Thursday, June 28, 2012

I Have a Confession to Make

I grew up a Missouri Synod Lutheran in pre-Vatican II Catholic New Orleans. The city was largely Catholic then; the religious leanings of  metropolitan area were divided roughly into majority Catholic, minority Protestant, and people who lived in the French Quarter.

I was part of that minority Protestant group, although most of my friends (and neighbors) were Catholic. You couldn’t help but inhale some understanding of the Catholic faith, however. So from an early age I understand that “they” venerated Mary and we didn’t; our ministers married and their priests didn’t; nuns used rulers in the Catholic elementary schools and our public school teachers didn’t; they got a smudge on their foreheads the day after Mardi Gras and we didn’t.

However, we all celebrated Mardi Gras, and in much the same ways. But not like the people who lived in the French Quarter. Enough said.

One practice that was always a mystery to me was what at first I thought were phone booths in their churches. No, they weren’t phone booths, I was told; they were confessionals. Whenever I asked my Catholic friends what they did in confessionals, they would become nervous and uncomfortable and shrug their shoulders. “Just stuff.” “Stuff?” “Yeah, stuff.” “What kind of stuff?” “Just stuff.”

One friend finally told me that “stuff” was telling the priest all the sins they could think of.

I was shocked. “You tell the priest all your sins?”

He nodded. “And they you have to say some Hail Marys or Our Fathers, and it’s OK.”

I knew what an “Our Father” was – the Lord’s Prayer, even if Catholics said it wrong. But at my house, a Hail Mary was a football play on television.

Even as I grew older, I always thought it odd that sins had to be confessed to priests. At my church, we were long on “no mediator between you and God” but short – really short – on how to confess your sins directly to God.

Where I think the Catholics got it right was that confession is a kind of conversation – a conversation between the sinner and the Authority. For me, the Authority is still God, and He forgives, but it took a lot of understanding and study for me to learn that I had responsibilities, too.

Confession comes from a contrite heart, a contrite spirit.

Confession comes from the understanding that God wants to hear it all, even the things – especially the things – you’re least comfortable talking about.

Confession comes from the knowledge that you fall short, that you always fall short, but you still have to try, and you do try. And you pray.

And confession comes from the hope that one day, you won’t fall short, but it won’t happen in this world.

And confession is a good and right thing to do; Jesus made it a part of the Lord’s Prayer for a reason, because it is a constant reminder that forgiveness is there, made possible by the Son, and it is the Father to whom we confess.

Led by Tim Challies at Informing the Reforming, we’ve been discussing The Hidden Life of Prayer: The Life Blood of the Christian, the 1893 classic by David McIntyre. To join the discussion, please visit Tim’s site.


Martha Jane Orlando said...

Just love your reflection today, Glynn. Confession, with a contrite heart and spirit, is crucial to our spiritual health. So thankful my Lord forgives.

Justinian said...

As an Orthodox Christian, I find the Mystery of Confession to be one of the most healing things imaginable. In our tradition, it isn't about being declared legally 'not-guilty''s about being healed from the sickness of sin. The priest is the nurse practitioner working with the Great Physician, but you're not going to get any better unless you tell them the symptoms you are experiencing. When I was a Protestant, I thought Confession was just the most ridiculous kind of dry legalism; and now, I can't imagine life without it.

Anonymous said...

Lovely post, Glynn! By strange circumstance, I just finished a blog essay for RELIEF magazine titled--you guessed it--"Confession"! Mine is from the Catholic angle, so I much appreciate your alternative perspective and your respectful appreciation of the sacrament. Truth be told, many Catholics grew up resenting Confession, struggling against it, and few Catholics, these days, actually practice the sacrament. Your piece is a welcome reminder of its wisdom and the graces it imparts.

Mille Grazie!

David Rupert said...

In our Protestant ways, we tend to ignore the Catholic traditions. But this one, at its heart, is good. Confession is good for the soul, the spirit and the mind. I dont another person, as the issue is between God and me. But.....sometimes having another brother stand by me in my shame isnt such a bad thing

Duane Scott said...

Just loving this today… I think you're right. Confession is necessary. But we as Christians tend to skip over that part real quick.

Megan Willome said...

Still new to the sacrament of confession, but it's been an incredible gift.

S. Etole said...

Funny how we like to skip over James 5:16 when so much healing is available. I was raised in a Missouri Synod church, too, but the similarities end there. We had "a" Catholic schoolmate who traveled a considerable distance to attend a Catholic church.

Michelle DeRusha said...

Just thinking about those confessionals gives me a case of the hives. But you are right...confession is a good and right thing. I just prefer to keep it between me and God at this point in my faith journey.

Floyd said...

Their legalism was just a little different than the legalism of our religion when I was a kid.

My wife grew up Catholic and attended the private schools up until college. At the heart of all of it is humans trying in their flesh, which we all know how that turns out...

When the Bible says, "Confess your sins one to another," I think it really means it, maybe not to a guy alone in a phone booth, but they're trying, maybe harder than the rest of us?

Anonymous said...

I am constantly sinning...I would think. And some things are put on our heart, perhap, to speak to Jesus.Father.HolySpirit about. (Listening) I find that where our heart is and forgiving others are both things that God cares about. It is that mystery of God working in us, and us relating and going to, and responding.