Sunday, December 14, 2008

Confession & Letting Go

This afternoon I participated in our parish's Advent penance service. Father began by exposing the Blessed Sacrament for Adoration, which was a real treat. I got in the line for an order priest (a pastor at a local parish who had come to help out) who I'd never met before. As each person in line in front of me went for their Confession, I stepped closer to Jesus on the altar. Sweet. Our line moved the slowest of the three I could see from where I was standing, so I assumed that this priest liked to give a bit of counsel. I looked forward to hearing what he would say to me.

Ever since I returned to the regular practice of Confession my junior year of college (six years ago?) I have taken time to make an Examination of Conscience and write out my confession in preparation (sometimes days beforehand). I used to write it directly in my journal, but a few confessors along the way encouraged me to throw the record of my sins away after I received absolution, so I began to write them on slips of paper that I joyfully tear up and toss after my Confessions.

Well, today I sat in front of the priest, made the sign of the cross, asked for blessing, and turned over my piece of paper to begin reading off of it. Imagine my surprise when the priest reached out and grabbed the paper, crumpled it up, and set it off to the side. "No lists!" he insisted. "Just tell God what you're sorry for."

I sat in stunned silence for half a minute. As shocking as his actions were, they were incredibly appropriate for someone who had come to confess her desire for control and negative responses when that control was threatened. I was totally out of my element, naked before God. I faltered in recalling and articulating my sins, but, by God's grace, I made my confession with a new sincerity. My repentance became palpable in the absence of that neat little narrative I'd written - no smooth sentences and complete thoughts to hide behind...only the very raw feelings of my exposed heart.

The priest encouraged me to bathe in God's love for me, as though I were getting a suntan. He asked me to pray for peace - not just "no war" between nations, but God's peace in my heart and mind. He reminded me that God doesn't want me to feel unsettled, as I have so often lately. He also insisted I pray for my husband every day - something that seems so obvious and yet, I have failed to faithfully put into practice.

After I received absolution I returned to my seat, knelt, and wept. Once again God had taken me totally by surprise and shaken up my comfortable ways of doing things. He broke me down so He could really work in my heart and build me up in His love. I still haven't completely processed the experience, but I am very hopeful as to its impact in my life.

Lord, help me to let go and let You in!

Just in case you're wondering, the priest did give me back my paper with the stipulation that I destroy it immediately. He urged me not to write my sins down any more, but I'm not 100% convinced. What do you think?

Image from Holy Cards for Your Inspiration


Anne said...

I was just passing by and came across your blog. Even though you were a little surprised by the priest it seems like you had a nice confession. You were asking, and I would just follow what your priest told you to do and just go from there.

WOOD said...

Well, I don't think one could say it is objectively wrong to come to confession with a list. I think if it helps someone, than that is a good thing. My husband likes to go in with a list. I usually do not (I'm also usually preparing right beforehand!). I think you just need to decide if not bring a list is a good thing for YOU, taking into consideration that priest's instruction. (Or try it a few times without now and see how it suits you.)

Lovely story, BTW! Thank you for sharing that.

Unknown said...

Hi Frances! I was so inspired by your post, this is the first time I've posted on your blog. As a closet control freak I've written my sins down and ripped them up afterward but felt kinda shortchanged, like I'd hidden behind my list. We each have our own reasons for why we do things, and maybe we truly do need that time to be introspective in writing it down before we go in there. But if we're aware that we have the list for any negative reasons at all, we probably shouldn't have one. If you felt you had a more soul-changing experience from not using the list, then don't :) Now I'm feeling inspired to not do it that way myself. Thank you! Hope these last few months of your pregnancy go well for you. You're getting so close now! :) ~Joanne from NJ

Katherine said...

I don't think there is anything wrong with a list because it helps us remember sins. It's healthful for the soul to confess even venial sins in kind and number, and I, for one, need to write them down to remember them. I write them on a list, then tear it up later. But I do not write down full sentences I'm going to say to the priest. I can see that one reason to *not* use a list is if a person is scrupulous.

Anonymous said...

I wonder why you feel the need to make a list in the first place. Do you perhaps think that the Holy Spirit may forget what He prompted you to put on your list in the first place? Do you think that you will experience God less if you forget to check off sin 4 on page 3? There is a real grace in listening while confessing – and not just to the priest’s advice. Allowing our loving Father to be truly present to you in confession is so important and listening to him is your response and your means of being present to Him. A final question: Were you tempted to uncrumple the list later and make sure you covered all the points, or could you throw it away without strings attached? -- Bob