I called my auntie back in New York just before dawn as I walked down Kalakaua Avenue one morning last week to tell her the news.
“Marie,” I said to her phone, “I just went to confession for the first time in more than 40 years. And…”
I paused for a second, searching for the right words.
“Well, let’s put it this way,” I continued. “It was a good idea.”
I still can’t believe I went to back into the confessional during my trip to Honolulu after a decades-long defection from this sacrament.
Most people go to confession after vacation to atone for the sins they racked up while they were on the road. But I was doing all sorts of different things on this outing and it felt like the right time for a spiritual cleansing.
I had attended mass at St. Augustine-by-the-sea after meeting and eating with the wonderful members of the Tongan choirg and I thought that going to confession would be the next logical step.
This was not an easy decision, as confession was one of the scarier aspects of my Catholic school experience.
I have this dreadful memory of kneeling in a pitch black booth and flubbing the Act of Contrition, which is kind of like a singer forgetting the words to the National Anthem at the World Series…only much, much worse.
“How often do you say it?” the peeved priest asked me from his side of the screen.
“Not very often,” I squeaked.
Now I could almost swear that this was Bishop Boardman, the big muckety-muck of our parish at the time, but was it possible that the headman would be hearing confessions? It’s been so long that I’m not sure anymore.
But whoever this guy was, he made me recite the prayer word for word before giving me penance and allowing me to escape with my life. After I graduated from the eighth grade, I don’t think I ever went to confession again.
Things are different now. I’m an adult, more or less, and I really wanted to do this. Confession is the sacrament of reconciliation, not condemnation, and I was in dire need of the former.
I got up early one morning a few hours before I was scheduled to go for a hike and bike tour and crossed the street to St. Augustine’s.
I was so nervous I almost turned away from the front door. How could I possibly to recount all the sins I had committed since the Nixon Administration? I only had 11 days in Hawaii.
Thy Will Be Done
But I waited in a pew until it was my turn, walked into the booth and got down on my knees. The confessional at St. Augustine’s is well lit, with a proper door, instead of those heavy curtains that I had to wrestle with in the third grade. And I began.
“Bless me father for I have sinned…”
I decided at that moment to keep the list down to one solitary sin: anger. That’s the source of most of my trouble, so why not give it the spotlight?
I told the priest I had so much hostility and rage in my heart and that I wanted to change.
It was strange hearing the priest’s voice coming at me. But what had made me so nervous in grammar school worked so well for me now. I felt more comfortable not having to look someone in the eye. It was liberating.
As the priest spoke, I leaned in so I could hear him better and then I put my hand over the metal screen so I could actually feel his words vibrating up my arm.
“It’s a good sign that you’ve come here,” he told me. “Don’t be discouraged if the change doesn’t happened quickly.”
The priest asked me to say the Act of Contrition and I froze. It was like going back in time to the day I choked in front of the pastor.
“I don’t know it,” I stammered.
“Just ask for forgiveness,” he told me.
And I did, striking my breast repeatedly. The priest absolved me of my sins and as penance gave me just a single Our Father to recite.
That was a shock. I would’ve thought I’d have to hack off one of my limbs to get back in good with the church.
But I see now that there was a method to the priest’s merciful madness because the Our Father, as brief as it is, contains one of the toughest commands in all Christendom.
“…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Yep. I have to forgive all the boneheads, mutts, losers, and dirtbags who have annoyed the living shit out of me for all these years. Well played, padre.
Returning from vacation was a tough adjustment and I have recited the Our Father many times since my plane touched down at JFK.
But I feel like I’m on the right path and I’d like to go to confession a little more frequently than I have been doing.
I think that would be a good idea.