Encountering grace through confession

By sophomore year in high school 1965, my buddies and I were officially wiseguys. Our personal borders were expanding, but the old neighborhood remained the focal point of our lives. We still had our dreams in sophomore year in high school. Just not all of them. 

It was late afternoon on a spring Saturday. We had just finished up a little two-on-two. And then one of the guys brought it up. 

“Anybody want to go to confession?” 

It was an odd question. We hadn’t been to confession regularly on our own since the nuns hauled us over the Saturday before eighth-grade graduation. Maybe during a school retreat; maybe just before Christmas and Easter. While we all still attended Mass, the Sacrament of Reconciliation had become less a part of our lives. 

The reason was no great revolution in faith, no grand theological questioning. Simply put, our sins had become a little more embarrassing than “told a lie twice.” We knew we should go, but we didn’t feel like going, because we really didn’t want to confess what we had to confess. 

In those days, less than half the church on any given Sunday took Communion, so it was of no great moment to sit back and relax after the consecration. Of course, looking back, it was the beginning of the end for a lot of us in practicing the faith once we stopped the regular visits to confession. 

“Confession? Geez, why do you wanna go and do that?” I whined. I did that a lot. 

“I dunno, I feel like I should get back to some things, you know? All we do is screw around,” he said.  

He was right, of course. All we did was screw around. So we decided to go. 

The lines were still there for confession back then. People took the far end of the pews to be by themselves so they could prepare for the sacrament. 

I lined up a pretty straightforward confession, though I surrounded the serious business with a few oldies but goodies about lying, slugging and disobeying. 

The priest was pretty good — explaining how I shouldn’t lie, I shouldn’t slug, I shouldn’t disobey. And he treated the more serious stuff hidden between the lines about the same way. What I considered pretty serious may not have been the most serious sins he had dealt with that afternoon. 

He pronounced absolution — “I absolve you from thy sins in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” — and sent me out with a decade of the Rosary for a penance and a reminder that purity isn’t a bad way to live. 

As I made my way home for dinner, I thought that it would be good to receive Communion the next day. I started to hum the new Beatles tune as I broke into a trot, heading for home. 

It would be about 10 years until my next confession. 

There was a story in Catholic News Service the other day about how a priest gets concerned when he sees a handful of people at Mass that don’t receive the Eucharist. He wonders if they have an overscrupulous sense of sin that keeps them from the sacrament. 

I was thinking simply that they couldn’t imagine receiving the Eucharist without the Sacrament of Penance. 

I suppose that seems old school now. Frequent confession has gone the way of the buggy whip and those who practice it are likely to know what a buggy whip is. 

But I wonder. Back in the day, I was taught that the Sacrament of Penance was our way of encountering the forgiveness of God. And God’s way of showing us forgiveness. 

I grew out of confession when I didn’t think I needed forgiveness. I came back when I learned that forgiveness is everything. 

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.