I was seven years old when a nun told me that any sins I didn’t admit to in confession I would have to reveal at the end of the world to everyone who ever existed.
The nun’s point was that there were worse things to fear than seeking absolution from the shaded figure of a priest in a dark cubicle. Easy for her to say. . . she was a nun. Nuns don’t do anything worth confessing unless it would be scaring the crap out of small, innocent children, but that was kind of their job description.
At seven years old, one has to wonder what it was I was so worried about revealing. All I can think of was the time when I was five I found a statue of a reclined deer in my neighbor’s bushes and took it home and put it in a box with a bowl of water and some grass clippings (a child’s universal idea of animal food). That afternoon there was a minor flurry over the fence when the neighbor found her lawn ornament gone, the words “thief” and “delinquent” and “calling the cops” being thrown about among the adults. I stealthily slipped around the back yard, climbed the fence and returned Bambi to its former resting place, relieved my burning desire for a pet hadn’t landed me in jail.
If only I’d been offered the opportunity to confess online as at St. Miriam’s Church, I would have saved myself nights of sleeplessness and worry. St. Miriam’s is a part of the Catholic Apostolic Church of Antioch and normally practices in the Roman Catholic tradition. But it takes a huge leap from the R.C. norm by offering penitents the opportunity to confess via e-mail instead of before the physical presence of a priest.
This would have been a godsend to one seven-year-old, terrified at the idea of speaking out loud to another human being all the horrors I’d committed. Because even as a child I sensed I wasn’t confessing to the real sins – the thoughts and prejudices that flash in the mind before rationalization and conscience take over: the flash of envy I felt when for Christmas my brother got the Kodak Instamatic Camera I had coveted; the jealousy I felt when my little brother was born; my resentment when I was expected to change his diaper or rinse out the really messy ones.
Instead: “I lied three times, forgot my morning prayers seven times, talked back to my mother nine times…”
After Vatican II there was the kinder, gentler Roman Catholic Church and we no longer had to fear getting yelled at by the priest after a confession. When I was a teenager the Sacrament of Penance became a sort of poor man’s therapy, illustrated by a penance given to me by one priest who said, “You need to not be so scared of everything, Jeanne,” destroying the myth of the uncaring priest and the anonymity of the confessional all in one sentence.
Confession was one of the issues that contributed to my ultimate break with the Roman Catholic Church. What really ticked me off was when our extremely large, crowded parish initiated the practice of the Penance Mass. Basically, it was a church service held on a Saturday during which there was a moment of silence where you confessed your sins through prayer to God and were given a general purpose penance to perform and mass absolution from the priest.
All I could think of were all the sleepless nights I’d spent as a child, convinced I was going to hell because I couldn’t bring myself to admit to the priest the hate and revulsion I felt for the boy who insisted on calling me “Jeanne Beany.” This was all it really took? A mass, a prayer and bada bing! Absolution?
Of course I no longer worry about having to confess in front of anyone who has ever lived. And, really, it makes absolutely no sense. Sure, it would be uncomfortable for the confessor. But what about everyone who’s got to sit there and listen to each other’s boring confessions? Sure, we’d get to listen to, say, Mae West or Larry Flynt, but for the most part we’d be listening to the same boring people we avoid at Christmas parties.
And that would be hell.