I dragged myself and my box of kleenex to confession tonight.
Since I converted to Catholicism five years ago confession has been my absolute favorite sacrament. However, the first confession I made was mortifying. It was such a terrifying experience, actually, that I lost sleep in the days before and ended up writing a list (which I kept on my person at all times) of my sins so that I wouldn’t forget any.
Luckily my wonderful priest had dealt with converts in the past and didn’t so much as crack a smile when I pulled out my torn-out sheet of college ruled notebook paper, ragged at the edges, covered front and back in chicken scratch handwriting, and creased from so much unfolding, correcting, folding, unfolding, adding to, and folding again.
After that first confession I walked out feeling like I had been scrubbed on the inside. I have never felt so clean or so hopeful. My godfather was waiting, practically bouncing up and down in his wheelchair, and immediately handed me my “first confession” present.
I pushed the button and heard, “That was easy” and started laughing. Because it was easy! Not the part leading up to it. Not the anxiety. Not the examination of conscience. Not the part where I had to stop hiding and face myself.
Those weren’t the easy parts. But saying the words? Confessing my sins aloud to my priest and to God? That was easy.
And it was wonderful.
For all the years leading up to that moment I had laid awake at nights and tried to catalogue my sins. The things I had done. The things I hadn’t done. I tried to make sense of them. Why, if I was saved, if I was eternally forgiven and bound for heaven and God had washed me clean, why then was I still so…bad? Why did I keep doing these things, again and again and again, things that I could feel down to the deepest core of my being were wrong?
The answer to that question has come slowly over the years. I know it now, even though I perhaps didn’t fully comprehend it when I converted. It is because I am irrevocably human. Irrevocably wounded by the stain of original sin. And yet essentially good. Always striving for the good, always longing for God and truth and beauty. And then tripping over my own damn feet, tying my own shoelaces together, and sometimes even smacking myself in the face with a frying pan on the way to goodness.
Being good is hard. Seeking God is painful. Hiding is easier. Running is easier. Sabotaging yourself is easier. Sinning is easier.
Except at night, when you’re all alone.
That’s the only time I ever really felt the sin. And still, these days, that’s when I feel it the most profoundly. Sometimes my conscience will prickle throughout the day, but at night there are no distractions.
This time it took me a month of silent, painful nights before I dragged myself to confession. And this time, just like last time, just like every time, I wondered why I put it off. Why I keep running.
I was standing in line for the confessional and found myself directly across from the tabernacle. Suddenly I was struck by the utter ludicrousness of my situation. There was God, right there, God who already knew every sin I had committed, waiting. He was literally right across the street from me all this time, waiting all the time, 24 hours a day, waiting for me to come and say, “I’m sorry.” And the second I stepped my reluctant feet inside the confessional I heard “Thank you, child, for coming tonight.” And then, a little later, “I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Confession is such a gift. I cry every time I go to confession, and they are always tears of gratitude. For God to give us such a beautiful gift, the gift of saying out loud that we have sinned, and the gift of hearing out loud that we are forgiven, means that we have a most compassionate God. One who understand the tangible needs of tangible creatures. One who knows that we will run and run and run again, that we will always keep Him waiting, but who is ultimately willing to wait for us to return. One who has given us seven sacraments for all the different needs of our various lives, sacraments that bind us to Him, that return us to Him, that never fail to remind us that He is. And that He is waiting for us.
What are you waiting for? Get thee to confession!