I clearly remember walking up the pathway to the rectory door that night to make my first confession in 15 years. The mere thought of having to sit face-to-face with someone and tell him what I had done made me want to turn around and run for my life. Just as I rang the doorbell, I looked back at the car and thought, “Go! It’s your last chance!” but it was too late. The door opened and there was Father Alex.
His big round face was split with a smile that I tried to ignore. How could he be so happy to see the Wicked Witch of the West? He had no idea what he was getting himself into.
I followed him into a small side office and watched him sit down across an old grey metal desk and motion me into a seat.
All I could think of was why I chose to come here to do this face-to-face. What was wrong with me? I could have gone to confession in one of those dark little boxes where no one would see my face. That would have been so much easier!
But that was all water over the dam now. The decision had been made and I wasn’t about to back out now.
As I explain in my book, We Need to Talk: God Speaks to a Modern Girl,” I decided to return to confession because I had come to know the Lord over the course of two years of private searching and praying. I met Jesus, the Father, the Holy Spirit, and over time they had managed to communicate to my broken and, therefore, highly defensive heart, that they were on my side and they loved me. And without even realizing it, I had come to love them too.
Having been raised Catholic in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, I knew that my former lifestyle was anything but holy. And although I was formerly loath to obey what I considered to be draconian Church rules, falling in love with the Lord was a game-changer. Who wants to hurt the One they love? It was time to turn my life around and I knew of only one way to wipe the slate clean.
But it was still hard, much harder than I thought when I called the rectory to make the appointment to see Father Alex. I liked him because he was a “roly-poly” Italian with a gregarious laugh and a great sense of humor. However, he was also very gentle and understanding, the kind of guy anyone could talk to. When he spoke to you, it was like there was no one else in the world but you. All of his attention was focused on you and you alone.
I remember starting our conversation that night by cracking jokes. “I’m here to make my confession, father,” I said. “But it’s been 15 years so maybe I ought to just tell you what I didn’t do. Otherwise, you’ll be here all night.”
He let out a big laugh and then looked at me with this almost mischievous sparkle in his eyes that seemed to say, “Relax. I’ve heard it all before.”
And then, true to his sensitive self, he said, “Just tell me the worst sin first and get it over with.”
“Good idea. Okay, here goes!”
I spat it out like it was so much rotten bile – which it was in a manner of speaking. Then I sat back and waited for him to look shocked, seize his chest, faint, or call the cops.
He barely blinked an eye. “Are you sorry?”
“Then what else?”
“You mean what else have I done?” I asked, still shocked that he was acting so unaffected by what I had just said.
He nodded, and it was like a flood gate opened in my soul. It all gushed out of me, the actions I dared not repeat to anyone but the Lord God Himself who was the only one who knew about them.
In those moments, sitting across from this dark-haired giant of a man with the gentle eyes and unassuming smile, I felt like I was sitting across from Jesus Himself. This was the Jesus that I had come to know in my personal quest for God – someone who taught me that my sinfulness came from my woundedness and that He wanted nothing more than to heal me. Only with Jesus would I let the pain out and weep until I could hardly catch my breath. All the hurt, the betrayal, the self-hatred, the shame, everything in me that was vile and ugly was never enough to drive Him away. He stayed by my side through it all, just like this priest who was still sitting there without a hint of accusation on his face as I poured out the worst in me.
When it was all over, Father Alex told me what a good confession I had made, that I made no excuses for myself, and that God was surely pleased with me.
“Now make an act of contrition,” he said simply.
“That’s even better.”
I remember looking down at my lap, my throat tightening and the tears just about to roll down my face as I recalled the face of my Beloved and told Him how terribly sorry I was. I apologized for not realizing how cool He was and treating Him like He was some kind of ogre who was out to make my life miserable. In reality, He was the best friend I ever had and I hoped He would forgive me for being such a knucklehead.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the shadow of Father Alex’s hand rise into the air, “ . . . [T]hrough the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit . . .”
When I looked up, he was grinning again. “Go have yourself a nice dinner!”
It was OVER!
I walked out of that rectory feeling lighter than air. A huge weight that had been lifted off of my soul and it was actually palpable. All the way home I marveled at how easy it turned out to be, how great Father Alex had been, how I felt as if Jesus was sitting across from me, tossing each sin over His shoulder as I confessed it as if He was pitching into the trash, never to look at it again.
Wow! I chowed down on my favorite supper – spaghetti and meatballs – and I was so happy inside that I actually started to wonder if I might be cracking up.
But I wasn’t.
I was forgiven.
And it felt really, really good.
Whenever I hear our dear priests being bashed over this crisis, I remember Father Alex who has since gone to his eternal reward. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that all priests are pedophiles or part of the lavender mafia. Sure, there are some who are guilty as charged, but the majority are like Father Alex, good, honest, decent men of God who minister to us with righteousness and dignity. It is their hand that guides us through this journey of life and (hopefully) will one day lead us across the threshold of eternal life.
Let us celebrate our good priests! Remember, it will be these priests who, like Jesus, will stand at our side and faithfully serve us even now as we walk through this valley of the shadow of death. And it will be their holy hands that lead our Church into green pastures once again.
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If you want to help our Church and our priests during this difficult time, check out the resources at the Foundation of Prayer for Priests.