Saturday, February 13, 2010

With the Help of a Good Confessor

Yesterday a fellow parishioner confided to me that she does not go to Father Barnes for confession, but goes to a confessor in another town. My friend’s reason? “I’d just be embarrassed. Most of my sins are truly venial, but Father B’s my friend,  and I—(shrug, grimace)” This reminded me of my quandary when converting: Should I confess face to face or behind a screen? And to whom?

The Archdiocese of Boston has launched a web site to encourage Catholics to go to confession more often during Lent. (Some of the back story is here.) Hot on the trail of St. Joseph, I am now reading a biography of St. Teresa of Avila, who was devoted to St. Joseph and for whom one confessor was a particular source of strength, comfort, and spiritual mentorship. After a while, the good father probably knew who Big Terry was, even when she spoke from behind a screen. I imagine she had a powerful voice.

All of which leads me to the question: Confession? Do you go? (Please answer the poll at right.) Do you go anonymously or face to face? Do you go to the same confessor each time, or—and I think many do this, I certainly have—take the heavy stuff to someone who doesn’t know you and the trivial stuff to your parish priest? (Please comment below.)

Here’s my thinking today, after two years as a Catholic: If I am really, truly serious about cultivating my spiritual life, as St. Teresa was, I will go to confession regularly (once a week or at least once a month) and I will always sit face to face with a priest whose counsel I have come to trust. I know that he is “only” an intermediary and that the absolution I receive is from God. But by confessing to my parish priest or one who gets to know me and my recurring sins, I am accomplishing two things.

First, I’m taking a big whack at my pride, that is, if I’m giving a good confession and not just trying to look good by looking contrite. Been there, done that. I want Father Barnes’s good opinion of me as much as anyone’s. To tell him what’s worst about me puts that good opinion at risk, or at least it does in my prideful imagination.

Second, I get double benefits: God’s absolution and the counsel of a wise man. I do not have a spiritual director, per se, and although I have thought about “hiring” one, every time I do think of it, I realize that I already have one, Father B. Between the pulpit and the confessional, he gives me all the spiritual advice I can handle.

What’s your experience?