Libraries sometimes have a special offer when you can return overdue books, no matter how long they’ve been out, free of charge. It’s a forgiveness that I’ve never been able to take part in because I always return my library books. Maybe they’ve been late once in a while, but I always pay the fine. Life is good.
Lately I’ve been contemplating whether the Catholic Church, in this Year of Mercy that Pope Francis has proclaimed, would be willing to make a similar deal. No matter how long it’s been since my last confession and no matter how many sins I’ve committed, would a priest be willing to sit down and hear my story and help me find a clean slate?
I have no way of knowing for certain, but I’m guessing my last confession took place more than forty-five years ago. A lot of water has gone under the bridge. I was a naïve eleven year old, somewhat spoiled, mostly sheltered from all the bad things in life. The worst sin I committed was likely calling my brother a name or not getting home on time for supper.
Then along came an overheard conversation about how my mom had cancer and I had to look up the word in a dictionary to find out what was going on. Even in her last days when she was in a coma my family could not be honest with me and tell me she was going to die. They wouldn’t let me see her to say good-bye. Two years later cancer took my father too. By that time I was an angry adolescent strung out on love deprivation.
How I managed to maneuver high school and college (miracles on their own) by not ending up in jail or rehab or pregnant is beyond my comprehension. Truly, I credit divine intervention. I didn’t have one guardian angel; I had a whole team. God knows, I tried my best to mess up my life and my future. But somehow I always seemed to end up okay. Maybe a few battle scars but generally unscathed.
Still, sins were committed. And I’ve reached a point in my life where I am not proud of those things and I feel the need to tell my story. I don’t want to sit in a confessional booth and go through the list, one at a time. I want a face-to-face conversation, a telling of my story, a purging of all the bad intermingled with the good things I’ve done. I want to tell my story, good and bad, and in the end find a reasonable penance.
Some might argue I’ve paid penance already in my life and yes, I agree I have. Some anyway. People might say that because I am consciously choosing to admit my sins and through confession I seek forgiveness, it shall be granted. I agree with that as well. But to me it’s not the act of confessing, it’s the complete story that I need to unleash. Why it has become so heavy to carry at this point in my life is not an answer I have. I only know it is so. I’d rather do the lion’s share of my penance while I still have time on Earth.
I know if I look hard enough I’ll likely find a priest willing to sit with me, one-on-one, and hear my story. I would hope that he would listen to everything and help me come up with a meaningful plan of action that doesn’t feel trite or insignificant, like Fr. Schultz’s “Say one Our Father and Three Hail Marys and help your mother with the dishes the rest of the week.”
I am not afraid of penance. I am not afraid of priests. But I have been away from the church for far too long, and I have not and still do not agree with some of the decisions made by church leaders. I am saddened by the bad things that have happened. I am frustrated with the greed and annoyed by the attitudes of some church leaders. Forgive me Father for I have sinned, but the church has sinned as well. I want a conversation that encompasses all of that, and more.
Pope Francis smiles and hugs and reaches out. He communicates without words. He makes the Church look so accessible. I seek a cleansing, a purging, some pain, healing, forgiveness and mercy. Is the Church capable?