What’s the point of Confession?

Last night, in the midst of all the shopping and wrapping and baking, my fiancé and I decided to go to our parish penance service. If you’re not familiar with Catholic penance services, they do a few readings from the bible, have a short homily, and then everyone lines up to receive the Sacrament of Confession. Several priests from other parishes were there to hear confessions, including one from my beloved old parish, St. Mary of the Mills.

Going to confession is one of those things that provokes a lot of uncertainty from people, whether they are Catholic or not. Plenty of people argue that there’s no need for it. Why tell the priest your sins when you can tell God yourself?

The official answer is that through the Sacrament of Confession, God forgives us of our sins and grants us the grace to be stronger in the future. This is a textbook answer that works for some. It’s not compelling enough for everyone.

There’s no answer that would satisfy everyone, but the reason I go is pretty simple. It’s wonderful to be able to tell someone all of your problems, and have that person listen, give you a thoughtful answer, and tell you not to worry about it anymore. That’s basically what confession is. Most priests will listen as if they’re your best friend. They’ll give you advice you never thought of. They’ll tell you that God forgives you. When you’re really troubled, it makes a huge difference to hear someone actually say, “I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

The best part of it all is that there is someone who will listen. They’ll listen, and they’ll never tell a single soul. It’s sacred. Confession is an opportunity to talk to someone in total secrecy and know that they have your best interest at heart. With everything that goes on in life, how could you not want to take advantage of that?

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Why I Go to Mass

Last night, before Mass, James and I were sitting in the pew at St. Patrick’s. The stained glass windows were black, and the warm glow of candles from the altar created a calm atmosphere. The choir was practicing a chant of Ave Maria. I felt as people must have felt for the last 2000 years. In walks the young priest, wearing that dress. Sure it’s not a dress, it’s the old pre-Vatican II non-pants priest daily wear. Seeing priests in it always makes me feel as though I have been transported through time, or that time is still completely. I am seeing what people saw in 1980, in 1880, in 1780, in 80. (Ok maybe they didn’t wear that back in 80 AD but you get the point.)

Once the priest is done suiting up in the sacristy, the procession begins: altar boys holding candles, the lectors, the priest in his white chasuble. The songs are ones that have been used for generations. There’s something about being at Mass at night. It’s timeless.

Balcony of the Haggia Sophia
Me in the Haggia Sophia, where Mass was said for almost 1000 years.

James and I were at church last night because yesterday was the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Basically that means that on December 8, we celebrate the belief that God allowed Mary to be born without the stain of original sin in order for her to later be the mother of Jesus. Born Catholic, I have always gone to church. Even during times of my life when I felt far from God, and confused about what I believed in, I still went to church. Blame it on my Catholic school upbringing. I think the reason I have never quit church, no matter how dismal I felt about my life or about God, was that to me, the church is home. The traditions, the prayers, the vestments, and the songs from 200 or 500 years ago all make me feel that I am part of something that is way more important than any other something I have ever been a part of.

I have taken many theology classes in my life. I have studied the history of the prayers and the songs, the saints and the creed, the schisms and the councils. Studying, though, can only get you so far. Sometimes, people study so much that they lose sight of what really matters, that God became Man to teach us how to love one another. They care more about the letter of the law than the spirit of the law. No matter how doubtful I ever feel about God, about people, about where my life is headed, coming back to Mass reminds me why I keep going. The Church is our mother, the home we come back to when all else fails. That is the way I felt last night.