I'll confess that I'm having trouble with confession. Not the sacrament, but writing about it.
I'm working on a 3-part series for Lent for the Standard and Times. Right now I'm grappling with articulating why I go, in the face of statistics which say that most people don't (depending on how you cut CARA's data, only about 1 in 4 Catholics in the US seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation go at least once a year).
When I was working on my master's I wrote a paper for a course on Reconciliation where I tried to tease out the reasons for the Church's epidemic of absentee penitents that might be inherent in the way we celebrate the rite. (As opposed to bemoaning the cultural shifts that might predispose people in this time and place to see no benefits in such a sacramental celebration of forgiveness.)
My sense then was that the formal satisfaction (the penance) asked of a penitent were too often out of step with what was confessed. My kids joke that when you see the school nurse she prescribes Tums no matter what the ailment: "You've cut your finger off? Have a Tums!" Penances that consisted purely of this many Hail Marys and that many Our Fathers can feel like Tums for the soul. Similarly, penances along the lines of "just be nicer to your family today" are like saying, drink your regular cup of coffee this morning to help your cold.
It's not that there is anything wrong per se with either of these penances, but when the penitent lacks a frame in which to place them, they can feel pale. One sentence of explanation by the confessor can shift a penance of 10 Hail Marys from feeling like dropping coins in the pay laundry — "ka-ching," one load of wash done — to something that heals and strengthens.
If you go, whatever your tradition, why? If you don't, why? or are you like me, and can't quite say why either way?
Photo is off confessional at Mission San Miguel.