Confessing

Confession, Reconciliation, Voices, Healing, Sacrament
Photo by Taylor Smith on Unsplash

What on earth were you thinking Mike? Why would you do that? What an idiot. There it was again, that familiar inner voice. At one time those words, that voice, were about what I had done. Now they were about having scheduled an appointment with Fr. Kelly to confess what I had done.

Those words, that voice – I knew them well. I had heard them for as long as I could remember. It wasn’t someone else’s voice that spoke. It was mine. I don’t know where I learned to speak like that. I don’t know who taught me that language but I was fluent. It was that critical, second-guessing, you-should-know-better (and do better) voice. I was a house divided. I was Legion, fragmented and broken. 

That voice was the reason I had decided to make a confession and the reason I really didn’t want to. 

“Confession is good for the soul,” they say. Maybe so. But the thought of confessing, professing, undressing – baring it all – had my stomach churning and the voices in my head screaming. What would he think of me? Would he see or treat me differently? Would he recall all the things I had done and left undone every time he saw me? Would he see me, or my sins? 

Those were never really his questions to answer. They were my questions to me, mine to answer. As I walked to my appointment with Fr. Kelly the voice grew louder with each step. What on earth were you thinking Mike? Why would you do that? What an idiot.

I didn’t have to do this. I was on retreat. I could have stayed in my little dwelling reading, daydreaming, napping. I could have gone for a walk. But I didn’t. I chose to waive my fifth amendment right and take the stand, a stand that a softer, quieter voice said would be a stand for my life.

I turned a five minute walk to Fr. Kelly’s place into fifteen minutes of coming up with excuses for why I could not make a confession today.

It’s difficult to face ourselves, to see and tell the truth about who we are and are not. I wasn’t so much afraid of being found out by Fr. Kelly as I was of being found out by myself. It’s one thing to keep the things you’ve done and left undone neatly stacked and packed away, hidden and out of sight. It’s another to name and number them out loud, to open the closet door of your soul for another to see your hidden clutter and junk. 

“Come in,” he said as I reached for the screen door on his porch. The porch was simple and plain, furnished with thirty-five years of his presence, silence, prayer, and gentleness. He was reading when I arrived. A plastic glass with water, no ice, sat on the table next to him. It was a hot South Texas summer afternoon and his dwelling was not air conditioned. Maybe there would be a breeze. It didn’t matter, I would have been sweating if it had been January. 

 He set his book on the table and said, “Have a seat.” I remained standing. I didn’t intend to stay long. I began to speak, “Fr. Kelly, I’m not Catholic so maybe I shouldn’t….” He interrupted before I could finish. “That doesn’t matter, have a seat.” “Oh,” I said with feigned relief and a fake smile. I thanked him for his openness and willingness to meet with me. Was that a lie, something else to be confessed? 

“It’s been a long time since I’ve made a confession and I don’t want to take up too much of your time so maybe….” He interrupted me again. “I have all afternoon. Have a seat.” “Oh, that’s great. Thank you,” I said half-heartedly as I moved toward my chair offering another fake smile. 

We sat together in silence. What on earth were you thinking Mike? Why did you think you wanted to do this? More silence. 

“Fr. Kelly, I don’t know what to say or where to begin,” I said. “Just tell me where it hurts,” he said. 

Where it hurts. As soon as he said that tears fell and words flowed. My watery words filled his porch. Hurting and healing mingled. Was I swimming or was I drowning? Yes, yes I was.

I have no idea what I said or what he said. I no longer remember. I’ve tried to recall my words of things done and left undone but they’re not there. I suspect that’s how it should be with a confession. It was never about the words, or the things done and left undone. They were not the point or purpose of my confession. I was. I still am. 

13 thoughts on “Confessing

  1. This is so beautiful. Confession with a holy and loving confessor is one of the most incredibly beautiful and grace filled things that a person can go through. The priest is there as a fellow sinner. One is confessing to God and having a minister of God witness it and assure you that God indeed forgives you. As often as misuse and abuse of this sacrament have happened, it never changes the fact that it is one of the most wonderful things that can ever happen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My experience of confession – whether as the one confessing or hearing the confession – is that it is a homecoming, a celebration, and gift of new beginnings.

      Peace be with you,
      Mike+

      Like

  2. As a Lutheran, I have never been “to Confession” though we confess our sins corporately every Sunday. I have always felt that I was missing something by not having this “ordeal” to face – and today you have confirmed those feelings. What a beautiful look into a right relationship with God – one that is deepened in the generosity and vulnerability of two believers. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Erika, our weekly liturgy also has a corporate confession. There is as you noted a generosity and vulnerability that happens with individual confession (more formally called The Reconciliation of a Penitent) that I usually don’t experience corporately.

      God’s peace be with you,
      Mike+

      Like

  3. Father Mike: Thank you so much for these words…I am deeply touched. I am a Disciples of Christ minister (formerly Episcopalian), and I read and re-read your sermons since I found your page a couple of months ago. You speak to my heart, my spirit, and my soul…thank you is all I can say. Peace be with you always, Helen

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Pastor Helen for reading my blog and for your gracious encouragement.

      I hope you and your congregation are having a holy Lent and it leads you all to the abudance of Easter joy.

      God’s peace be with you,
      Mike+

      Like

  4. Being a Catholic, I am more than familiar with Confession (aka Reconciliation) and the nerves, upset stomach, sweats, and fear. I’ve sometimes begun with telling how uncomfortable I am. Sometimes that brings a little change in his posture, more relaxed, and I immediately feel like it’s going to be more of a conversation than a bleaching (my word). The subtle cues are important to me. I said, “I wasn’t sure I was going to do this today” and his response, “Well, we’re both here, so why not use the time?” was a personal invitation, and I felt welcome. It’s never easy, but a good confessor makes all the difference!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jeri, I often tell people as they prepare for confession that if we don’t go to confession wondering if we will be forgiven. We go to claim the forgiveness that is already ours. I guess that’s another way of saying that confession is not “a bleaching”. I like that phrase, thank you.

      God’s peace be with you,
      Mike+

      Like

  5. Thank you, Mike. I was so moved by your story. I had one visit with Father Kelly and it was also a profound one. I was so nervous. I blurted out something I never meant to say out loud and with one simple sentence he completely re-oriented my thinking and truly changed my life. And that porch. A deeply sacred place for me. And I only remember that one sentence and his deep calm presence of the time we spent together.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think that Fr Alexis Trader’s thoughts on the process of confession should be shared with your readers:
    Correcting My Vices with Virtues
    “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest, but he finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and brings with him seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.” (Matthew 12:43-45)

    Repentance has as its goal spiritual healing as I endeavor to overcome the sickening effects of the Fall. Confession is not mostly about enumerating sins but rather about finding healing for my spiritual ills. Fr Alexis Trader reminds me that in penance I am trying to find an antidote for my sins and the church fathers did suggest specific virtuous behaviors to replace sinful ones. He writes:
    “Ascetic tradition singles out eight principal bad thoughts that encompass and engender all the other sins that the mind can commit. The eight bad thoughts include gluttony, unchastity, avarice, anger, dejection, listlessness, vainglory, and pride. They are the conceptual analogues to specific behaviors, for “what the body acts out in the world of things, the nous acts out in the world of conceptual images.” Hence, the thoughts can be formulated in behavioral terms as the gluttonous behavior of someone overeating, the unchaste conduct of someone having illicit sexual relations, the avaricious actions of someone gambling, and for forth. This patristic connection between thought and behavior links the subjective reality of the eight bad thoughts to the objective reality of concrete actions that can be observed and measured by an external observer.
    Furthermore, if bad thoughts can be formulated in behavioral terms, their antidotes can also be framed in like manner. For example, in a text attributed to St. John of Damascus, the author notes that
    “gluttony can be corrected by self-control;
    unchastity by desire for God and longing for future blessings;
    avarice by compassion for the poor;
    anger by goodwill and love for all men;
    worldly dejection by spiritual joy;
    listlessness by patience, perseverance, and offering thanks to God;
    vain-glory by doing good in secret and by praying constantly with a contrite heart;
    and pride by not judging or despising anyone in the manner of the boastful Pharisee, and by considering oneself the least of all men.”
    (Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy, p. 79)

    It is not enough in confession to simply catalog one’s misdeeds. If I don’t replace my sinful behaviors with virtuous ones, I will find the momentary gain of emptying my sins in confession is confounded by the fact that the same behaviors will continue and become worse. Healing takes place as I rid myself of my sins by replacing bad behaviors with good deeds. I have to fill my time and my heart with good things or the empty heart will remain the haunt of my sinful thoughts which also are my demons.

    Desire for God
    In our journey with God, confession is needed in order to continue our relationship with God.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Darrell. Your comment is a good reminder that confession is more medical procedure than a legal one. It’s about healing and wholeness more than guilt and punishment.

      God’s peace be with you,
      Mike+

      Like

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