As a very private and introverted person, I consider many things to be too invasive which other people might not think so. For example, though I can be considered a member of the younger generation, I dislike making updates about my life on Facebook. Most people would post pictures of the pancakes they made on a random Sunday morning and more so of themselves after getting a drastically short haircut, but I did the latter and didn’t bother announcing it to my internet friends. I also dislike going to the doctor and being asked rather embarrassing questions about very private health-related matters.
You might think that if I am a private person, then why do I keep a blog which talks about some rather private matters? Well now, I do not blog about the pancakes I make on random Sunday mornings; rather I blog about ideas which I would like to share with other people. Of course, it is sometimes inevitable to share private details about my life, but that’s the price I have to pay.
Or rather, I don’t really pay anything. The name I use here is a pseudonym. This blog is not a narcissistic way of glorifying myself. What matters here are my ideas and not my life or my name. My close friends know about this blog, of course, but being the very private and introverted person I am, those amount to only two people.
Given my personality, you can imagine how terrified I felt when I had to go to confession. It’s the weirdest sacrament in my opinion. Unlike the other sacraments, you are alone in a dark little box (at least you are in the church I go to), and afterwards you are also alone when you do penance.
Also, it’s the hardest sacrament to comprehend particularly for people who understand that God can forgive you if you just pray and directly ask for his forgiveness. I found the usual answers priests give to modern Catholics inadequate. My favorite among them was that we have a need to voice out our sins and hear that we are forgiven, that it’s different when we simply pray directly to God. Look at shows like Dr. Phil, etc, the priests said. People seem to desire hearing themselves confess their sins and be forgiven.
The problem is I am not at all like that. I don’t wish to voice out my sins to anyone, even my close friends. So I put off the need to go to confession for the longest time.
I continued with my life by trying to not sin; only, God has a way of turning you around just when you thought you are smooth sailing. After reading up on mortal sin, I committed one. I won’t tell you what I did, but let’s just say I didn’t kill anybody or do anything illegal.
There was no way out of it. I had to go to confession because if I didn’t, it would be like agreeing the day before that I know and understand that the Earth is round, but then the next day I become afraid again of falling off the edge of the Earth if I traveled too far.
I still struggled with the idea of confession, so I didn’t go. Instead, I went to Mass and asked God if I could take part in Holy Communion – perhaps the whole idea of sacrilege, of doing this with the stain of mortal sin, is mistaken. I wanted to stand when the lines formed, but something in me stopped myself.
I asked God to make me understand. I jumped from one internet article to another explaining why Catholics need to confess their sins to a priest, and finally I found a reason I could accept.
Obedience. If God does not wish me to do this, I would know and feel it; but I knew I was just being stubborn. Also, how can I dismiss something I do not understand?
There was no getting out of it, so I finally relented and practiced my little speech and even wrote down the Act of Contrition, etc; but come the day I planned to go to confession, I became disappointed to see the sign: Monday – No confessions.
I thought, “Is this a trick? All right, I’ll go tomorrow.” Mass was starting in an hour so I left to do a bit of shopping then planned to return to join the afternoon rosary which was usually said before mass.
When I returned, there was a line for confessions. I knew it was now or never, so I lined up too; but I started to become scared. I made the guy who came after me go first. As I waited in the dark box, I thought of stepping out, but I had gone that far and didn’t want to repeat the experience the next day as I knew I had to. The person at the other side was speaking too loudly. I could hear all his sins so I tried to think of other things.
A minor reason why I rejected God was due to my experiences with bad priests. In the confession box, with just me and the priest, could I walk out if he starts to act high and mighty?
Finally, the priest opened the window. I spat out what I had to say in a voice which sounded like a frightened little girl’s. I think the priest must have thought I was only 16.
Then he spoke. He sounded like a very highly educated man. Also, he did not judge me but gave me sensible advice on how to avoid sinning in the future. I recited the Act of Contrition in my frightened girly voice.
Afterwards, when I stood up but before I turned to go, the priest didn’t immediately shut the window as the priests of my childhood did. Instead, in those few seconds as I prepared to leave, I saw from the corner of my eye that he was observing me. He said to me, “God bless you and advanced Happy Easter.” (It was during the Holy Week.)
That made my face break out into a smile and I mumbled back to him, “Happy Easter, Father.”
When I got home, I thought about this experience and realized that just as there are good, bad and so-so doctors, teachers, lawyers, soldiers, politicians, and so on, there are also good, bad and so-so priests. While I think it is still necessary to call out so-so and bad priests for doing practices which make people hate the Church, e.g. being judgmental and giving fallacious arguments, our previous experiences with such people ought not to deter us from continuing to believe. This does not make sense because it is like completely rejecting the science of medicine because a few doctors made bad decisions which harmed us.
And yet, this is how many lapsed Filipino Catholics think. I know. I used to be one of them.
It’s funny because I was already familiar with this reasoning in the past, but it took a scary confession to make me fully realize it. This sounds paradoxical, but it isn’t really. There is a difference between knowing something and understanding it. People know the harmful effects of smoking but if they continue to do so it may be said that they do not understand. If they understood, they would be horrified and would make an effort to stop instead of giving excuses such as it being their choice to smoke.
An artist would take his choice of medium and work it to create a masterpiece. A painter would not use the same brush strokes and other methods when using watercolors as he would for oil paints. Likewise with God and our lives. I thought it was only going to be about confession – “Ok, God. Job’s done! – but it isn’t. My life is a masterpiece in the making: my disposition, my tendencies and my interests are combined with my sins, my hesitations and my experiences as a frightened little girl going to confession to create one perfect spot on the canvas. And so it goes until the time of my death when finally – for real – this perfect piece of art, this painting of my life, is finally done.