The Joy of Confession
By today's standards, I'm a frequent confessor — in a confessional every couple of weeks.
To some folks that probably sounds terribly frequent. But for me, it probably is like my bucolic ancestors who claimed they took a weekly bath every Saturday night whether or not they needed it.
I probably wouldn't go to confession at all were it not for the late Father Paul. He was associate pastor at our parish. Lance, you were a very little boy then; Adrienne, you were still a star in heaven.
I was a convert to the faith who had not practiced very hard but was on the road back. I had progressed from Christmas/-Easter Catholic to attending weekly Mass, had joined the church choir and was starting to show an interest in my religion. It had been a decade since I had been to confession, which by any standards surpasses the category of infrequent confession. But I had reached the point where I knew it was time. (Obviously, it was well past time.)
Father Paul was a priest who skillfully combined orthodoxy, compassion and common sense. So I gave him a call and explained that I had some confessional catching up to do.
He asked where I was and what I was doing. I explained that I was about to leave my office and take the commuter train home. He asked when the train would get to our little town. I said about 6 p.m.
The train station being just a block from the church rectory, he suggested I just stop by when I arrived. I quickly explained that I wasn't quite prepared, had really just wanted to set up an appointment, probably shouldn't rush into this so quickly and blah, blah, blah.
He replied that I sounded plenty ready and he looked forward to seeing me at 6 and hung up the phone. That was just great; I had a 40-minute train ride to figure out how to explain everything I had done wrong in my life for the last 10 years.
I arrived at the rectory unsure of what to expect. After all, I was a tad out of practice. But Father Paul put me at ease, sat me down at the kitchen table and, well, talked to me. In fact, we talked for a couple of hours. It was sort of a combination of soul cleansing, spiritual direction and honest friendship — culminating in sacramental confession and absolution.
Then there was the matter of penance. I figured I had earned something like 1,798,427 Hail Marys and double that in Our Fathers. Father Paul had other ideas.
He told me that of my many sins, the most harmful probably was that I tended to get awfully involved in my career and spend too little time with my family — you, Lance, and mom — with Adrienne added later. He was right, of course. And he had a penance he thought to be quite appropriate.
“Jim, I want you to take you family on a vacation,” he instructed. “I don't care where it is, but it has to be for at least a week and far enough away that you need to take a plane.”
We ended up on a beach in Florida for a week. It was relaxing, fun and very much a time for family togetherness. We started a tradition that week of lighting a candle and saying a prayer for Father Paul whenever we traveled as a family. He knew confession was a good thing. And he shared the value of the sacrament with me in a way that has lasted.
Jim Fair writes From Chicago.