Tuesday night was my parish’s annual Communal Reconciliation Service for Lent. (We also hold one for Advent as well.) This Lenten service lets me reflect on sins and good deeds and everything in between. I’m mulling over a couple of reflections as I pray and contemplate my sins I’ve committed and what I want to ask absolution for.
The service itself is about an hour long with a short service, that includes what is typical for a daily mass: a reading, responsorial, and a Gospel reading with a reflection in place of a homily. After that we all recite the rite of reconciliation together and are given our penance. We then have the opportunity to confess and receive absolution individually with a priest. The lights are dimmed and we choose our line. There are four priests in four different areas of the church for privacy. Playing the piano begins.
Our director of music is on hand for the musical portions of the service, and he remains to play at this time sharing several quiet, contemplative selections. It is the predominant sound echoing through the chapel, bouncing and being enhanced by the church’s acoustics. That, along with the buzz of a few quiet conversations lays the groundwork for the continuation of reflecting on what we want to say to the priest. There are young adults from the confirmation class lining up in large numbers, some looking a little uncomfortable while they wait, but still talking and laughing a little bit. This is not their first confession.
I think for as important as reconciliation is, and it is important, it is also beneficial to remember that this is a routine; it’s a normal part of the everyday life of the Catholic. It is not anything scary nor should it cause apprehension even though for many of us it does a little bit. The one thing to remember is that lack of judgment that greets you in the confessional. The confession itself and the absolution received is often a relief, and sadly it barely lasts the commute home.
There is that split second of a moment – it might last as long as two minutes where I am without sin, absolved of everything, a clean slate to try anew to be a better person, a better example, a better disciple of Christ.
And then it’s gone. As I notice a hairstyle, or curse at the traffic; or the rain. I come home to arguing kids and can’t find the charity that I give to strangers.
But right now, at this very moment, I am free of sin.
There is also the non judgment of my pastor as I alluded to above. He greets me as a friend, calling me by my first and last name, that funny way that people do sometimes, with a grin and a twinkle in their eye. The smile is there to make me feel at east, but not simply for ease’s sake but because he lives the Gospel and confession, reconciliation, penance and absolution are simply one more part of it. One fo the sacraments that allow us to continue our journey and accept the other sacraments and responsibilities of Christianity. One more piece to this spiritual puzzle. He also commented on my shirt which sparkled in the candlelight.
Penance is not punishment as in you were bad, now you are punished. Penance is a consequence. Punishment can be avoided; consequences cannot.