Monday, January 28, 2013

On Priests, Confession and Perfection

Occasionally, I will encounter someone whose fear of going to confession is all that stands between them and entering the Catholic church.  I don't know why I've never feared confession.  I've certainly come across my share of cantankerous confessors, both in my childhood and in adulthood but I've never really been afraid.  If there is one thing I have learned in life, it's that everything comes with a price.  There is no worse feeling than carrying the burden of sin and I am grateful beyond words to have that cleansing, healing sacrament so readily accessible.  If a little humiliation is involved, it's a small cost and temporary discomfort as compared to the eternal pains of hell.

Be brief, be blunt and be gone.

These were the words imparted to us at a recent retreat and I think they're worth noting.  Confession is not supposed to be spiritual direction, and if the latter is desired, best to make an appointment or perhaps even ask the confessor if he has time to talk about something in length. It's also considerate, before embarking on a spiritual therapy session, to take into account how many other people are waiting in line.  Many is the time I've waited with an exasperated group of penitents for one person to exit the box after what seemed like an eternity.  Human nature being what it is, I've even had the temptation to wonder, upon viewing the person who hogged the box, what on earth they could have done that took that long to confess.  It's none of my business, so when it happens that the line moves slowly, I use the wait as a penance of its own and avert my eyes when the previous person emerges.  Everything has its price.  So what if one person's confession lasts the length of a chaplet or Rosary?

The subject of confession came up with someone who is a lapsed Catholic.  They wanted to know if I had a problem with telling my sins to someone who was not obligated to confess theirs to me.  Bypassing the obvious flaw in that thinking, I reminded the person that in many ways, a priest's "sins" are already "out there" for the parish to see.

Priests are scrutinized for everything - the kind of car that they drive, what they do and how they dress in their leisure, what improvement projects they choose to tackle and which ones they seem to ignore.  I know of one busybody who wrote to the bishop to complain about about a priest cooking on the grill in the  backyard of the rectory.  I guess the grouch would have preferred the priest raking himself over the coals instead.  While it's undeniable that some priests have kept some very dark secrets, the truth is that the vast majority are flawed people just like the rest of us, imperfect but trying.  Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

The following appeared in a nearby parish's bulletin.  I think most of us can relate.

The results of a computerized survey indicate the perfect priest preaches exactly fifteen minutes. He condemns sins but never upsets anyone. He works from 8:00 AM until midnight and is also a janitor. He makes $50 a week, wears good clothes, buys good books, drives a good car, and gives about $50 weekly to the poor. He is 28 years old and has preached 30 years. He has a burning desire to work with teenagers and spends all of his time with senior citizens.

The perfect priest smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humor that keeps him seriously dedicated to his work. He makes 15 calls daily on parish families, shut-ins and the hospitalized, and is always in his office when needed.
If your priest does not measure up, simply send this letter to six other churches that are tired of their priest, too. Then bundle up your priest and send him to the church on the top of the list. In one week, you will receive 1,643 priests and one of them will be perfect. Have faith in this procedure.

One parish broke the chain and got its old priest back in less than three weeks.


  1. Ha! Love it!
    My worry is priests that ARE well liked, but leading the flock astray...

  2. Yes, there is that too, which is probably worse. You and I are lucky to have true shepherds for pastors. Not all Catholics are that fortunate. No priest is perfect but I thank God every day for the one we have.

  3. I have that fear of confession!! I went a spell of 19 years between confessions at one point, but that included my lapsed period. The priest was shocked when I said so. I go about three or four times a year now, but I still have that fear. I don't tremble as I go in, but I do feel strong anxiety. Thank God I have not had a harsh priest. If I had a harsh priest I might actually crumble there in the confessional. I always mumble to myself when it's about time to go to confession, "can't we just be like the protestants on this one?" LOL, but no. Confession is good for you. It really is.


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