Have you ever felt the torture of endlessly waiting in line for confession? Did you ever feel the temptation to be impatient at the woman who spent 15 minutes with the priest, while a dozen people wait in line, only to come out smiling oblivious to the situation?
Such was my pre-confession penance today as I dropped into a local, urban parish for Saturday afternoon confession, thinking I'd beat the crowd and be on my way. No such luck. A seemingly clever crowd had already quickly formed. Each penitent was in the confessional for at least 5-10 minutes, and I was around #8 in line. I couldn't help but do the math.
I think I have enough empirical evidence from many very similar experiences over the years waiting in line for confession, to observe a pattern. I don't have X-ray vision, but I'd bet a weeks wage that most people are sitting down with Father face-to-face for a spiritual chat/counseling session. There's a pressing voice from my subconscious that tries to interrupt my prayers in the confession line. It says "What is going on? Why is the priest himself taking so long? Confess # and kind, and receive a few words of advise, because there's a lot of people out here." But then it subsides long enough to remember why I am there in the first place--to confess my sins and do penance.
If I had a dollar for every time I showed up quite early-ish for confession, but even after waiting 45 minutes the priest emerges saying "Sorry I need to start Mass," it would be enough to pay this months Netflix bill.
It can be an added penance too sometimes hearing the response, or should I say non-response, of the priest when I confess grave sins. I'll confess acts that could objectively damn my soul for all eternity, and I get a "Ok, that's very good. For your penance say one Our Father and one Hail Mary, and go in peace." Um, ok.
But today I was humbled when I knelt down in confession, when it was Father, and not me, who kept it going for 5-10 minutes. He gave nothing but Church teaching and spiritual admonition. And so I realized that the probable reason it had taken the better part of an hour wasn't because of whiny Catholics seeking free therapy, but because this good, faithful priest was trying to save our souls.
What is the Lesson learned? Get to confession as early as possible to beat the crowd? Perhaps. Bear the weird, snail-like pace as a form of penance? Yes. Confession lines in the modern Church are suffering from the same dysfunction? That's obvious.
No, the lesson I took home was that no matter how nutty or dysfunctional the experience, what matters is Christ's Mercy is alive in the Sacrament of Confession!
Yes Joseph, I quite agree!
And so I wish all you Cyber friends a good night!