The Magnificence of Absolution, or the tale of two confessions

Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof, but speak the word only, and my soul shall be healed.

It is a soul changing experience to be forgiven.  To have a tender and loving hand laid on your head, and to feel, through the ministration of the priest, God’s loving and absolute acceptance of your erring and scarred soul, and to feel his nod of understanding, even in the face of your own horror at the way your soul has wandered its own way into a deep forest of chaos and confusion.

God, the father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit. (The Roman Rite)

The gift of peace to the soul cannot be measured or given a value, it is a grace from God that is beyond price and even understanding.  Our souls absorb everything that we do: all that energy from joy, anxiety, boredom, and all those considerations that grab our lives.  All that tension gets stored in our souls, waiting for resolution.

But there is so much more in our lives that demand our attention, and, let’s face it, we’re not really in touch with our souls.  Our thoughts we know.  Our feelings we keep track of when we have to.  And our bodies we deal with as best we can.  But souls, where is it exactly?  What’s it have to do with my life?  Why can’t I feel it?

But we do feel it.  It’s those deep-down waves of sensation that course through us.  When we are in agony from guilt, it is our souls that pulse that explosion of misery through us.  Conversely, when we are ecstatic, that joy that flames through us, it is our soul that is dancing.

And when we drop to our knees in awe of the movement of God in our lives, it is our souls that feel his wind, his touch, his kiss.

Confession is like taking care of a debt long overdue: the relief is what you notice after the transaction, as wearisome as the process may have been.  Once it’s over, your life has been cleansed, your soul purified.

A week ago, I was on my knees so long that I found it painful to get back up again.  I had to use the supports of the back of the pews to make my way back down the aisle from the altar rail.  It had been a very, very long confession.

What I let go of had been in me, weighing me down, for over two years now.  I had been conscious of wanting to go to confession from the “beginning” of this all, but I was sensitive to whom I would go to.  I didn’t want to release the vomit of turmoil that had been swirling in my soul to just anyone.  And the conflict through which I had stumbled was based on “who I am,” again, another subject matter that I didn’t want to spill out on just anyone.

And then I heard the words, it’s Christmas time, it’s a time of confession, and I knew that I had had enough of sitting in my own stink, and that I needed to find relief.  Then, miraculously, a priest I had known and respected for years, a man who knew something about me, made himself available to me.  Graciously.  Generously.  Traveling over an hour to meet with me.

Sometimes the grace of God appears at the quietest of times.

My tears came so easily.  The remorse from that time long ago is still fresh, still raw, still seeking resolution.

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. 

And when was your last confession, my daughter?

And there it was.

When was my last confession?

My last two confessions I remember distinctly.  Almost to the word.

But, as I told my confessor, my last confession was two years ago.

I did not receive absolution.

Well, when was your confession before that one?

A few weeks, Father.

I did not receive absolution there either.

Did these priests explain to you why they withheld absolution?

No, Father.  Neither explained to me why I was not given absolution. 

I had gone to the first confession, desperate for my psychological well-being.  On one hand, I was being given a command from God.  On the other, there was an absolute obstacle to obeying God, even if I had found myself capable of obeying, which I didn’t.

It was as though I had been commanded to jump over a fence, and my response had been, but I do not have legs that bounce.  I am incapable of jumping over any fence.

Jump over the fence.

And then I go to the fence, and I discover that it is not a fence, but a brick wall.  125-feet tall.  Topped with barbed wire.  And spotted with protruding nails.

This was not a fence.

This was a barrier.

In my world, one does not go over a barrier.

One respects barriers.

And the tension between command and barrier made me feel that I was being split in two, literally, and that I was going insane.

I cannot obey God and disobey God at the same time.

Nonsense had very much entered my realm of visions.  And I was not equipped to deal with it.

In addition, I wanted to be absolved, to be forgiven, finally and forever, for the time that I had turned my back on God shortly after my divorce was final.

The first confession was the most painful conversation of my life.

And I left it without being absolved.

I was still so overwhelmed with emotion at the end that I had to sit in the nave for hours just to calm down enough to drive home.

It was as though I had gone into surgery, had my chest cut open, then slapped on the behind and told to go home now.

My pain at the time was fierce and furious.

I began a period of spiritual disorientation that I never knew even existed.

And so I went to a second confession.

All I wanted was relief to these pains, to these two anvils that weighed down my soul.  That kept everything in my life from making sense and letting me feel that I belonged to my own life.

I was confronted by an old style of confession: a book, the back of the priest, absolute silence.

So I read the book.  I was overwhelmed by having to approach my confusion and pain in this manner.

Then it came time for the penitent to speak.  To talk.  To explain.  To beg for mercy and understanding.

And I was not allowed to speak.

Instead, I read to the end of the confession and was given my penance.

And no absolution.  No relief.  No balm.  No loving hand.  

No God. 

I had not been allowed to speak.

I could have been there for stealing a loaf of bread.

I could have been there for being harsh with my daughter.

I could have been there for slandering my co-worker.

I wasn’t there for any of these things.  But I was there for something.

So how did the priest know enough about me to not need to hear from me why I was there and still be able to assign a penance?

And condemn me by withholding absolution? 

My mind went to only one explanation: the first priest had told the second priest what I had said in confession. 

It was the only explanation I could come up with.

And not only that, but both cursed me.

Both cursed me.

For my love of God.

For my obviously failed attempt to resolve my conflicts with God.

There was to be no resolution from these priests.  Instead, there was one penance to perform.

Which just added to the chaos and confusion.

Looking back at that time, now fully aware of what had happened, I can see me, spiritually sensitive, looking for a means to make my soul right with God again, after so much strain and struggle.

An honest search.

An honest intention.

But I was looking for resolution in Neverland.

A land where no resolution for me resided.

And so for the last two years, I have lived with a clenched soul.  An open wound.  An unfinished plea for forgiveness.

So, in my imagination, I face those two priests.  And I see their humanness.  And I see my humanness.  And, in that, there is relief.

But it is the reality of being cursed by their judgments that remains so unresolved.

This year’s confession took so much of the built-up toxicity from that time out of me.  But it left the harsh reality of being condemned.

Of being finally judged.

By two men who are to represent the mercy of God.  Who are the means of bringing peace to the troubled souls of their congregants.

But who, in a way, brought death to my soul.

Not consciously, I realize.

But nonetheless, there it is.

Sometimes pain kills a soul.  Sometimes estrangement from God leaves a soul without breath or food.

But it is, in the end, up to me to get up off my knees and find my own life.

And it is excruciating to alter your view of yourself, to go from looking down at your legs that don’t bounce to discovering instead your wings that will lift you up and over the barrier before you.

The wings of love.

In the end, it is all about love.

So I must look into my own hands and see that it is love that I carry there.  For it is not enough to demand love from others, and grieve when I don’t receive it.  I must carry it myself to those, even to those who have condemned me.

And, so, there is only one thing still to say:

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. 


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