Sunday, April 3, 2011

Lenten Soul-Cleansing

Tonight I’m looking at the fading marker-number on my upper arm and feeling pretty good. I look at the number on Ernie’s arm and feel really proud of him. He’s proud too. I hope he will remember when he’s older the day he and his mom swam across the Mekong River.
The story really begins a few weeks ago. This is Lent, and no one is more attuned to our duties during Lent than Ernest. So when he found out that World Vision priests are hearing confessions on Saturday afternoons before mass, he insisted that we go early and each make a confession. I’m not strident about religion. I like the warm fuzzy feeling I get lining my kids up around me at mass, the belonging feeling at Church events, and the nostalgic feeling when they burn incense and light candles. I like the Bible stories that remind my kids that Jesus loves them and angels are looking out for them, and I don’t bother with the stories of Job’s undeserved trials, or the impenetrable ones like Samson doomed by a haircut. Anyway, I don’t make a fuss if one boy wants to confess and the other prefers keeping his sins to himself. Actually, I have been quite happy to keep mine to myself, too, and really didn’t see a need to discuss them with our hometown priest, who I’d then have to awkwardly re-visit at bake sales, pageant rehearsals and track events.
But Ernest is nothing if he’s not persistent, and he couldn’t close his eyes at night without assurance of my salvation. So, two weeks ago, following meekly in my eleven-year-old’s lead, I pulled out a squeaky plastic chair in the fluorescent-lit meeting room/confessional and, face to face with a congenial missionary priest, I tried to recount more than two decades’ worth of sinning.
The set-up was daunting. Here I was sitting a few feet from my kids (Puck, Tika and Yoshi already jabbing each other, Ernest beaming at me over the seats), spitting distance from a choir rehearsal, with the priest looking right at me with his personable, inviting smile. I tried to remember the prayer you’re supposed to say to start a confession, and was just starting to mentally prioritize and sub-categorize all my wrongs, when he cut in, waving it all off, and in his cheerful, Appalachian drawl, said ‘Look, I don’t think you really need to bother with all that, and I know you can remember the sins in your heart.’ Wait a second… ‘So I just want you to think about being a better person each day’ You mean you don’t want to hear them all? ‘—That’s what God calls us each to do through reconciliation.’ I was pretty sure that I saw him looking at his wristwatch— ‘And your coming here today is the first step in making that happen.’ Victory!
We had a talk about who do I really want to be and how I need to think about what I’ve done to get there at the end of each day, and I thought—yeah, this is some practical advice after my own heart. Then, when he gave the ‘I absolve you,’ I almost felt like I cheated the system. So quick! And here he was already getting up to go test the microphones and put on his robe, and Ernie was coming up to high-five me, and all my twenty-plus years of sins were washed away without anyone having the time or interest to hear them all.
You’d have to be raised a Catholic to know how good that feels.