- almost impossible- to know if one has made such an act of contrition. Beyond that, there is no such thing, is there, as taking on the guilt of another's sin in this fashion. It sounds like very spiritual lore, of course, but does it correspond to anything real? Besides, who besides Jesus Christ would really want to take on himself or be capable of taking on himself guilt for the unknown sins of another person? I for one would not want to issue blank checks in this fashion, to find myself accused before the throne of God for sins of which I had no memory, but which I had unwittingly assumed. Fortunately, this cannot really be done. The concern about sacrilege is very justified in this situation.

However, I enjoy your blog very much- and profit from it.

Brother Charles said...

Lee-you are quite right, of course. There is no remedy for the state of mortal sin apart from integral confession and sacramental absolution, and it would be presumption on my part to think I could transfer anyone else sacrilege onto myself. I have enough of my own anyway.

I think the sense of the advice has to do not with someone who is in danger of mortal sin but someone who is anxious and scrupulous, and perhaps known to the confessor.