Why That Woman Wept At Confession

Why That Woman Wept At Confession March 15, 2015




I have to be honest. I was jarred when I first heard it. It was on a Tuesday night – a Lenten Reconciliation Service. The gorgeous sanctuary of our church was warmly lit and Richard, the music director, gingerly played beautiful, familiar, sweetened hymns on the piano. Lines were formed around the periphery of the sanctuary. Five priests were working overtime (as if there is a prescribed set of “working hours” in a priest’s life anyway) leaning in, comforting, consoling, absolving and sending. And people kept a respectful distance from the penitent in front of them.

I, too, was standing in line awaiting my turn to confess. I shifted from foot to foot as I wondered if I chose the right line, how long this would take, whether I should go home after a long day and try another time. But it was when I was five or six deep in line that I heard it. It was a heave. A deep inward breath. And it came from a well-dressed woman in her forties hunched forward in her seat before a priest. It wasn’t just a breath or a gasp. It was a sob. But it was only one. Simply slipping out. The cry pierced the sanctuary for only a split second before it was stifled by its owner who shortly after stood up, knelt in a nearby pew and wiped her eyes. She bent over in prayer and silently shook. Crying. Crying.

Feebly, I prayed for her – prayed that she would find peace.

It wasn’t long before she gathered herself up and walked out. She was well-dressed, composed if not a bit elegant. I had never seen her before and I may never see her again. Frankly, I’m not sure many others noticed what I had noticed – much less concerned themselves with what I was thinking about. But I couldn’t help wonder why that woman wept at Confession.

Now, to be honest (and I commend you if you are thinking this), it was none of my business. But I couldn’t help myself. What sort of sins, I wondered would make me cry in Confession, would make me shake, would make me pour the last ounce of my soul’s blackness out in the presence of a silent, but deeply attentive priest? What is it like to have that deep, raw and real honesty with my priest, my God and myself?

In that heave, that sob, that Psalm-like groan was repentance. Was sorrow. Was a desperate plea. Take this from me. It is too heavy to carry. Please. Take this. And make me whole again.

After I finished my confession and walked out, I couldn’t stop thinking about this woman and why she wept. I couldn’t stop thinking about what her confession meant to her. And as I was lost in these thoughts, I looked up and saw my friend and deeply talented Director of Faith Formation, Andrew Allen. Andrew, a convert, deep thinker and a puckish former rock band guitarist leveled his gaze at me knowing I had just walked out of Confession and simply and sincerely said,

“Look at you with your spotless soul.”

And then it dawned on me.

Perhaps it wasn’t what that woman said, what she confessed, what she emptied out of her self that led to her deep and piercing sob. Perhaps it is what she received. Forgiveness. Absolution. Peace.

When G.K. Chesterton converted to Catholicism in 1922 he penned a poem titled The Convert. Chesterton was brilliant, connected and quite aware of the promises the world around him offered. No small number of friends and intellectual sparring partners tried to convince him that the Church and its practices were antiquated curiosities. While historically intriguing, he would be told, the Church’s rites and teachings were ultimately surpassed by the sophistication of modernity. Here was Chesterton’s answer the day he became Catholic,

The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

Confession. Absolution. Peace.

I will never truly know why that woman wept at Confession.

It doesn’t really matter. She is Lazarus and now she lives.



Browse Our Archives