I finally get it. I finally get why people look uncomfortable when they become aware of the fact that I am a practicing Catholic. At first I thought it was because they saw Catholicism as a Sunday morning interruption (a feeling I believe parents should be blamed for because they turn Sunday mass into a chore as opposed to a time to be with God). Then I just thought it was stereotypes putting me at a decided disadvantage. It’s hard to explain to people the difference between myself and a “Holier-than-thou” Catholic who thumps people over the head with their Bibles and their opinions. Those aren’t the only problems, though. Some of them have had a negative experience in the church.
I can now say that I have been that person on two different occasions.
“The Sacrament of Penance is an experience of the gift of God’s boundless mercy. Not only does it free us from our sins but it also challenges us to have the same kind of compassion and forgiveness for those who sin against us. We are liberated to be forgivers. We obtain new insight into the words of the Prayer of St. Francis: ‘It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.'” (usccb.org)
This explanation of confession is likely one of my favorites because it mentions mercy and forgiveness. If you are unfamiliar with the sacrament, those are the two things you need to know. Nowhere does it discuss judgment or chastisement. Being punished is not part of the experience. This is what I would want to explain to a person who isn’t Catholic or hasn’t been to confession.
Full disclosure. From the time I was very young, I always found myself crying or almost crying in confession. I knew I had done something wrong and I was embarrassed by it and upset with myself. Once I left confession, though, I knew I had done right by myself and God and was able to move forward, to try to be a better person for Him and for me. This is what makes the sacrament beautiful and not something to be feared.
Again, though, I can say that I understand why people feel how they feel. About a year ago, I went to confession to present I gravely serious issue to a priest. That priest should have listened to me, offered advice and forgiven me on behalf of God. I should have left feeling comforted and inspired to begin again.
Instead, he made it abundantly clear that he wasn’t taking my problem seriously, not only in his tone of voice and what he said, but also in the cell phone light I could see shining through the divider.
That interaction had a devastating affect on me. I did not leave feeling at peace; I was enraged and mortified and thoroughly unhealed. That priest had let me down. Since then, I have not gone back to him for confession.
Today I am more than disappointed to say I have experience a similar thing a second time. Honestly, this was even worse. Today, when I went to church and knelt down and presented my sins to a man who was supposed to be there on God’s behalf, I was laughed at. It was not just a chuckle, and I guarantee you I said nothing funny to me. Still, though, this man of God listened to my problem that I had been wrestling with and laughed out loud.
Being the person that I am, I addressed this right away, but he didn’t seem to get it. I was astounded and again left a sacrament of forgiveness and renewal feeling frozen and small.
So, as I said in the beginning, to the people who are uncomfortable around the idea of a Catholic, I get it. Some of us do not represent the love and humanity of our faith well. I am no perfect sample, and there are far worse than me with far more prominence in the church. I shudder to think what would happen if a person were to approach that priest and try to explain a desire to join the faith. We could lose a lot of new members that way.
Despite this, I am not discouraged, and I hope that you aren’t either. I am not trying to convert you to my faith. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that we all have the same faith; it merely manifests in different ways. Some of us have God or Allah. Others of us find that miraculous awe in nature or Earth or science. No matter what you identify that feeling as, it is beautiful and pure and raw and you should never let anybody take it away from you.
I’m a Catholic, and I’ll still go to confession. I will merely be doing so with a new acute awareness of the fact that the only one whose opinion matters is God. These men cannot take my faith away from me, and I hope that no man or woman like them has taken your faith away from you. Cherish your beliefs, and never let them lose their beauty.