So now Lent has arrived, and everyone is talking about it. There are plenty of Catholic columnists and bloggers urging you to go to confession, to purify your soul during this period of penitence. And it’s all good.
I was struck, though, by the humility and the simplicity of one article I read on the subject. I’m talking about the popular blog in “Catholic New York” by Gotham’s spiritual leader, Archbishop Timothy Dolan.
He writes about heading out on Saturday morning, undistinctive in regular street clothes, and standing in line with the faithful to go to confession at one of New York’s many churches. He writes:
My destination is one of our many city churches that offers the sacrament of penance. I sneak in, rarely recognized since I’m in walking clothes, and stand in line with the others outside the confessional. In I go, contrite I am, forgiven I leave, gratefully I pray, renewed I walk back home.
Because I’m dressed in street garb, and, since I prefer to confess behind the screen, the confessor does not know who I am. Fine with me.
Once, though, as I was leaving the church, another priest of the parish did recognize me, welcomed me, and we chatted for awhile. When he discovered that I had just gone to confession, he blushed.
“But, archbishop,” he remarked, “I’ll send a confessor to your house! You shouldn’t have to come down here, stand in line, and wait like everybody else!”
Well, as a matter of fact, yes I should. While I thanked him for his thoughtfulness, I explained that I really wanted to make the trip to the church, I preferred to stand in line, I wanted to be “just like everybody else!”
Because, as a sinner, I am! And one of the places I most sense being an intimate part of the Church, a member of this community of faith, is when I’m in company with others, head down, waiting in line for God’s mercy in this beautiful and potent sacrament of reconciliation.
I don’t know about you—but I am heartened and strengthened by the ministry and the faith of this earnest man of God.
There are still strong Catholic parishes and families where the Sacrament of Reconciliation is held before us as our ticket to a deeper and closer relationship with Jesus. All too often, though, people stay away—whether from fear or embarrassment, or from lack of confidence regarding proper form, or from the mistaken notion that it’s really not necessary, since God loves us and forgives us regardless.
The Lenten season affords many opportunities to draw close again to our roots—to embrace the gift of the sacraments and to encounter, through the words of the priest, the God Who waits.
Archbishop Dolan continued his meditation on sacrament and forgiveness, citing from the Holy Mass the prayer which follows the Lord’s Prayer, and which once led me to an epiphany of adult faith.
“Lord, look not on my sins, but on the faith of Your Church.”
…and grant us the peace and unity of Your Kingdom, where You live forever and ever. Amen.