“I can’t hear you!”
So said the priest to whom I had just poured out my heart and soul in confession. It was the first days of an open church at a prominent shrine on the East Coast. A friend — a Sister of Life — and I had waited in line, got our temperatures checked, gave our names and numbers and went through multiple checkpoints stating our reasons for being in the church: confession! Then I had to negotiate a bit to pray in an actual pew. It was immediately sanitized after I left. When I dared to linger for a moment of grieving, seeing a beloved chapel on lockdown, I was hollered at to exit.
It was all a bit humiliating.
It made sense that the priest couldn’t hear me. I had opted for anonymous confession when a guard gave me the option. So I was directed to a blue piece of tape on the floor behind a priest sitting in a chair facing an altar in the other direction. I knelt, and after I gave my confession, he turned around and directed me to stand in front of him and start all over again. My friend had a similar situation, which included a language barrier. And did I mention that the organ was playing?
There’s a story of St. Damien of Molokai, who was ministering to lepers, having to shout his confession from a boat to a bishop on another, bigger boat. Another friend, who had gone to the same church a few days before, dubbed her experience similar to his. Yes, she was (slightly) exaggerating. But this is new territory for us, isn’t it?
But, you know what? It was totally worth it. If I had to do it again, I would. Making a confession St. Damien-style definitely isn’t my first choice. But I went months without confession. And I never want to do it again. I used to say that I would die without confession. If I went more than two weeks or so, I’d start feeling overwhelmed by my weakness. And I surely was tested, and I found out there was some real truth to that conviction.
God gives you the grace, even when you can’t access his mercy in the sacrament, but it was painful. What growth in gratitude I experienced for all those times I had my choice of confession times, when I could go weekly if I so desired! There’s nothing quite like absolution — to go to Jesus in the person of the ordained priest and express your true sorrow.
I’ve been thinking a lot about people who haven’t been to confession in a long while. I hope that they don’t walk into the adventure I did. I hope they feel so fully embraced by the Church, showing the love of the Lord with the same kind of gratuitous generosity he shows us.
Divine Mercy really is an awesomely remarkable thing. I don’t know that we can ever share that with people enough. There is a joy that should really radiate from us because of our encounter with Jesus as penitents. Do we rejoice? Do we tell people about the miracle of forgiveness? When you consider the warnings God seems to be giving us in the midst of this pandemic — the chances to repent, are we letting him convert us? Are we helping others to be transformed by him? Are we forgiving others?
Especially after the last few months most of us have experienced, it was something glorious to see that the Archdiocese of New York, among others, had a special reconciliation day on the solemnity of the Sacred Heart in June. That heart is all love, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation is its outpouring in our lives. I’m not sure how many people knew about it, but I pray miracles happen — and they continue to happen — as people encounter Jesus there. I’m not sure which precautions are right and which are overly cautious. That’s above my pay grade. All I know is we should do what we need to do to get to confession.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.