The Catholic Thing

Between Heaven and Earth
The Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them
Robert A. Orsi
Princeton University Press, $26.95, 256 pp.

It’s Saturday morning in Indiana and I am at church. The occasion is my daughter’s first reconciliation.

Earlier that week, at the prodding of parish staff, the parents of the children preparing for the sacrament had gathered to reflect on their own experience of confession. In my small group, a handful of thirty- and forty-something parents described an event they remembered as bordering on the terrifying: the entrance from a dimly lit church into the darkened confessional during the school day, the fumbling to find the kneeler, and the wait for the priest to turn his attention to their side. When asked if they possessed any fond memories about their own first confession, no one volunteered a word.

This morning is different. At their orientation session, parents had listened to a thoughtful lecture describing sin as a broken relationship with God and reconciliation as healing that relationship. This uplifting sentiment carries through the service: solemn, but also joyous. After a brief opening prayer, parents line up with their children, presenting them to one of the waiting priests, seated not inside confessionals but on chairs scattered throughout the church. (Only after presenting the child to the priest do the parents retreat. The children, one of the teachers had warned parents, are “concerned that you might be able to hear them.”)

Earlier in the week,...

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About the Author

John T. McGreevy is the I.A. O'Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters and Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame.