Monday, September 21, 2015

Jesus in the confessional

I suffer from scrupulosity. It's a form of OCD and means quite simply that I fear my own sins and their consequences with an unholy fear. I fear losing a relationship with God, because I feel I sin or am prone to sinning continually.

Because of this condition and because I am a Catholic Christian, I often feel I need to go to confession for thoughts or feelings that circle constantly, and an anxiety builds until Saturday, the usual day for the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. I agonize often, Do I need to go this week before participating in Communion? Having learned to trust in God's mercy more, I have learned that I cannot run to confession every week if I wish to maintain my own balance and proper relationship with this Sacrament.

But this last Saturday I felt I needed to go. Obsessive and uncharitable thoughts - often impacting my speech and actions and the peace of my home - have been a terrible struggle for two months now.

While waiting in line for confession, I heard a loud guffaw come from the confessional. I thought it was the person confessing. How strange!

But when I entered the confessional, I soon realized by his tone that it must have been the priest.

A merry priest.

To the world that must sound crazy, but that is who I encountered.

He was the only one there that day to hear confessions, one long line coming to kneel near him behind a screen and pour out their hearts. I have often thought about these priests sitting and listening for over an hour to the sins of one person after another, on and on. That is a job description, a responsibility, a demand on your resources and patience that could surely wear you down. How hard it must be to give the right guidance, to point to the love and mercy of God in everything while yet directing people away from their sins and back on to the narrow path, following Christ.

What are the chances that all the priests I have spoken with in confession would be good confessors? All such different men. Some young, some old. Some Americans. Some from other nations and cultures. Some loquacious. Some austere. Some friendly. Some strictly the business at hand. Some gentler. Some strict. Thinking about human beings generally, I would say the chances are not high they would all know what to say. But in their way, they have all been good confessors. Why?

By the grace of God, I believe.

I have often felt, even when difficult to swallow or causing me greater pain before healing, that what I heard in the confessional was what God wanted me to hear, his pruning action on my soul.

And this past week what he wanted for me and for others was a merry priest. One who when I got to a certain part in my confession, declared, "Bingo!" to indicate he thought I had gotten to the heart of the matter. One who told me that he knew it was pointless to tell me not to worry. One who told me plainly that my struggle will not be easy but was yet so cheerful and so hopeful that I felt I could muster on. One who lifted me up by stressing that when God is invited into the mix, everything is better. Even our worry. Even our fear. If we can invite his help with it, if we can be grateful for what we have, and positively ask him to increase it, our love and faith, then we don't need to feel isolated in our struggle, because the struggle is not all our own. God is fighting and winning for us.

He laughed before my confession was over, and I was grateful for its influence, and then he said a long and quite specific prayer over me, one that pinned up my frayed edges in the clear light of love, and I was astounded and thankful yet again for guiding wisdom.

I left the confessional, and I knelt and prayed near the Blessed Sacrament, grateful for mercy and a lighter yoke.

When I left the church I stopped and bought myself a chocolate candy bar, because sometimes you feel so freed and lighthearted that you just have to celebrate.

I encountered Jesus in the confessional.

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