Last week was the week of road trips. Last weekend I was in Manchester and Camp Fatima, New Hampshire. It was Beacon, New York for Tuesday and Wednesday and then New Haven and Yonkers for Friday and Saturday.
In the course of my travels I stopped by a religious house that I had been told still had a functioning priest confessional. Houses of religious priests used to have these in former times, a semi-secret entrance where a priest could go and summon another priest to hear his confession. I guess that most of these no longer exist or function; what used to be the priests' confessional in my last assignment is now the parish food pantry.
Enter by a unmarked side door which you will find open, I was told, and there you will see, in addition to inner doors to the house proper, another door, which to a trained eye--such as that of a priest--will be recognizable as a confessional. Go in and press the button there to ring the bell, and a priest will come to hear your confession.
I admit that I was somewhat doubtful about all this. It all seemed to belong to another time. Nevertheless I went and found everything just as it had been described to me. I found the outer door unlocked. Once inside, I recognized the confessional right away. I rang the bell and knelt down in the dark.
A couple of minutes went by. But just when I was ready to get up and leave with my doubts confirmed, I heard footsteps. Then the light came on the other side of the screen. Then came the big surprise: the voice of a young woman:
"Are you a priest here for confession?"
"Yes," I said sheepishly, too thrown off to think of anything more clever. She was just a bit of a surprise.
"O.k., I'll see if I can find someone," she offered back and left.
A couple of minutes later a priest came and heard my confession.
Of course I have spoken with many young women in the confessional, but up until the other day it had been as the confessor, not as the penitent.