Christ Behind the Screen

Christ Behind the Screen October 6, 2017


I went to confession.

It had been way too long.

When you’re frequently disabled from chronic illness and also don’t have a car, certain things go by the wayside. Daily Mass is out of the question, and I can’t always get to liturgy on Sundays and Holy Days either. Confession is especially tricky. I greatly appreciate priests who hear confessions directly before and after liturgies, when people are there anyway, but depending on others for rides and being so frequently too exhausted to stand up means even that is impossible to get to, much of the time. Add that to my general anxiety and fear of priests, and you get a mess.

But last weekend, I was in Pittsburgh. I’d come to Pittsburgh for the Convivium literary conference and the launch of their new journal– that journal can be bought on Amazon right now, by the way, and I’ve got an original short story published in it. I came for the Convivium conference; I stayed for the wonderful Festival of Friendship organized by my friend Suzanne the next day. It was the first cool day in a long time, and it was dry, so I was having a low-symptom day. I’d filled my purse with canned coffee shots and packed high-protein grain-free snacks; I’d taken my vitamins and weird herbal anti-chronic-fatigue tonics to keep my body going like a normal person’s body for those 48 hours before I inevitably crashed with another flare-up. I had a window of energy to act like a human being. My readers with chronic illness know just how that feels.

I realized that confessions were being heard, just over an hour before the vigil Mass I planned to attend, at a chapel down the street.

I slipped out of one of the sessions, to square myself with the Lord.

The chapel was small, bright, whitewashed and quiet; Jesus was in the Monstrance on the altar, and adorers were clacking their Rosary beads.  I was the first in line. I slid onto the very edge of the designated bench to wait. I tried to examine my conscience, but in my nervous excitement I let my mind wander to everything there was to be afraid of.

What if the priest didn’t come to hear confessions?

What if he was mean to me?

What if I made a fool of myself, somehow? I haven’t been terrified of Latin churches since my numinous experience in the basilica at Notre Dame, but what if the fear rushed back on me now? What if I started to cry? Would it matter if I started to cry?

I was so busy worrying, I didn’t notice immediately that the green light above the stout wooden door was turned on.

It was nice, old-fashioned, private little box, a sturdy door in front of thick velvet curtains revealing a kneeler and a window fully covered with black silk. I couldn’t see the priest at all, and the priest didn’t have to turn sideways to try not to see me.

And, of course, Christ was there.

I told Christ, hidden in the priest on the other side of that black screen, how long it had been and all the things I could remember getting wrong. Christ, hidden in the priest, cautiously asked why I hadn’t been to confession in so long. When I explained about being disabled, he understood at once. He gave a few suggestions for getting to confession more often, counseled me gently, gave me a very small penance, and then He forgave my sins.

Christ, hidden in the priest, raised His hand on the other side of that black screen and forgave my sins.

“Go in peace,” said Christ.

“Thank you,” I nearly shouted.

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