A Confession (Or Four)

by Bill Brenner on January 30, 2012

This is for those who believe in a higher power — especially the messed-up Catholics among us. Those who might take offense should go away and come back tomorrow.  I won’t think any less of you.

In the Catholic Faith, there’s a Sacrament of Reconciliation — modern language for going to confession. Duncan did it for the first time Saturday. Sean, Erin and I used the occasion to do it, too.

Because you tell your sins to an also-flawed human being (the priest), a lot of people are turned off. I got past that by realizing the priest is really just a direct phone line to God. He doesn’t have to be pure as the driven snow to fill the role.

Mood music:

Being the screw-up that I am, I need to empty the trash from my soul every few months. The poison is constantly building up in my system — anger, resentment, narcissism, selfishness.

Simply put, Confession is where I go to unload all the things I keep doing wrong. It’s just me and the priest. It’s a moment of truth, where I can be honest about myself before God and let the accumulated angst, guilt and exhaustion drip away.

For those of you who have different beliefs, the concept may not make sense. You may even find the concept ridiculous. That’s you’re right.

I know a lot of good Catholics who struggle with it.

One guy I know hasn’t been to Confession in nearly a decade. Last time he went he listed his sins to a priest who was later convicted of sexual abuse. Why, he asked me one day, should he be telling his sins to someone who was supposed to be clean and trustworthy, but was in fact dripping with filth more foul than anything he could confess?

It’s a fair question.

I’m sure a lot of people in Haverhill are going through the same emotions over Father Keith LeBlanc, who allegedly used church funds to buy pornography. Is this the kind of person you want to go to to confess about having dirty thoughts when an attractive woman walks by?

The man who confessed to a sexually abusive priest is a good man. He raised four children who grew up to be pretty awesome. He’d give you the shirt off his back. He also continues to go to church almost every Sunday.

But he doesn’t go to Confession because he doesn’t believe he should be confessing to a priest who is full of sin himself.

It’s a shame he feels that way, because I think Confession would do him good. At the same time, I can’t blame him. That kind of anger takes a lot of years to tame.

Here’s how I see it:

We forget priests are human, prone to all the mistakes the rest of us make. In the case of Father LeBlanc, he was under the spell of one of the most insidious addictions a person could have. When the addiction has you by the balls, you do terrible things to feed the habit. Stealing money, for example.

My most destructive addiction was compulsive binge eating. I always knew it was wrong, but I couldn’t stop. And I used a lot of money that wasn’t mine to feed that addiction. It was money from the family account, but it could have easily been money from someplace else.

My kids have been selling popcorn for the Cub Scouts and I recently took the order form and cash envelope to work to sell some for them. For a good three weeks I had an envelope full of cash sitting in my laptop bag. Five or 10 years ago, chances are pretty good that I would have burned through some or all of that money to get my fix. Thank God I don’t have to face that danger today.

Addicts of all stripes: Food, booze, drugs — know exactly what I’m talking about.

You know it’s wrong. You badly want to stop. BUT YOU CAN’T.

Sounds like every other sin out there.

Priests have a role to play in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the official term for Confession. Their job is to sit there and absorb someone else’s sins, then grant forgiveness.

What people fail to understand is that they are telling their sins to God. The priest is just a conduit.

It’s a brutally hard concept to swallow, especially when we spend our lives trying to oversimplify the fight between good and evil.

All I know is that Confession is important to me.

I screw up daily. I’m forgiven for sins and then I go out and do the same stupid things all over again. It’s like a trash can. You empty it and spend the next week filling it back up with garbage. Then it has to be emptied again. 

When I go into the Confession booth and dump out the garbage, I walk away feeling a hundred pounds lighter.

If that sounds stupid to you, I don’t know what to tell you.

In this blog, I can only tell you where I’ve been and how I got through my own personal hell.

But what works for me can’t possibly work for everyone.

I’m just glad I found another piece of God’s Grace. Hopefully, I’m a better man for it.

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