Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Intimacy of the Spiritual Variety

Please note that the following is not directed at any individual, nor is it the aim to condemn those who think differently or disagree with opinions expressed during this musing, nor am I seeking to be an apologist. It is honestly just the result of reflecting these last couple of days.

So in community the other night, we started talking about reconciliation, which, being Lent, is appropriate to discuss. Canon Law says that the Catholic individual is obligated to confess serious/mortal sins once a year, preferably during Lent, due to the appropriateness of confessing sins during the season of pruning. It recommends that the faithful also confess venial sins once a year at least, but it's not a requirement.

I remember in high school how I was scared to death of going to confession, and it didn't matter which priest was hearing it. My parents had me go, and I'm thankful for that now, but I remember that at the time I really didn't like it. If it was a priest from Jesuit (my high school) hearing my confession, he knew me and I didn't want to be spilling my guts in front of somebody who, though they're supposed to have everything under the seal of confession and not talk about it, I couldn't help but think would think of me differently and let what I let slip affect the way that they treat me. If they were a stranger, I was awkward and self-conscious and didn't want to be confessing to a total stranger. Why should I tell them stuff, from my actions to my failings to my thought processes, let alone become vulnerable to them? Thus it was a very guarded individual who entered the confessional once a year to talk about some things that bothered him but couldn't bear to actually share what was such a burden to his soul, who dared not daring to ask the questions about the faith and about life that were plaguing his insecure teenage mind.

When I got to college, I went on the Freshman Retreat. There was somebody there who said that they really, really, really didn't like confession and didn't feel guilty for what others considered sins. This didn't make me judge them, but it did make me do some self-reflection. The retreat was beautifully done, the leaders so earnest in their belief and their praise. A whole score of priests had come from over an hour away for a paltry 3 hours to hear the confessions of the mass of freshman that had assembled. In a rare moment of clarity, I decided that I didn't want the secrets I had kept for years weighing on me for any longer. I didn't want to consider past actions or thoughts wrong, because that would be so much easier, but the fact of the matter was that my conscience wasn't willing for me to ignore it without torturing me. As much as I was loathe to talk to another person about my sins, I was more loathe to feel like I was living a life that wasn't mine (I didn't kill anybody or anything dramatic like that). So I stood up from my kneeling and marched over to confession. And I confessed to Fr. Bob, the university chaplain, whom I'd certainly see again and with whom I'd definitely interact in the future, but he was the one to talk to, I knew without question. I'm glad I did. He assured me that if not for the grace of a priest hearing confession, he was bound to forget my confession due to the large number of people who were confessing. My fears were allayed....for a while.

I started going to confession more regularly. I started being more open. I would consider this my period of coming to take the faith as my own, I suppose, so it was new to me. After a while, when I kept on confessing the same things over and over again, I began to become worried about having the same priest. I usually confessed behind the curtain, and there wasn't really any chance of them recognizing my voice, but even so.

There's another struggle I have, which comes from confessing face-to-face, and that comes from the fear I mentioned earlier: I don't want somebody with whom I have a relationship of some sort hearing my greatest shortcomings. Sometimes the fear is that this person will put two and two together and ask me to change something in my life, because I'm stubborn, proud, and cowardly, which means that I'm okay confessing my sins as long as I'm not inconvenienced or needing to grow. Sometimes it's just shame at being so gosh-darn human and having to admit it, really admit it. As such, I'll sometimes opt to go to a priest I don't know and I probably won't ever see again.

But I guess that this is where intimacy comes in. I won't pretend to be an expert on the sacrament, but I do know that Christ is present in a special way in the priest hearing the confession. I think that this discomfort I have of sharing my secrets, my incredible weakness, and just how human I am...well, that's natural. Trust is scary. Trust is tough. Trust sometimes leaves a bitter taste in our mouths, and that's in mild cases of trust being broken or manipulated or ridiculed; it can be destroying when people let us down and hurt us. It's a special thing when one can find somebody whom they totally trust. Sharing the good things is easy (not to say it's not beautiful), but sharing what is bad in our lives, whether it be what we've suffered at the hands of somebody else or what we've done to ourselves or to other people...it's so incredibly frightening but so incredibly beautiful to take that which we find almost more essential to our self-ness or who we are (I feel there's a reason we use "personal" to describe these experiences) and place it in the hands of another, and for the other to take it and accept the sharer. It's transforming. It can help the sharer see that there's something else to their person (if they had that problem).

Like I've said, I'm not a Reconciliation buff, so I should add in my disclaimer that this might not be in line with the Church (though hopefully not heretical). But when I pray, even if I'm telling God some personal stuff, I make God abstract on purpose. It's easier to talk with a source of and sustainer of all life or a bodiless being or something that's so far beyond my understanding that I can't hope to comprehend the smallest portion of its infinitude than it is to converse with a living, breathing, tangible human being. It's a lot less...personal. It's not intimate. But then I have to remember the lovely event known as the Incarnation. And then I have to say, "Aw, shoot, God's been wanting that personal relationship." I can't really think of any other reason for it, you know? Well, I can, but it's one of the huge reasons, I think. So I've been running away from God's call for a personal relationship.

Should I confess to the same priest every time? Not saying I should, but I need to look into my reasons for choosing the same priest or not. Because Christ is present in all of them, but I can choose to acknowledge Him there or not.

I guess, in a nutshell, intimacy is tough for me, but worth it, both on the social and the spiritual planes.


  1. Thank you for risking this intimacy with your broader community!

  2. An absolutely lovely entry. I (por razones obvias) can't see all of this from the same perspective you do, but, especially the paragraph about trust, really got to me and put a smile on my face. Thank you for sharing your beautiful thoughts. PS: I like your blog, too.