As a Catholic, we are raised to believe that our prayers are answered. Mind you - all prayers are answered, however sometimes they just may not be the response we are wanting or searching for. Being raised Catholic takes some serious motivation. Listen, I am all too familiar with the guilt factor. I was raised on it. Not only was I raised IRISH, but Catholic. It was a double whammy. Now, I wouldn't trade it for a mile...or even a million dollars (hmm, wait a minute a million. well maybe) but sometimes being raised with a dogma that talks incessantly about guilt, purgatory and heaven (yes, hell gets covered in that, too) a poor girl can get confused and begin to wonder which end is up.
I was never one for the confessional. I have met only 1 priest in my entire life with whom I felt comfortable enough confessing my sins. Well , make that two. Fr. Ernest and Fr. Tom at Holy Name Catholic Church in Steamboat Springs. I suppose it has something to do with meeting them later in my life, when I felt I was not under scrutiny. Ironically enough, my very first time in the confessional, with a priest at St. John Eudes in Chatsworth, CA. turned out to be almost too terrifying to go through a repeat performance. We had attended CCD at St. John Eudes, and going through the Sacrament of Penance was pretty serious stuff. We had to prepare for several months, and finally came the day when you would stand in a line with your fellow classmates, and anxiously await your turn to enter the mysterious dark room, with the padded foot rest, magic screen, and the little light on the outside of the room that indicated to outsiders that you were in laying a load on a priest.
What I disliked most about the confessional part of my religious upbringing was that I always felt like I was being judged. Most of the priests I was raised around were old fellows, who took guilt to a whole new level.. I realize they were doing their jobs, acting in lieu of Christ, but I couldn't get past the idea that they were friends of my parents, and would then turn around and tell my parents the list of sins I might have committed. You know, sitting in the confession, with a note pad that said "Ann Corry Gartlan" and all the mean things I might confess to. The first time I received the Sacrament of Penance, I lied. How's that for a first time admitting of sins? It isn't that I did not have some grievance to get off my chest, but I just couldn't bring myself to 'fess up to it - to some guy who would undoubtedly turn right around and ask my parents to tip heavy in the offerings on Sunday, and he'd give a list to them. So, I made up some wild story of teasing my sister. Which, actually was the truth - I teased her, she teased me, in fact the Gartlan kids were notorious for their teasing, poking fun and getting into mischief. Nothing ever too serious, like arson, stealing, or hurting other kids - just plain old fashioned siblings encounters. I felt it ridiculous to confess to something that seemed too trivial.
Then there were the punishments after the confessional. I was too young and immature to appreciate the cleansing of one's soul, or the merit in reciting the Our Father, Hail Mary of Act of Contrition, a hundred times over...if I was not really, truly remorseful for whatever it is I had committed a few hours earlier. Lets be honest - sometimes you just need to tease your sister, or tattle on a brother. It's part of the upbringing of siblings.
Fr. Ernest and Fr. Tom are different. I did some major confessing to Fr. Ernest before going under the knife for spinal surgery. I suspect I wanted all my bases covered in case I received just a little too much anesthesia. Fr. Ernest even came to my hospital bedside and administered the anointing of the sick to me - boy, I must admit I felt like I was on the road to the recovery after that. Fr. Tom is just about old enough to have heard Jesus Christ's confession (if Jesus had been in the business of committing sins). He is an old Italian, from New York, and although he does not like the New York Yankees, I can see past this little error in his thoughts and truly appreciate that he has dedicated his life to counseling our poor, lost souls and setting us down the right path. He's just the real deal. I went to him one day, a few years ago, and I was just about as low as a gal can get. I was upset with my husband, feeling alone, desperate, angry and just about at the end of my rope. I spilled my guts to Fr. Tom. He hears confessions the old fashioned way, which I prefer to this new age open confession; I like my little bit of security that comes from the little screen that covers my face. Well, poor Fr. Tom took it all in, heard my confession, in between the sobs (yes SOBBING) and absolved me of the sins I confessed to. After that, I sat in one of the back pews, started in on my penance of Hail Marys, and Fr. Tom, God bless him, came out of the confessional, and gave me a little pat on the back as if to say.."you did alright, Ann".
Now, of all the times I have sat in a confessional, one thing does still weigh heavy on my soul - just how does that little light come on? and what happens if your priest becomes hard of hearing?