I go to confession mostly to confess some variation on the same three or four sins. Sometimes I can go quite a while—months, even—before I fall into one of these sins again. Sometimes it’s the next week. But whatever the length of time, it’s hard not to think that when I show up to the confessional, however long it’s been, the priest—whether or not he’s supposed to—thinks to himself: ah, here comes sloth girl again.
By the time I’m fully vaccinated and feel like I pose no serious threat to the parish’s elderly—and so can attend again—I won’t have been to Mass in more than a year. This has, to put it mildly, not been great for me. Spending Sundays alone has not only failed to bear any spiritual fruit, but I also forget that it’s Sunday half the time, which adds another item to the list of my failures. Being alone with myself has made my habitual sins feel inescapable. Even if I don’t really want to commit new, exotic sins, it would be nice to change things up. (Forgive me Father, I’ve started running guns, I just wanted something to do....) I recently moved, and the thought that setting foot in a new church for the first time would not be for Mass, or for stopping in to pray, but for confession was a little demoralizing.
Without Mass and with only confession, you feel slightly set up, like you’ve been abandoned by a babysitter who leaves forbidden things in your reach, then points out your failures to your parents when they come home. Right now, my relationship with God seems to resemble the one I have with my building management, who send angry emails and tape messages to doors if they find something they consider recyclable in the rubbish (anybody’s rubbish, I should say). I want to say: but I am recycling, almost all of the time! And plastics recycling is a sham anyway! I read about that in the New York Times! But much like the plastic containers and the dog-food tins piling up in my sink, my sins always seem to be hanging around. The occasions of them certainly are.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate or need confession—I’m continually grateful that it exists, and I certainly have a lighter step after I leave. It’s more that I have a certain kind of stereotype rolling through my head these days, the kind of oft-parodied Catholics who sin throughout the week, go to confession, receive Communion, and then go straight back to their typical ways. The stereotype is that such Catholics are insincere and bet-hedging. Are they really contrite? Maybe they think they are, but isn’t that what a person who isn’t contrite would think? I think that what’s often hard to practice about forgiveness is not doing it once, but doing it for the fifth time, or the tenth, or the seventieth. It runs counter to the practical ways we learn to think about other people: as the self-help saying goes, when people show you who they are, believe them. If you or I do something five times, or ten, or seventy, at what point does even the posture of seeking forgiveness and wanting to change become impossible to take seriously?