A Perfect Time for Confession

It usually happens on Saturday…

I try to take that morning off when I can. So, I sleep in a bit, get up, say my prayers and offer Mass in my chapel, and then go for a long walk.

Saturday mornings, the traffic is light, the air fresher, and not even that many pedestrians are out and about. I can get a brisk hike in.

My destination is one of our many city churches that offers the sacrament of penance. I sneak in, rarely recognized since I’m in walking clothes, and stand in line with the others outside the confessional. In I go, contrite I am, forgiven I leave, gratefully I pray, renewed I walk back home.

Because I’m dressed in street garb, and, since I prefer to confess behind the screen, the confessor does not know who I am. Fine with me.

Once, though, as I was leaving the church, another priest of the parish did recognize me, welcomed me, and we chatted for awhile. When he discovered that I had just gone to confession, he blushed.

“But, archbishop,” he remarked, “I’ll send a confessor to your house! You shouldn’t have to come down here, stand in line, and wait like everybody else!”

Well, as a matter of fact, yes I should. While I thanked him for his thoughtfulness, I explained that I really wanted to make the trip to the church, I preferred to stand in line, I wanted to be “just like everybody else!”

Because, as a sinner, I am! And one of the places I most sense being an intimate part of the Church, a member of this community of faith, is when I’m in company with others, head down, waiting in line for God’s mercy in this beautiful and potent sacrament of reconciliation.

Look not on our sins, but on the faith of the Church!” That’s the prayer I borrow from the words of the Mass as I stand in line with other sinners and prepare for the sacrament of penance.

I mention this because it’s Lent. These are the 40 days when the invitation of Jesus to conversion of heart and repentance for sin is most dramatic.

Our Catholic tradition holds that nowhere is that invitation more RSVP’d, or His mercy more evident, than in a good confession.

Do it now: resolve that, sometime before Easter, you, too, will stand in line and beg God to “look not on my sins but on the faith of the Church.”

Get back to confession.

People often approach me, as they do any other priest or spiritual guide, and lament, “My relationship with the Lord is limp and listless. I’m in a valley. I want some love, warmth, and grace.”

“How long since your last confession?” I’ll ask, only to see the cheeks turn red.

Last week I had the honor of offering the Funeral Mass for Bernard Nathanson. You know his odyssey. An acclaimed obstetrician, he was an aggressive abortionist, co-founder of NARAL, bragging about the thousands of abortions he performed. Until…

…Dr. Nathanson viewed a sonogram. This is not a blob, a mass of cells, a “tumor,” nor even just an embryo or a fetus, he concluded. This is a baby. What did he do then?

Repentance…renewal of heart…and a fresh start as one of the most eloquent pro-life prophets this country has ever known. The power of the Truth!

And in 1996, this man, who had called himself an atheist, was baptized, confirmed, and given his First Holy Communion by Cardinal John O’Connor in Our Lady’s Chapel at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

His most towering trepidation, he told the cardinal, came from the weight of his past sins as an abortionist. But in Jesus he found an invitation to repentance, and in the Church he discovered an assurance of a mercy that trumps any pile of sins.

The sacrament of penance…no better season than Lent.

See you in line some Saturday morning! I’ll appreciate your company!

A blessed Lent!