This is Reconciliation Monday for the greater New York area — every church in New York City, Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island will be open to hear confessions today from 3 pm to 9 pm.
I remained skeptical of the sacrament for years after that. I drifted away from regular Mass attendance, and went for years without darkening the door of a reconciliation room or slipping behind the velvet curtain of a confessional. What was the point? In my mind, I was right with God: He knew where I was coming from (and, no doubt, where I was going) and I apologized to him, privately, when it seemed like the right thing to do. End of discussion.
Years later, the twisting road of my life led me back to the church and the sacraments, and it plunged me more deeply into my faith than I had ever imagined possible. There were many reasons for my return: the deaths of my parents, the prayers of my wife and a growing sense that there had to be more to life than just getting up and going to work and planning where to go out for dinner or when to take the next cruise. I became a daily communicant. I served in my parish as an usher and, later, as an extraordinary minister of Communion.
And as part of my journey, when the time became right and my heart became ready, I found myself on yet another Saturday in yet another church, preparing to catalogue my sins yet again.
I was going to give confession another chance.
I had wandered into the basement chapel of St. Francis of Assisi in Manhattan, a place whose lifeblood is the endless stream of commuters from Penn Station and the Long Island Railroad, who find their way there for confession at all hours of the day. There is always a line. As I soon discovered, it is easy to understand why.
After entering the small confessional/reconciliation room and closing the door, I found myself seated opposite a kindly old friar wearing the familiar brown robe and, oddly enough, sneakers. I cleared my throat and began: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been (quick tally in my mind) 10 years since my last confession.”
He broke into a small smile. “Welcome back,” he said. “It’s good to see you again.” He had never seen me before in my life. But I knew what he meant.
And with that, I began my confession. I spoke. He listened. He nodded. He had heard it all before, umpteen times, from the quivering lips of countless sinners like me. When it was over he gave me a mild penance and some gentle advice: “Just live the Gospel,” he said softly. “Just live the Gospel.” He sighed and smiled. “There you are. Good as new. God bless you.”
It was the first time in a long time that those words stuck. And when I left that little room I felt, in fact, “good as new.” So I went back a few weeks later, and a few weeks after that—again and again and again. It became a habit.
Uplifted and Given Grace
I can’t quite explain it. Why does this sacrament exert such force? Some of it, I’m sure, is that it just feels good to let the weight of all our wrongs roll off our shoulders. It is comforting to be told that we are going to be okay and that what was wrong can be set right.
Everybody needs a second chance. Or a third.