The Catholic sacrament of reconciliation evokes a wild ride of emotions. Waiting in a long line outside the confessional feels like a roller coaster slowly creeping up a steep incline. You’re nervous and perhaps a little scared about what’s about to happen. But suddenly when you’re absolved of your sins you get that exhilarating rush of joy and grace, like the roller coaster speeding down the other side of the hill.
But what happens if the roller coaster gets stuck at the top and never makes it to the other side? Read on.
One Monday while I was at work I felt an urgent need to go to confession. I’d been meaning to go for a while, and I just couldn’t take it anymore. My home parish offers this sacrament on Thursday and Saturday afternoons. But the cathedral has confession each weekday from 11 a.m. to noon, and it’s only a few miles from work.
So I ducked out of the office for an early lunch break and found a parking space a few blocks away from the cathedral. I’d been there before for confession; sometimes I’ve encountered a long line, and other times I’ve walked right in. The good news is, they always seem to have two priests hearing confession.
Now, the bad news. When I walked into the cathedral, there was a sign near the confession booths that said because there was only one priest available that week, he’d have to stop hearing confessions at 11:55 a.m. to prepare for midday Mass.
It was 11:30 a.m., and there were more than a dozen people ahead of me in line. I thought, “Oh no! I’ll never make it.” But like a roller coaster, the speed of a confession line is often unpredictable. Some people are in and out in a flash, while others settle in for the long haul.
The line was moving slowly. I kept glancing at the clock and realizing with every passing minute that time was going to run out. I was on edge and impatient. Preparing for reconciliation is nerve-racking enough. Trying to beat the clock like a contestant on a game show just adds to the pressure. Oh, and being angry because there was a long line was sinful. So I added that to my list.
Sure enough, I was about three or four people back in line when the clock struck 11:55 a.m., and the priest bolted from confessional and headed off to prepare for Mass. There I was at the top of the roller coaster when suddenly I was denied the wild rush of absolution.
As I hiked back to my car, I looked up in prayer and thought, “Okay God, what is it that you’re trying to tell me?”
If your favorite roller coaster is out of order, perhaps you’d head back to the amusement park and try it again as soon as possible. So on Tuesday I went back to the cathedral. I left work a little earlier and got in line at 11:25 a.m. The news was better that day, or so I thought. There weren’t as many people ahead of me. I was sure I’d get my turn this time.
Not so fast. Everyone in front of me was taking forever (I added even more impatience to my list of sins). I wasn’t mad at them personally because it’s a blessing that so many people were confessing their sins. But I was getting worried and angry that time might run out on me again.
I took a quick glance at the clock. It was 11:50 a.m. Five minutes left and I was second in line. Suddenly the man in front of me went into the confession booth. “Yes,” I thought. “I’m on deck. I hope this guy is quick.”
He wasn’t. When he was finally done, the priest popped out and headed into the main church for Mass. Everyone behind me in line quickly dispersed. But I stood there shocked and stunned for a few seconds longer and then stepped outside to do the unabsolved walk of shame back to my car for the second day in a row.
This time I chuckled a little bit as I gazed skyward and thought, “Okay, God, you really got me now. Clearly you are trying to send me a message. And by the way, if I’m hit by a car and killed today, you do know that I made a good faith effort to go to confession two days in a row, don’t you?”
All I can figure is that God’s message to me was this: Avoiding sin in the first place is far more convenient than having to go back and confess later. Making me think about my sins for a few extra days must have been part of God’s plan. Or maybe he just wanted me to get some extra exercise by walking back and forth to the cathedral.
I was too busy at work to leave at lunchtime the next day. But on Thursday after work, I made it to confession at my own parish and finally experienced the overdue rush of absolution. This was better than any roller coaster ride.
And yes, I did have to confess the impatience and frustration that I felt earlier in the week. Really, there’s no way to justify being frustrated about a long confession line, is there? Shouldn’t the line for confession be longer than the line for communion?