Pondering the mystery of reconciliation via flawed conduits

Lent is coming, and I’ve been thinking a lot about confession. 

Part of the reason is the outrageous popular buzz about a new iPhone app — apparently the first with an imprimatur, issued by Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades — that is basically a digital examination of conscience. It guides users through a series of reflections, customized to their gender and state in life, to help them create a “checklist of sins” to take into the confessional. Because it also tracks the date of one’s last confession, it creates a little psychological pressure to make sure the intervals between reception of the sacrament aren’t too lengthy (for more, see Culture, Page 17). 

I seem to be among the minority in being a little concerned about creating a digital, Internet-connected record of my sins. The app was one of the most popular in Apple’s iTunes store in its initial week. It was also featured prominently — often inaccurately — in most mainstream media outlets. 

What is it that people find so fascinating about the Catholic Church’s Sacrament of Reconciliation? 

And maybe an equally interesting question: Given that apparently universal fascination, why don’t more Catholics avail themselves of the sacrament? According to Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, nearly 40 percent of weekly Massgoers report going never or less than once a year. 

For me, the biggest challenge is baring my soul to another human being who probably is just as — or even more — flawed. 

But if anyone should know the mystery of God working through flawed human beings, it should be me. 

Here’s why: One of the best confession experiences of my life was when I was about 18 years old, trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. I went to a discernment discussion/confession with an internationally known confessor, spiritual director and retreat master. It is probably no overstatement to say that those two hours helped shape the rest of my life. 

The kicker: That priest is now serving 25 years in a federal prison for sexually abusing adolescent boys — including during the period I made that confession. 

I’ve thought back to that experience many times, trying to detect in retrospect whether there were any clues I should have or could have picked up on. I come up empty-handed. The fact is, God worked his grace through this extremely flawed human being. 

The moral of the story of course is not that you should seek out sinful people as spiritual guides, or that sinful priests don’t damage many souls. But it does underscore the mystery of confession. God’s priests may be flawed, but they’re a chosen conduit of God’s mercy and grace. 

What’s your most incredible confession experience? Email me at feedback@osv.com.