Friday, September 12, 2008

Mini Confessions

[This column appeared in the Catholic Standard & Times on 11 September 2008]

Then some men appeared, carrying on a bed a paralyzed man whom they were trying to bring in and lay down in front of him. But as the crowd made it impossible to find a way of getting him in, they went up on to the flat roof and lowered him and his str
etcher down through the tile into the middle of the gathering, in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith he said, “My friend, your sins are forgiven you.”
Lk 5:18-20

The house rules are posted on our refrigerator, ready for those not infrequent moments when someone needs reminding that if you take it out, you should put it away. The one rule my sons never forget is, “What happens in Mom’s Mini, stays in Mom’s Mini.” The seal on conversations in my car is nearly as sacrosanct as that of the confessional.

The questions the boys let fly as we traverse the Main Line are at times silly, and at times poignant: “Were you sad when Tom died?” Chris asked one day after a visit from my late husband’s father. Then, there are the questions for which I have no answers, as when stopped at a light on Montgomery Avenue last spring, Michael asked me why God let evil things happen.

The “ask anything” atmosphere in my car extends to their friends as well. Last spring, I was hauling home a load of young men from school when the conversation turned to confirmation. “I have to go to a penance service tonight!” grumbled one, unworried that I might report his reluctance to his mother. Sympathetic sighs emanated from his buddies, except for Mike. “Don’t go,” he urged.

To the astonishment of his friends (and me, I must confess), he regaled the car with the tale of how I had made him go to confession, rather than a communal penance service, before his own confirmation the previous year. And how much better it was — or at least shorter and less boring. “Just go to confession” was the moral of his story.

The men in the account of the paralytic in Luke’s Gospel remind me of Mike and his friends. I can imagine them scheming to find the best way to get their buddy in front of Jesus, chortling when they discover they can get around the crowd by taking off the roof. Their ingenuity on behalf of a friend knows no bounds.

St. Augustine’s teacher, Ambrose, reflecting on this passage in his exposition on Luke’s Gospel, reminds us “to call intercessors, call the church” even when we ourselves cannot see the way clear to find Christ. “Because of His regard for the church, the Lord forgives what He may refuse you.”

Watching Mike work to get his friends before Christ in the sacrament of Penance, delighted to have found a way “around” the crowd, I realized anew how much we depend on each other for our access to God’s forgiveness of our sins. Even in this most private of sacraments, we need each other.

Almighty, ever-living God,
Whose love surpasses all that we ask or deserve, open up for us the treasures of Your mercy.
Forgive us all that weighs on our conscience, and grant us more even than we dare to ask.
We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Photo credit to two stout monks.


  1. I am trying to imagine how the rules of my classroom are, as compared to your van. Especially if one of my students spoke with one of your passengers. This is a great reflection between the Gospel and real life. Makes me wonder about obstacles I avoid to find God.

  2. I have to wonder...was the kid talking about a Penance service, which is legitimate as it involves individual confession, or was he talking about having to go to an illicit "General Absolution" service (which some people call Penance services, which muddies the waters?)

    I agree...just going to individual confession is easiest. But some people are aided by the Penance service that preceeds the individual confession. Where I work (in a church) we offer penance services for First Confessions and through the school, etc., but it is clear that such services ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS involve INDIVIDUAL confession. Attending the service doesn't do a thing but prep one for the Sacrament.

    So...I'm a bit confused as to whether your son was talking his friend out of something illicit and invalid versus into a more direct approach to this wonderful Sacrament. (Does that make sense?)

  3. Please do not wonder - the kid is my son - no illicit services at my parish. The Penance service included individual confession.

    I urged him to the other form at this stage in his life (he'd had many experiences of the Penance services over the years) so that he would know how to approach this form of the Rite when he might have a need it.

  4. Very cool. I don't attend Penance services myself, not since my 12 year confesssion when I think I needed that mass-witness so that I could be "lost" in it while I waited for my turn.

    But since that time...individual. At work we use both forms...a Penance service once, and individual confessions once. And honestly...the latter goes more easily. We may do away with the Penance service entirely.

    Around here, though, there are a few parishes that illicitly and against the Archbishop's directives...have a Gen Absolution service. It just makes me crings, how many people are kept from a direct encounter with Jesus!