Once, at about age 30 (after I had rejoined the Catholic church), I went to confession. The visiting priest hearing confession that day was Father Carlos from Colombia. (His joke was that he would say in a thick Latino accent, “I am from Columbia . . . Missouri.”)
This was a face-to-face confession. I grew up with the old school, priest-behind-a-semi-translucent-sliding wall-so-they-can’t-see-you kind of a deal (as if they didn’t know you by your voice).
But I went face-to-face this time, because I actually had something that I needed to confess—adulterous thoughts. They were just thoughts—no actions—but by this time I had read the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus warned, “You have heard it said ‘Do not commit adultery,’ but I say to you, whoever has looked at another woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
At this point in my life, though I would not have called myself “born again,” my heart had been softened enough for me to feel true remorse and conviction for this sin. So I felt like I needed to truly confess it, not just go through the motions of “Bless me Father, for I have sinned,” Hail Mary conversion chart, yadda, yadda, yadda.
So for the first time ever, I’m pouring out my heart to a priest because I feel like I need to. I feel like I actually have a slate that needs cleaning. So I finish, and I wait for the absolution and penance, but then Father Carlos hits me with something I hadn’t expected.
“God has already forgiven you.”
What? How is that possible? I don’t remember exactly what Father Carlos said after that, but the gist of it was that God was actually loving and merciful, not condemning and judgmental. He painted a word picture of a God that WANTS to forgive me, not punish me. Totally New Concept!
But isn’t that how the one true God is? We even sang a hymn in church called “Loving and Forgiving,” taken from Psalm 103, so all the evidence was there. Yet it never clicked for me until this day.
This experience was the first time I ever felt the weight of sin being lifted from my shoulders. By the time this confession ended, I was actually laughing with Father Carlos because of the freedom I felt. (One problem there—if you laugh in a Catholic Church, even a small one, it echoes a LOT! Many dirty looks ensuing from the LONG line still waiting.)
(So why was this so unusual? For a couple of theories, come back for Part 6–Repetition and Tradition)