Long before I became a Catholic, my Jesuit-educated husband, born into and faithful to the church, told me that if I ever entered it, I wouldn’t be eligible for confession. He explained that I was scrupulous—I imagined that I had sinned when I had not—and that therefore pastoral counseling was the thing for me. For the almost thirty years of my marriage, I’ve been a Catholic fellow-traveler, but it was only this past Easter that I was baptized. I was confirmed then, too, and received Communion. I continue to receive Communion (and give it; I’m a eucharistic minister), and I was married in a Catholic ceremony, so I’ve got four sacraments down. Holy orders are out as far as I’m concerned, and so far I haven’t needed the sacrament of the sick.
That leaves confession. I haven’t been.
Though I’m much older and calmer than I was when my husband made his serious joke about pastoral counseling, part of the reason I haven’t confessed is connected with his analysis. I don’t know what I’d say, exactly; sometimes I find it hard to separate the psychological from the spiritual. "Keep us free from all anxiety," prays the priest in the embolism of the Our Father. That phrase strikes me every time. Anxiety, it seems, is part of the human condition. Is worrying a sin? Perhaps: it certainly doesn’t bring me closer to God. But is it the worrying itself that’s separating me, or some wrong I’ve done in the still unsorted tangle of a human relationship? Anyway, shouldn’t I be more concerned with the political, the global?
Scrupulosity aside, the greater reason, the real reason, I think, that I haven’t yet been to confession is the encompassing, perhaps sufficient, glory of the Mass, at least for a new participant like me. It is in church, during Mass, that I pray for the thinning and the eventual erasure of those thoughts and actions that stand between me and God, and for the understanding and will to bring me closer to him. Each time I share in the Mass, I’m nearly overcome with its beauty and promise and depth. I leave tired from the effort to pay attention to so much.
Perhaps James O’Toole is mistaken when he says, "an effective means has yet to be found for Catholics to express their recognition that they do not always live up to the ideals and standards they profess." We have the Mass: the greetings, and the penitential rite—sins of omission as well as commission included, "all that I have done, and all that I have failed to do"—the readings, the profession of faith, the songs and the homily and the alleluias and amens and the Eucharist. I’m still dizzy with all there is for me to try to absorb, and to live by.
For that very reason—the church’s enormously generous blessing, my path now to God’s love—I can’t brush off the promise of any of the sacraments, to which my Pocket Catholic Catechism refers as "Channels of Grace." I’d better think whether I have something to say, worthy of confession.