k.m I a sinner? Of course i I am. We all are. And a few days ago I went to Confession for the first time in eight years; that's a confession in itself, really. I believe in Confession, in theory at least. Acceptance of our sinful state, with the understanding that we will be forgiven if we are truly repentant, is something which unites us as Catholics and makes us feel like God's children; it may also help to keep us sane. But for many Catholics, myself included, the practice is rather different. Ask any priest how many Confessions he hears on a typical Saturday — it won't be many. The truth is that even among quite committed Catholics Confession has rather gone out of fashion. We do not live in a society that is obedient and humble, and Confession does not sit comfortably in an age where self-gratification is so accepted.
So why did I go? There are two reasons: first, our priest had been banging on for quite a while about how important it was. Secondly. I wanted my 12-yearold son to go. How could I ask him to when I didn't go myself?
So I found myself kneeling in a local church, following a short penitential service, wondering what to expect. The service had been concelebrated by three priests and I had spent much of it studying them, rather that praying about my own shortcomings. What I had not expected was a choice. I sin not a great fan of choice: it makes life complicated. If "straight is the gate" then choice must surely be, at the very least, unhelpful. But, as the incumbent priest explained, there were decisions to be made.
He himself — elderly, goodnatured and somewhat quirky — would be occupying the sacristy (a possible option). His equally elderly. but unknown, colleague would be in the traditional confessional at the back of the church (a rather easier option). The youngish, rather serious-looking man, would be in a sort of open, makeshift tent up at the front, in full view of everyone (an unthinkable option). And so it began: the priests took up their positions and I needed to make up my mind. I thought I would sit and watch for a while.
The traditional box at the back of the church seemed to offer the safest option. It was, after all, what I was used to. There, I would be incognito, and since I was already sitting at the back it meant that I would be first in the queue, beating off all six of the nuns who were occupying the front few rows. But to do it because it was easy — what would be the point in that? Also, it would remind me far too much of school. At this point I moved to a position four rows from the front.
The incumbent priest has quite a loud voice, which in his line of work must surely be an advantage, and he could be heard by turns talking and even laughing as the parishioners went in and out. He greeted each person at the door and saw them off afterwards, rather like some GPs do in their surgeries. But how awful, I thought, if when I was in there he was heard to laugh really loudly or (which would be even worse) did not laugh at all but came out of the sacristy afterwards looking ashen and serious, I wanted to go to Confession but not quite that Someone from my own parish was at this moment sitting with the young priest in the white tent. She was speaking and he, with half-closed eyes. was listening, occasionally nodding and, I think, praying. No protective grille, no little box: just two people face to face. It was something I had always found terrifying. However, as I looked more closely, the tent, although it afforded a view of both confessor and sinner, was a rather comforting sight: protective and cosy, a little space to talk and pray in. Nowhere to hide, it was true, but I didn't want to hide. I was here because I had chosen to be and, above all else, I wanted to do it properly. If you are expecting any real, true-life confessions, you will be disappointed. My confession is this: what I had expected to be a pitifully embarrassing experience, was not. Far from it. How often does it happen that the things we thought of as boring and wearisome as children take on a new and more significant meaning when we undertake them as adults?
I found Confession to be the best spiritual experience I have had for years; a beautiful gift from God.
And the reason was this: the priest, or my confessor as I may call him, believed so very much in what we were doing, and that was a great help to me, allowing me to do it sincerely and properly for the very first time. I will always be grateful to him. Confession is not about owning up, but about being repentant, receiving divine grace, and seeking to become the person God wants us to be. Ti Jesus died for our sins then he must have thought we were worth forgiving. Perhaps going to Confession is the very least we can do.
I do have one more confession to make: once I had made the decision to visit the priest in the tent. I got straight up and went in, after the lady from my own parish, so that I would not be tempted to change my mind. It was only afterwards that I realised I had jumped the queue with what must have looked like breathtaking rudeness to everyone in front of me, including all six nuns.