June 1, 2011

Priests At Confession

Today I did myself a favor and went to one of the days of recollection for priests offered here in Boston.

The first part was a holy hour. The Blessed Sacrament was exposed and we prayed Midday Prayer together. Then there was a little conference given by one of the priests. Before Benediction at the end, there was an opportunity for confession. Confessors arranged themselves in the various corners of the church and sanctuary. I went to confession myself, but when I got back to my pew I had trouble settling down to quiet prayer. I tried the rosary, but that didn't work either. Maybe it was too warm, or maybe I was socially anxious about the rest of the day.

Not being able to pray, I just sat and watched the priests go to confession. There was reflective music playing, so there was no danger of hearing anything. I just watched. It turned out to be a beautiful and encouraging reflection.

One priest approaches the other. They greet each other like any pair of colleagues, an exchange that might occur in any setting. But then it changes. The penitent sits, and both heads are lowered as a confession is spoken softly.

This hunkering down, it displays an entrance into sacred time, a departure from the customs and boundaries of the world. The words that are spoken in confession and the conversation that follows are at the deepest level of secret. How much of the spiritual life depends on a certain sublime secrecy! The utter Simplicity of God meeting the solitude of the singular creation of an individual human soul!

I watched, over and over, the intimate secret of grace defeat the isolating secrecy of sin.

Then, from this conversation of two Christian souls, something new emerges. One raises a hand over the other. For a moment they have ceased to be peers. One is in authority and judgment over the other. But just as this gesture terminates in the sign of the cross made over the penitent, so this judgment terminates in the self-sacrificing, incarnate Word, a God who wills to let go of everything it ought to mean to be divine--in our human imagination--in order to free us from our chosen misery. So what we call a judgment in this context is not a judgment to which the sinner is subjected, but a proclamation of the Risen Christ, who Himself is the judgment against sin and the tangle of passions and frustrations Christian tradition calls 'the world.'

Then, absolution proclaimed and received, the sacred time closes up again. The two men shake hands as a sign of their reentry into the ordinary time and space of the day.


G.B. Sadler said...

Wonderful description, Father, and thanks for it. I've been struck from time to time -- reading Chesterton and Greene, among other lay authors -- by passages where they have their priest characters grasp, perceive, puzzle out something that a lay character presumably would not have on his or her own -- and then often explain their better or more adequate grasp of human nature by reference to hearing confessions.

Obviously, Chesterton and Greene, being laity, would not have experienced this themselves, but I would suspect they learned this role of what some Thomists call "knowledge by connaturality" from some of their priestly interlocutors.

Your piece here fits into that genre of descriptions disclosing sides of human nature which are illuminated by the divine, and by life and practice in the divine. I'm very glad you wrote it.

Brother Charles said...

Thanks for the encouragement, and happy feast day. (St. Justin, patron of philosophers.)

Fr. Cory Sticha said...

I really wish we could have something like that in this diocese, but we are too spread out. Not to mention the priests who don't believe in the Sacrament of Confession and discourage it through unwillingness to offer it for the good of the faithful, as well as actively speaking against it.

Brother Charles said...

Wow, Fr. C. We'll have to pray for them.

Lee Gilbert said...

Father Charles,

Thanks you for this insightful and encouraging post.

It seems a strange and appalling thing to say, but as you know, among the many strategems of our ancient foe is to inculcate the idea that the entire goal of the priesthood is for a group of men to impose an exotic and literally incredible set of doctrines on the people for the sake of their ( the priests) own comfort and financial security. I am convinced that there is a constant falling away from the Church of people who have allowed their faith to get so weak that they are eventually seduced by this idea or something akin to it.

That is why it seems to me so critically important for people to have constant reminders that priests also believe, to see them in line at Confession like anyone else, to find them at the Eucharistic chapel like anyone else, to find them kneeling in church saying the rosary or making a visit like anyone else. It is very encouraging, but also extremely rare.

For the most part, often the day to day experience of the faithful is to see prists appear from the sacristy for Mass and then disappear into the sacristy after Mass, coming onstage and then going offstage.

I am not at all knocking the idea of the priests' day of recollection and going to Confession away from the eyes of the faithful, but the scene called this other need to mind. We need to see that priests also are among the faithful-as odd as that might sound.

Anonymous said...

Father, please pray for our diocese in Canada as well. I don't know if our parish is typical, but Confession is never mentioned - we are always told, though, that "God loves you" - and any time I've arrived at the church 15 mins. before Mass (the time specified in the parish bulletin), the priest is nowhere to be found. Also, there is an issue of trust involved. I once told something to our pastor in strict confidence, and he revealed it to the Parish Wardens. When I told him how I felt, he blew up at me and said he'd "had no choice". (Too long a story to go into here). So, even though the Seal of Confession is involved, I simply do not trust this man and have no desire to approach him for the Sacrament. There are a lot of really sad things going on in the parish, and I'm no longer actively involved (was organist for 20 yrs). Sorry for the length, but reading your post I realized how it could be, and felt sad that things are so messed up around here.

Thank you and God bless you,