It has always been difficult, for me anyway, to decide if I’m going to face the priest in the confessional or not. For quite a while I didn’t have a choice since the church I went to didn’t have very many screened confessionals. Even when forced to sit in front of the priest, I didn’t look him in the eye as I confessed my sins and was given my penance. I would look at the rosary I’d brought with me or I’d look at the list of offenses I was seeking forgiveness for. I’d look anywhere but at the man sitting across from me. I had often faced the priest when I was little, probably because it helped me to think that Confession wasn’t something to be nervous about if it was like a conversation. The older I got, the more fearful I became when it came time to go into the confessional. I knew the priest wasn’t going to judge me for what I told him. I knew he couldn’t tell anyone and I knew it wasn’t even him speaking to me about my sins. It was Jesus speaking through him. Yet I continued to hide my face.
One day a while ago, as I was preparing myself for Adoration and Confession, I decided that I was going to face the priest and I was going to look him in the eye. It had been a while since my last Confession,so even though I had quite a bit to discuss with him, I was determined not to lose courage. I walked in, said my initial part in the rite, confessed my sins, and looked up to see something I wasn’t expecting. The priest was smiling at me. Not a big grin or anything like that. It was a beautiful, hopeful smile, as though he were glad to see me. We went on to talk about certain things, but he made it a point to first remind me that people, for all our greatness as creatures of God, aren’t perfect and that God’s greatness is his mercy, which he never tires of showering upon us. That is such a relevant message for today because we tend to think (at least I do) that we should only reach out to God when we feel like we have a handle on whatever we might be dealing with. Nothing could be further from the truth, though. When we are at our weakest and most vulnerable, he is there to protect us and lift us back up to himself. As the prophet Isaiah says “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary, his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint and to him who has no might he increases strength” (Is 40: 28-29).
It is so easy to be afraid of Confession. It’s never a calm thing, to admit one’s faults, especially to another person, and even more especially to someone you often want to think well of you, such as a priest. And submitting yourself to guidance regarding your faults is definitely difficult. One bad experience or piece of unsound advice can turn a person away from the Sacrament, sometimes for years. But, as in all families, we must face up to our mistakes and apologize, if we are to continue to grow in love with each other. And our Father in Heaven wants us to grow more and more in love with him every day. It’s up to us to take those repentant steps toward reconciliation. I walked out of the confessional that day feeling blessed, not only because of the renewing grace of the sacrament, but because of the priest’s gentle smile after I told him everything. I share this little story as a reminder that while Confession can be the most awkward, uncomfortable, and heartrending experience a Catholic can have, our good God is there with us, waiting for our return with a smile, eager to welcome each and every prodigal child back into his merciful love. God bless you.