Not to get too Forrest Gump on you, but it occurred to me the other day that Confession is like coffee. It is usually something you are not crazy about as a child but come to love, appreciate, and need as an adult. Absolution can give you a caffeine-like rush that can fuel you through the day, or at least, the church parking lot.
I was one of those people who stayed away from the sacrament of Confession for a long time. I could try to justify my behavior any number of ways, but it was really just embarrassment. Most of the things a young woman has to confess, she really doesn’t want to be saying out loud to an older man. I justified my actions by thinking that asking God directly for forgiveness and engaging in the Penitential Rite at Mass were enough. Then, I finally listened. “I have sinned against you, my brothers and sisters.” I had to get over the strange form of vanity that tells us our actions affect only ourselves, when, really, they affect everyone. I read that the early Christians confessed in front of their whole congregation. This one-on-one thing came later. Well, dang. There went my last excuse.
As with so many things in life, the real catalyst was my children. When I was getting ready to start teaching my son’s religious ed class, I went back in for the full-boat Confession. Things had changed. I know we are not supposed to think of Confession as free therapy, but it kind of was. Sure, I had my list of sins, but it was much more of a conversation than I remember. And no penance! I was given guidance and advice. Leaving, I felt a rush similar to having that first cup of coffee after being off it for a while. I could feel the relief/caffeine flooding through my veins.
Confession is also the orphan stepchild of sacraments. It is usually included now as part of preparation for First Eucharist and gets short shrift. Yet, I think if you asked my students which sacrament had the biggest impact on them, hands down, it would be Confession. Don’t get me wrong, the Eucharist is the best. For many of us, it is the ultimate symbol and raison d’tre of the Catholic faith. Perhaps because kids do not have a big party for First Confession and no relatives are coming into town, it is a more intimate experience. Sitting and talking one-on-one to an adult is a big deal, no matter what the subject. Seeing the kids’ anxious faces going into the confessional and watching their beaming joy coming out tells the story. Most kids actually feel the difference. My daughter kept exclaiming to the whole church, “I feel great! I feel so light!”
I think there are two reasons for this. One, we may understand the divine concept of the Eucharist in an abstract way but it is hard for us to fully experience the sacrifice, as we are not divine. However, we are very much human and we really understand that humans make mistakes. We can fully comprehend the relief of being forgiven by someone we have wronged. We feel weightless, like a burden has been lifted. While it is important that we go into the Eucharist with a clean soul in a state of grace, it is also necessary for understanding. We cannot begin to appreciate Christ’s sacrifice in the Eucharist unless we really understand forgiveness and reconciliation. Then, there is the ice cream to consider, as well.
Like many families, we went out for ice cream after my son’s First Confession. I don’t know how this tradition became popular but it works for me. It’s a little like getting a sticker or sucker after a shot. My son is a vanilla guy all the way and views other ice cream flavors as an attempt to poison him. Soft serve is his favorite. I thought pristine white sweetness was very appropriate for the occasion. When we were looking for our new church, I noticed a Dairy Queen right down the road. Decision made.
Now, when I am craving sugar or caffeine, I often think to myself, “Wait – when was the last time I went to confession?” Time for a break!
Wishing you sweet forgiveness,