Last Friday, my 8 year old daughter had her first Reconciliation. For my Catholic challenged friends, Reconciliation is the sacrament that allows members of the church to have their sins purged by asking God’s forgiveness through a priest in a private meeting.
Past the occasional swear word, crayon wall art, and mysteriously crying little brother, I’m not sure what 8 year olds have to confess to clean their souls, but I was optimistic with a new emphasis on “repentance of sinfulness” rather than specific sinful acts and penances of 5 Our Fathers and a handful of Hail Marys.
My daughter was excited, prepared, and nervous along with the 50 other children in the church. The priest addressed the children with a wonderful analogy that sinning was like having the light in your spirit go out and confession turned the light back on. I felt a familiar sense of discomfort from my younger days when I wondered if I had a special place in Heaven or forfeited my soul because I didn’t take the garbage out fast enough.
After the overpowering monologue of guilt, shame, and fear, we were ready for confession. And we all had to go to confession as a family. My last confession was before the advent of the Interweb, the birth of “Baby on Board” signs, and Livin’ on Prayer was rocking the charts… 25 years of undocumented sin. I looked at my daughter as she prepared and whispered to her.
ME: Relax, It’s all going to be just fine. It’s not a test and everyone passes.
DAUGHTER: I know… you better tell the priest that you swear a lot.
ME: I will… and after confession I’m going to walk to the front of the alter, lift my arms, and yell “FREE FROM SIN AT LAST! PRAISE THE LORD!”
DAUGHTER: Asshole!...Whoops…Is that a sin?
ME: You’re sitting in a pew swearing in the Church. Welcome to the Big Leagues of Sinning.
WIFE: Stop talking to her! Someone will hear! Yes it’s sinning, dear. Just don’t talk to your father and you won’t sin anymore before confession.
I believe in God, I believe in Jesus’ teachings, but I have a problem with the delivery of the message. I don’t believe in black and white issues and fundamentally I have a problem with any institution that teaches ideology through guilt, shame, and fear. My God is not a vengeful God, but He is compassionate, has a sense of humor, and doesn’t sweat the small stuff.
We left the pew as a family for confession. My daughter went first and came out smiling. My wife entered second and came out smiling. I entered with hope for a new beginning as I came face to face with a priest who was probably born when I went to my last confession.
A confession is a fairly straightforward act: Greeting, Listing of Sins, Penance, Act of Contrition, and Absolution. The main difference is the sin content. Confession is a personal experience, but I wanted to share how far we’ve moved forward in the last 25 years.
ME: Good Evening Father. Forgive me for my sins. It’s been over 20 years since my last confession.
PRIEST: Would you like to go over the 10 Commandments.
ME: No, I’m aware of them and follow them. I’d prefer to give you my Act of Contrition.
PRIEST: Proceed. (The 10 Commandments comment threw me off and I went into an Act of Contrition, although this is usually done after the listing of sins because you need something to be contrite about. Something told me that I would not be lacking in that department for the next few minutes. I paraphrased the Act of Contrition as it had been a long time and he commended me on my improvised ending.) Tell me your sins.
ME: In the last 25 years, I have been at times a bad father, a bad son, a bad husband, and a bad friend. Because it’s been such a long time, I do not remember any particular instances, but I know there have been many.
PRIEST: Good. Now we need to go over the Mortal Sins. (Mortal Sins are wrongful acts that condemn a person to hell if unforgiven before death. I can’t ever remember being asked this during confession.)
ME: Excuse me?
PRIEST: In the last 25 years, have you attended Mass every Sunday?
PRIEST: In the last 25 years, have you watched pornography?
PRIEST: In the last 25 years, have you masturbated?
ME: Yes, it kinda goes hand in hand in hand with question 2. (At this point the wheels were coming off the train but I was still steering toward a respectful crash.)
PRIEST: Have you had relations with anyone other than your wife?
ME: No one other than my wife, but we haven’t been married for 25 years. I had girlfriends before that and…yeah…we were not married. I think that’s another yes.
PRIEST: Have you gossiped against a friend that caused him to lose a job? (I became a bit worried at this point because we were way off the reservation.)
ME: I’ve gossiped about people, but I can’t remember if it ever cost someone their job. But 25 years is a long time and I wouldn’t put it past myself, so I am going to say yes.
PRIEST: Do you pray daily.
ME: Yes I do. (Very true, I just don’t commute.)
PRIEST: Bow your head for absolution. Pray a decade of the rosary and go forth to sin no more.
I left the confessional to greet my wife and daughter and contemplated a decade of the Rosary. 10 years seems to be a great deal of hard time for activities that occupy 99% of the populace on any given weekday. But then I remembered that decade is a term used for how to pray the Rosary!
I was off the hook with time served and was no longer living with the constant threat of hellfire from impure thoughts, impure acts, or speaking about a colleague habitually coming to work 15 minutes late every day!
My daughter loves going to church, attending CCD, and has a healthy appreciation, respect, and love for Jesus. I like him too and would never do anything to dissuade her because I believe in the message and as she gets older she’ll find her own issues with the methodology. And then I’ll introduce her to my God who will remind her she said “Asshole” in the church right before her 1st confession and He thought it was a riot.