Stepping into opportunities

Not only is forgiveness the work that is up for me lately, but one of my sons is preparing to make his First Reconciliation. (Rough definition for non-Catholics: A sacrament that provides the process through which you confess your sins and then are absolved of them, becoming reconciled with God and the church.)

Back in the dark ages, we called it Confession. The nuns gave us the image that each sin left a black mark on our souls, accumulating there until we confessed, at which point, our souls were wiped clean and shiny again.

I attended a Catholic grade school where we regularly did confession almost as a class project, marching to church with our classmates, then standing in a quiet, orderly line outside the confessionals.

When it was your turn, you entered the confessional – a tiny, closet-sized room dimly lit by a tiny light. You then knelt on the kneeler, which TURNED OFF THE LITTLE LIGHT. Honestly, I think that scared me more than confessing my sins. For the first year or so, every time I entered the confessional, I followed this cycle:

Kneel –> Room gets dark.
Stand –> Room gets lighter.
Kneel –> Room gets dark.
Stand –> Room gets lighter.

You get the idea.

There’s more. Each confessional had a light outside the door that went on when it was occupied and off when it was not, so that any random person (or worse, a classmate) wouldn’t come barging in while you were privately baring your soul. I didn’t realize that that “occupied” light outside the door was ALSO activated by the kneeler, so those waiting outside my door would see it going on and off, on and off.

At some point, during this cycle, the priest (who was in the adjacent, slightly larger closet-sized room) slid open the window connecting the two rooms. I couldn’t see through it but I always suspected that the priest could see me. Then, in dark anonymity, you confessed your sins. The priest gave you a penance (usually a list of prayers and an admonition to be nice to your siblings or whatever) and God (through the priest) would wipe your soul (and thus, the slate) clean.

Though the process felt scary, the outcome felt wonderful. I love a fresh start.

That was forever ago. Times have changed, the name of the sacrament has changed, the process of confessing has changed, so the way we prepare kids has also changed.

In these recent preparation classes with my son, the instructors generated the image of the prodigal son: We might wander away from God but when we decide to return, we are welcomed with open arms and granted full forgiveness. When we make the decision to return, reconciliation is the process through which we make the effort to reconnect.

In the process of the sacrament itself, where we once hid behind that little window in the dark, we now speak with the priest face-to-face, in the light. I believe that any shameful feelings and acts we hide actually gain an ugly power over us, so I theoretically like that we now bring them out into the light.

Have I practiced this? Rarely. The last time was when I was in Lourdes, France, roughly four years ago. Before that, it’s probably been decades. You can go as often as you like, but I have countless “reasons” why I don’t.

Of course, when I talk with my son about why he should do this, I sing a different tune. I become all about the virtue of saying you are sorry, how important this sacrament is and how it makes you feel, along with a dose of “you have to do this because you just do.”

Then, at the class this weekend, the church leaders encouraged the parents to do this on the same day as their child. What???? The thought alone still scares me. But I can’t deny that, not only will I be modeling something I value for my child, here is an opportunity to step into the forgiveness that I am called to be practicing.

Not that I have committed to stepping into this. Right now, it doesn’t feel easy. I have no clue how this will actually unfold though I suspect it will involve a dose of grace.

In the meantime, I wish you the strength and good humor to step into your own growth opportunities, today and always.


7 thoughts on “Stepping into opportunities

  1. this brought back so many memories, and I just love how you always say things that I think about but never put into words. You are a great stroy teller

  2. Marie, when you do this reconciliation, please ask the Priest to pass along a message to God that your friends think you are awesome and a role model of spiritual living.

  3. I do think the old Catholic church has come up with a better way with the idea of reconciliation shining a light that forgives and reconnects. Shame (literally) that too much in the church was hidden and not confessed for so long. I still have that hand-me-down of Irish Catholic guilt in my life but there’s lots of light these days and we went through the First Reconciliation/Communion/Confirmation phase with our daughter last year and it reminded me that there is something in sacraments.

    • Kathy, I hope your daughter’s sacraments went well last year, for all of you! And thank you for this reminder. I feel like I went for years trying out different approaches to spirituality and to me, I was able to find the things I need back at the Catholic church. Even though I don’t agree with all of it, for sure, there is something in the sacraments, as you said.

  4. Marie, this brought me right back to my childhood. I remember my Mom insisting we go to confession almost every Saturday afternoon, so we would be able to receive communion on Sunday. The thing is, I was really a goody-goody, oldest of 8 kids, role model etc. and I simply didn’t do too many things that were eligible to confess every Saturday afternoon. Hence, I used to make things up, like I was mean to my sister, or whatever, just to have something to say in that dark, scary space! Therefore, basically lying, which of course gave me something else to confess, etc. Even as a child, I could see that this wasn’t making sense. I am glad that they have changed the whole idea of confession, and I hope this will be a great experience for you now when you do it with this new perspective.

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