I love being Catholic. To me, being Catholic is the greatest gift of my life—it’s sort of like being adopted by a wealthy family, and being welcomed into an opulent mansion and told it’s your new home. And one of my favorite rooms in that home is the confessional. You heard me right. I love confession, too. It’s mercy in a box—and it’s mind-bogglingly, head-spinningly, endorphin-pumpingly, splendiferously cool.
Maybe the seeds for my appreciation of confession were planted early. When I was a young boy, my dad was a Presbyterian minister, and we lived in a house called the manse next door to the church. As you might imagine, the church grounds often served as my playground. I sped my bike around the parking lot, we tossed a football around the back yard, and I bounced my ball against the brick wall of the church.
My dad didn’t like that last one. More than once, he warned me not to do it. The wall of the church was perfect, I protested, and provided just the right property of bounciness. Yet my dad just didn’t see it my way at all, and instead seemed inexplicably focused on all the windows. If my aim was just a bit off, it could spell trouble.
Well, trouble was my middle name. I still remember vividly the last time I bounced my ball around the church. I was being extra careful, but my aim must have been just a bit off, perhaps influenced by the fact that I was running full-tilt at the time.
The hole in the window was clean and perfectly round. Decades later, the image of that hole remains indelibly etched in my memory like it happened yesterday. The glass didn’t shatter, only my spirits, as my heart sank into my stomach. I just stood there, wishing I could rewind time. Why, oh why, had I been so careless? What would I do now?
Remorsefully, I went to find my dad immediately. Shame faced and teary eyed, I confessed the deed.
Much to my amazement, he didn’t completely freak out. Instead, together we walked over to the perfectly round hole in the window. He calmly explained that I would have to pay for the repair out of my small but highly coveted allowance, and help repair the window. Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he told me it was OK, that he loved me, and that these things happen—but that I really needed to be more careful in the future.
My experience of confession is similar in some ways. I know that I deserve worse than a few Hail Marys as penance for my sins, but that’s all I get. In a way that’s comforting, consoling, and audible—from a priest acting in the person of Christ.
Oh sure, I used to think we could just pray to God directly to ask for forgiveness, which of course we can for venial sins. In fact, I discuss this experience in my book, How God Hauled Me Kicking and Screaming Into the Catholic Church. But my experience of confession since becoming Catholic is so much richer. It’s an authentic experience of a loving father who understands our sins—and has mercy on us anyway. It’s mercy in a box. It doesn’t get much more splendiferous than that.