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.