Our Cathedral offers weekday confession one hour before Mass, which I take advantage of from time to time. Outside the confessional, there are twelve rather uncomfortable wooden chairs on which to wait. Like some sort of pre-penance I suppose. On this particular day, all chairs were occupied with a few people standing, forming a line at the end. As I took up my position at the end of the line,
with only one of three confessionals open, I wondered if I would make it into the confessional before Mass. As the line moved ever so slowly, finally making it to a chair position, I prayed that all the people in line would be blessed and forgiven of their sins as well as praying the dad-burn line would move quicker so I would be able to make it in. As time quickly ticked away, it seemed as if I was now playing beat the clock as I slowly moved up the line of chairs. Behind me, the chairs remained full and more than a few people were standing, waiting as well. Having moved up the line to the number two position, I thought it would be close but I might just make it in. That’s when an escort for the priest showed up at the reconciliation chapel and announced he would be escorting the priest out after this last confession. With that, three people standing in line left immediately. The rest of us, twelve plus souls, remained. I sat in stunned silence at that rather cold announcement and it seemed the others in line were stunned as well. After a moment I spoke up.
Me: Will another priest be coming to hear our confession?
Me: But, we’re here for confession.
Escort: We don’t have enough priests.
Me: We won’t be able to receive communion.
Escort: (with condescending tone) Oh well.
I repeated his “oh well” aloud to myself and with irritability rapidly rising, I thought it best to end the questioning before I have more things to confess.
Let it be known that there are moments when I can restrain my tongue.
The others in line stayed silent but we all remained. Waiting. After a few very silent minutes, the last confessee exited the confessional and the escort went in. It seemed that we were all staying in line hoping the priest would somehow find a way for us to be reconciled. After a moment the priest and escort emerged and all we got from the priest was an apologetic smile and “sorry, I have to say Mass,” then they quickly left the area. At that moment, it seemed like all hope drained from my being. No one on line moved for several moments and I suspect, hope drained from them as well. A few souls got up and slowly walked away. Others lingered a bit and then a few at a time made their way out. There I sat, alone, unable to move. Then, an elderly couple, one with a cane, scurried into the area, out of breath asked, “is it over?” All I could muster was “yes, sorry.” A look of disappointment shot across their faces then the woman said aloud, “it was so hard for us to get here.” After a moment of collecting themselves, they turned and slowly made their way out.
Again, alone in the reconciliation chapel of the Cathedral, I sat in silence. Rejected. By God? No, not directly anyway. But indirectly? Maybe.
I began thinking about the other souls with me this morning waiting patiently to be redeemed. To be cleansed of their sins by Jesus and be brought back to the land of the living. Was there a soul who had been away from the church for an extended period of time, as I once was, wanting to be in communion with the Church and “Oh well” is what they heard when they were rejected that morning in the confessional line? Was there a soul so depressed, reaching out in desperation for help one last time and was rejected with that, “Oh well.” Was there a soul with one foot out of the Catholic Church and this was their last effort to stay and was pushed right out the door? Rejected by, “Oh well.” And what of the other souls that morning seeking redemption? Slowly walking away, rejected, with “oh well,” resonating in their minds.
Two little words with a condescending attitude did a lot of damage that morning to souls just hoping for reconciliation. Do I fault the escort? Yes. His words were hurtful and unacceptable. The priest? Yes. He could have said he would continue the confessions right after mass or have the escort make a concerted effort to find another priest or call a near by church to see if they could come and hear confessions. Something could have been done, dare I say, should have been done, to make sure every soul on that line was reconciled with God that day. No excuses.
The escort and the priest were not the only ones at fault. I reserve some blame for myself, not because Catholic’s always feel guilty for something, but for taking confession for granted for so many years even before drifting away from the Church. I also place blame on every other Catholic who neglects this life saving sacrament. With so many Catholics rejecting the confessional, no wonder the Church mostly reserves as little as an hour a week to this important sacrament.
So, were we rejected by God that morning when reconciliation was denied? No. God never rejects us. It is us mere mortals that do all the rejecting. In our weaknesses, frailties and shortcomings. Escort, priests, sinners alike. It is how we choose to react after we reject or are rejected by other mortals that we choose to bring God back into our lives or push Him further away.
Up next, part two. A Glimpse of Hell.