Hey. I’m the new guy. The one contributor to this blog I’m sure I know invited me to write, which may have been a mistake. I don’t know; I’m not sure I can live up to this new role, although I read these posts often and comment when I get particularly inspired. I’ve come relatively late to the faith and am far more opinionated than I am well-read. Bad combo. I was baptized Catholic as an infant, then raised by a fallen-away Catholic and an … atheist? agnostic? … who in reality is one of the more “Christian” men I know. I took a degree in anthropology, focusing on human evolution. I came back to the church when I met my wife, got confirmed after the birth of our first child when our priest announced the two of us as new youth ministers. (We had told him the week before we were interested in helping out …)
I have far more questions than answers.
So during the past week I’ve been commenting on two posts: the first one regarding under what circumstances Communion should be denied, and the second regarding examination of conscience and receiving Communion unworthily. I have a story to tell that ties these posts together, I think.
The first 10 years of married life I spent in a constant state of serious sin. Coming late to the church and with a questioning mind, I found that I didn’t agree with all the Church’s teachings (still don’t) and was unwilling to submit to them simply because I was told to. When I came back to the church, our priest told me that God had given me the head on my shoulders, so as long as I was using it to examine my conscience and discern the truth, I would be alright. I took him at face value: I’ve always believed that remaining willfully ignorant is also a serious sin, and so I continued, with my wife, Catholic friends, seminarians, and priests, to dig into these teachings and try to make them make sense to me.
It wasn’t until many years later, however, that things began to click—not that I completely agreed with all the Church’s teachings, but I could see her wisdom and admire what she was trying to do. I had never confessed my deviance (and that of my family) from one particular teaching, but I began to think seriously about doing so, and prayed in earnest for understanding and humility, believing that to confess a sin with no serious intention to reform would be an even greater sin.
Finally I reached a point at which I thought, There is wisdom in this teaching, and although I may not fully understand, I may find the understanding I seek in submitting to it. Because my own confession and reform would impact my family, I told my wife what I was going to do. She was struggling with the same issue, but was perhaps not as far along at that point – nevertheless, she encouraged me.
So I did it: I confessed the sin, and the fact that for a decade I had disregarded the Church’s teachings as misguided, and the fact that I had never before confessed this sin. I shared my other sins, as well, and told the priest of my personal struggle to understand, and my willingness to try to lead my wife and family to reform. It felt great – the weight of 10 years of uncertainty and good old-fashioned Catholic guilt drifting skyward. The priest talked softly to me about letting go—about relinquishing the control I feel that I must have over my life and yielding to God’s will as revealed through the Church. I told him I would do my best.
Then he said, “As far as absolution, I’m not sure …”
I was shocked. He proceeded to tell me that he needed to be certain I was committed to reforming my life, and that he simply wasn’t there.
I didn’t know what to say. What else could I do, besides confess 10 years of sin and silence and tell him I was willing to change my own ways and lead my wife and family as best I could?
We spent another 10 minutes rehashing the discussion – and I got steadily angrier, until, when he finally did offer me absolution, I had no doubt already sinned again.
It was 18 months before I returned to confession. My rationale during that time was that I knew in my heart, well before the priest had finally said my sins were forgiven, that I was absolved – so what had I gained? A grudge, against a priest I admired and respected (still do).
I returned to the sacrament, not because of my “usual sins” – the thorns and weaknesses each of us has – but because the lingering anger over this conversation left me feeling unbalanced. It certainly helped: this is the first time I’ve shared this story and not felt an ache in my chest and hot blood in my ears.
But the question remains for me, where is true reconciliation found? I’m glad to have reunited myself with a sacrament I’ve always loved – but to this day, I feel as though some of my truest and most sincere confessions occur within me, while my worst, by far, happened with a priest and by the book.