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Sunday, May 19, 2013
The Penalty BoxPosted Monday, April 18, 2011, at 10:23 AM
Well, it's Lent again.
Time to hit the penalty box. At least, that is what my Godfather, a convert to Catholicism, called going to confession.
It is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the penance you have to do after receiving absolution.
Catholics are supposed to go to confession at least once per year and definitely before Easter. Lent is the big rush on the confessional.
Sure, you can talk directly to God and ask for your sins to be forgiven. But for Catholics, that doesn't fulfill the obligation to hit the penalty box at once a year.
I'm a lawyer. A criminal defense lawyer. I even made an attempt at being a politician! Anyone else see a problem?
As most of you probably know, Catholics believe that when Jesus said to his apostles, "Everything I have done, you can do," he really meant it. That includes forgiving sins and conferring that power (or privilege) to other "apostles."
That is all well and good, but Jesus already knew the people's sins. The church wants you to confess them to a priest. For at least a substantial portion of Christian history, sinners would enter the confessional and confess to the priest "anonymously" through an opaque screen. In the early 70s, the church started "face-to-face" confession.
Try being a teenager and telling a priest to his face about having impure thoughts. Heaven forbid having to confess impure actions face-to-face. Now, most confessionals are set up with a screen near the entrance and a place where you can "tell it to his face."
A good confession is one where you not only confess each and every sin, but also confess how many times each. Definitely try to not get behind someone who appears to have a written list. Nowadays, there's even an app for that!
Yes, there really is an app for electronic devices officially sanctioned by church to help you keep track of your sins. You probably have your I-Phone with you are sinning, and confessing, so it makes it convenient to take notes before you forget.
On the other hand, a friend who graduated with me from Bishop Bennett Catholic High School who joined the Navy didn't make it to confession until after he honorably ended his service and got married. That priest told him to "just hit the highlights," as there were other people behind him.
Fear not, a priest can never reveal what he hears in confession. In fact, the law recognizes the priest penitent privilege of confidentiality and a priest cannot legally be compelled to divulge what he hears in confession. We have probably all seen at least one TV movie on the Women's Channel where a priest hears something horrible in confession and can't tell. On the other hand, one of the priests at my high school used to like to antagonize us by musing about his coming book, "My 10 Best Confessions."
Although a priest would virtually never decline to hear a confession any time anyone asks, typically, there is a set day and time when the priest will be in the confessional ready and waiting for penitents to arrive.
If the parish has a school, typically, the students will be herded into the church for confession monthly. Whenever there is a crowd, there is pressure.
How long should you be in there? "Gimme a break! In and out in a minute, who does he think he is foolin'?"
On the other hand, "Holy Mother of God, how long is he going to take? Is he confessing or bragging?"
Some people are shy about confessing and only confess when away from their home parish. However, if you stick to your home parish, you learn which priest gives three Hail Mary's as a penance to everyone. More "progressive" priests will try to tailor the penance to the sins. You definitely don't want to be assigned the penance of having to find a cure for cancer.
In most cases, there isn't a whole lot of back and forth conversation during confession. Typically, other than at the very start and giving the penance, the only comments the priest makes is to help you through the process; "um hum ... yes ... go on ... I see."
You know you have a new priest when he slaps his knee and says, "No way! What happened next?"
Well, I guess it's time to wrap this article up. My collection of Bunsen burners and Petri dishes are waiting.
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