My heart sunk as the door remained as rigid as ever. I was standing outside of University of Cincinnati’s Parish Newman Center where I had been told Confession was available. But the doors were locked and my brain was transported for a moment back to this past Spring when all churches were closed. I tried another door, walking around the giant church building and rattling on every handle with my shivering fingers. In a moment of saintly virtue, I began to grumble under my breath, “This is what I get for trying to be a good person and go to Confession.” I turned away to try one more set of doors when I heard a noise behind me. I tried the door again and it had been unlocked!
As I stepped into the silent church, I was deeply affected by that simple act of unlocking. After having all doors locked for so much of the year, to be invited into a church and into a Sacrament was a healing encounter. It was almost as if I heard the Lord saying, “You’ve been expected.”
I knelt in the confessional,1 laying bare my soul to Jesus Christ present in the priest who sat behind the screen. Something that is difficult about the Sacrament of Reconciliation is that priests are imperfect humans just like the rest of us. You can tell when a priest is going through the motions, just waiting for you to finish rattling off your list so he can go on to the next thing. But that wasn’t my experience. This priest saw me as I truly was, in all my sin and dirtiness. But in that darkness, he loved me. He spoke with such tenderness, speaking conviction and comfort like the true father that he is called to be. Through “the ministry of the Church” that is spoken of in the words of Absolution, I was granted an image of God the Father, the reckless lover who was drawing His beloved daughter back to an unblemished filial relationship with Him. After exiting the Confessional, I sank to my knees before the tabernacle. How good it was to be His.
I remained in the church for a little while and noticed that I was the only person who came that afternoon. The minutes ticked by and the church remained as silent as before. And yet the priest remained in the confessional. I got up to leave and he was still there. Father remained sitting in the alcove of a church in a college town on the outside chance that someone would walk in. Someone like me.
Now I know that priests are kind of required to stay for the entire time they say Confession is available. But the image of that father sitting in anticipation of a child returning home has been cemented in my mind over the last couple of weeks.
In Advent, a season of preparation, we spend much of our time meditating on our wait for the Lord. We enter the gasp of humanity alive in the millennia after the Fall and before Anno Domini. We accompany Mary and Joseph anticipating their Son’s birth. We are given permission to wrestle with the paradox of hope in a broken world as we look at our own twisted stories and cry from the depths of our broken hearts, “How long, oh Lord?” All of this is right and just, profoundly beautiful. But oh, have you considered the Lord’s wait for us? If we pant for the waters of His divine life, how much more perfectly and heartrendingly does He thirst for our return to Him? Night and day He waits for us prodigal children, gazing through the lattice written of in the Song of Songs, peering through the screen of the Confessional where His arms are outstretched, not to strike and smite, but to heal and embrace.
The reality is that Christ was so desperate for us that He became a baby who we could not fear. But He is not selfish in His love. He will never violate His precious gift of free will. Regardless of the self-abasement that the Lord subjects Himself to for our sake, He needs our cooperation. Just as we chose to turn our backs on Him, we must choose to run to Him. There is no faster road home than the confessional.
Maybe you’re waiting for an abundant grace this Christmas, more eager than ever for a Redeemer. But that has nothing on the way the Lord is waiting for you. We still have a few days left before the King comes to Bethlehem. Will you find time in all the havoc to go to Confession? It’s far more important than those gifts or recipe ingredients. In fact it’s the greatest gift you can offer the world: the restoration of your unrepeatable, indescribable heart that was made for greatness. Make a plan. Find a time for Confession at a nearby church. And go. A priest is waiting for you even if you are the only to come. The Father is waiting for you as if you are the only one created. Now is His Advent. Will you gladden His heart?
1 Set up in a side room near the sanctuary to assist with airflow and distancing 🙂