I have a baby face. That is a fact that supports many people’s assumption that I am in high school. They also take into account that I work in a college town and most of my coworkers are either in high school or college. It’s a natural assumption and I do not blame them. But, that does not mean I don’t get tired of answering the same four questions every time a trainee at work finds out that I am not sixteen, nor am I single. This usually comes with some reference I make in passing about my husband. The conversation usually goes something like this.
(Disclaimer: Sally and Joe are fictional names used to depict real conversations I have had at work.)
Sally: “Wait, you’re married?!”
Sally: “How long have you been married?”
Hannah: “Two years.”
Sally: “Whoa! How old are you?”
Sally: “You got married when you were nineteen! I’m nineteen!”
Hannah: “Yeah, I’m one of those weirdos who got married young…”
Sally: “Why?! I’m still dating so and so and we’ve been dating for three years. I’m no where NEAR ready to get married.” (and a strange level of condemnation and respect is bonded in Sally’s mind about me)
Hannah: “My husband and I simply felt that God was calling us to marriage at that time, and here we are.”
But this is a post about confession, right? Good grief, can’t a girl tell a story first?
Living in a section of the Bible Belt, I am often met with a similar situation when a variation of the same two questions are asked after my protestant friends learn that I am a Catholic Convert.
Joe: “I didn’t know you were Catholic.
Hannah: *nodding along*
*Awkward silence follows*
Joe: “So, you’re like, pray to Mary, Roman, Pope kind of Catholic?”
Hannah: *smile and nod*
Joe: “Oh, okay. And you go to confession with a priest?”
Normally, the awkward conversation is abruptly halted by our breaks ending before I am forced to offer terrible explanations of Catholic misconceptions. Like I’ve said before, I am just not very good at explaining things, even if I have a pretty good understanding of them myself. I wasn’t gifted with the talent of words like my wonderful husband, but I am okay with that. I just get nervous when people ask me to explain something deep and I also don’t have a great liking of conflict.
So here I am, offering some thought on Confession based on my own experience, and hoping to shed some light on the subject for those I am normally too shy to open up conversation to in person. But before I do so, I would like to share the Church’s definition of the effects of Reconciliation. The Catechism will always say it better and trump anything I ever try to explain in my feeble attempts.
1468 “The whole power of the sacrament of Penance consists in restoring us to God’s grace and joining us with him in an intimate friendship.“73 Reconciliation with God is thus the purpose and effect of this sacrament. For those who receive the sacrament of Penance with contrite heart and religious disposition, reconciliation “is usually followed by peace and serenity of conscience with strong spiritual consolation.”74 Indeed the sacrament of Reconciliation with God brings about a true “spiritual resurrection,” restoration of the dignity and blessings of the life of the children of God, of which the most precious is friendship with God. – The Catechism of the Catholic Church
Before my first confession, I was petrified with fear. I knew I would be able to get through it, with God’s guidance, but I was dreading it and simply thinking about it the wrong way. I had so many different fears…
The fear of disrespecting God if I didn’t feel the weight of my sin. The fear of experiencing embarrassment and shame in front of my priest and not being able to get out the heavy stuff. The fear of not doing it right!
Would I stand in line in the right spot? Would I not be paying attention when it was my turn and someone would have to actually talk to me in the confession line?! Would they be looking at me with judgement? What if I didn’t remember the Act of Contrition and I couldn’t find a sheet with it anywhere? What if I fumbled over my words – a practice so familiar to me in my everyday life. What if I didn’t categorize my sins the right way? What if my confession is too short? Too long?
Even writing this out to share seems so silly now, but if anyone is reading this with the same kind of paralyzing fear, please take heart! Confession is not a punishment. And none of that stuff matters. So much of it was my own mind building up distractions and walls and preventing me from seeing the truth. Reconciliation is a gift! A gift of Grace, and a gift restoring us to friendship! Think of it like this…
If there was a tie between you and a friend that had been severed somehow, and you knew you were at fault, wouldn’t you want to mend it by asking for forgiveness? If you knew that person wanted to forgive you, and you apologized, would you not weep with joy at gaining the gift of their friendship again? If you can feel all of that for a friend, how much more would you feel at gaining the gift of friendship of the Most High God?
Every time I have confessed, the nerves that precede the Sacrament always dissipate when I walk into the confessional. I know before I even kneel that God knows my heart. A peace comes to me about all of those worries, and I am able to recognize the reality of their existence. Those insecurities exist to keep me from God. I am human, and my mind will find every way possible to justify my sin, to keep me from having to say I’m at fault. My pride gets in the way. Once I recognize those truths, I am no longer afraid, but I am able to make a good confession.
No one is going to look at me in judgement in that confessional line. Every single person is there for the same reason, and we are all trying to restore the bond that was severed! We are all there to say we are sorry, and to receive the gift of Grace! It’s okay if someone talks to me in line, and most likely, they won’t even notice if it takes me a split second longer than normal to drag myself into the room. That’s just not what it’s all about. It’s about repenting to God, repairing the bond, and accepting his grace and forgiveness. It’s about healing (Of the wounds we inflicted upon the Church through our sin and the wounds of our own sin in our hearts).
If you are like me and you find yourself getting anxious not just about your first confession, but also about the ones following the first, stop a moment and think about why you are confessing. Not what you are confessing, but why. Think about the healing that needs to occur. Rejoice that God is so willing to help us with our dire need of healing through the experience of this beautiful Sacrament.
Thank you for reading, and Peace be with you!