This morning, the Saturday before Holy Saturday, I finally got around to making a Lenten confession. I was hoping that my fellow parishioners were more spiritually on the ball than I am. I was hoping that they had taken advantage of the penance service a few weeks ago or that they had attended any one of the other confession times offered every Wednesday and Saturday. I was hoping I was the only slacker. But apparently, there are at lease 14 other slackers in my parish, and all of them got to church this morning before I did. All 14 were in line ahead of me. All 14.
I had been counting on dashing in, making my confession, and getting on with my long list of Saturday errands and chores, but when I waked in the door of the church, my heart sank. This was going to take a while. For a brief moment I toyed with the idea of slipping out and shooting for the 3:00 confession time in the next town over. But judging by the long line ahead of me, I had procrastinated long enough. I decided to stick it out. What I discovered was that the blessing of the sacrament of reconciliation can begin even before stepping into the confessional. Here are some of the blessings of a long line for confession…
- More time to pray I felt pretty well prepared for my confession. I had gone through an examination of conscience. I had made a mental check list. I had prayed. But in those long minutes while I waited for my turn, I had time to pray for my pastor. I asked the Holy Spirit to give him wisdom. I also prayed a prayer of surrender, of trust. I tend to think the grace of the sacrament is dependent on my ability to make a good confession – to remember everything and to articulate myself well. And to a certain degree that is true. A well thought out, thorough confession is certainly better than a poorly prepared confession. Still, in the end, all grace is a gift-a gift I must receive in faith. So, as I waited my turn and entrusted my confession to the Holy Spirit, knowing that He would guide me.
- Solidarity with other penitents One of the things I love/don’t love about those Advent and Lenten penance services (like the one I didn’t attend this year) is the long lines. I get tired of standing. I get impatient for my turn. But I love the idea that we are all there for the same purpose. I love to see old people, 20-somethings, young children, families, and everyone in between waiting (and waiting and waiting) to lay their sins before God and ask forgiveness. Confession is always powerful, but there is something exceptional about so many people gathered together in one place to confess their sins and to receive the grace of the sacrament.
- A humbling sense of gratitude When I am tempted to grumble inwardly about having to stand in a long line, I think about people who don’t have the freedom or the opportunity to go to confession. Would Catholics living under oppressive regimes or in war-torn regions complain about a 45 minute wait time? How grateful I should be to have to wait in line for confession!
- Time to read all those pamphlets and fliers in the back of the church Okay, I didn’t read all of them – not even close. But I did pick up something called Father’s Love Letter. It’s beautiful, Charming Friends. I hope you’ll take the time to read it too.
- It’s a pre-penance. So, it sounds like my time in line was a spiritual exercise in gratitude, patience, and surrender. Ummmm, not entirely. In fact, some to these blessings only occurred to me after the fact. But if nothing else, waiting in a long line for confession gave me something to offer up. It gave me a chance to practice patience.
I love confession. Since my conversion in 1999, I have loved going – even though I often dread it and sometimes put if off. Standing in line today helped me realize anew what a blessing this sacrament is. What a great gift right here at the end of Lent!