Sunday, September 18, 2011

Can you blame me?

Everyone knows there's not a person alive without a particular sin they struggle with. Some are liars, some are cheats, some are thieves, some like the hunt of the night... but just about everyone seems to have a thing. We all fall, and hopefully we all try not to fall too often.

Catholicism teaches that this is an unfortunate, but perfectly normal, part of our existence. Mankind is disposed to sin but called to rise above his dispositions. There are so many sins that we've split them into two categories, according to their gravity; mortal sins and venial sins.

Mortal sins are all the ones you can think of off the top of your head (not really, but you get the idea). These are the sorts of sins that, done intentionally, with full knowledge of their nature, land you in a world of otherworldly trouble when, god forbid, you kick it. They are deliberate refusals of God's will. And when we commit a mortal sin, we need special grace to bring ourselves back into communion with Him: the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Reconciliation, or Confession, is probably the most recognizably catholic sacrament, after communion. It's also the most widely misunderstood. I hear all sorts of thoughts about it, and a lot of them come from my own head. Things like: "The priest will use this information against me.", "It will get out.", "I don't see why I need to confess to a mortal man."

I'm not writing a scriptural defence of the sacrament. The Catechism does a pretty good job of that for me. What I am writing about is the state of the sacrament in my diocese, a sacrament that I need and have difficulty obtaining.

First of all, it's pretty thin on the ground. Father has said, and others corroborated, that you don't see too many people making a regular practice of it. Accordingly, the only place in town where it seems to happen regularly is the Cathedral. Anywhere else, you need to make a special appointment with your pastor. First Confession is observed, or so it seems, among the little ones, but other than that, even the older Catholics from Pre-Vatican II-era St. Ann's don't make confession often enough to make an open window every week that important. St. Ann's doesn't even have a confessional in the building.

Why would it be important for there to be a regular period for it? Well, for one thing, not having to arrange for an appointment leaves the door open for anonymous confession. That's what we have confessionals for, after all; the screen allows you to hide your face from the confessor. Some say that that removes some of the psychological pressure and makes the confession less effective as a practical measure against repeat punishments, but I think that, if we want to be healthy, we should look at confession less as a punishment as more as a wonderful opportunity.... and that's really hard to do if you're dreading telling a person who knows you personally your innermost struggles and vices.

Having Confession only at the Cathedral presents quite a chore for me, and anyone else in my immediate area without a valid driver's license. For me to get to the cathedral from my house takes roughly an hour to an hour and a half on a saturday, which is when the confessions are heard. What's more, from what I hear, the door isn't always open every week, and I'd hate to have travelled that distance, particularly with winter coming up, to find the cathedral doors locked.

Being a good catholic with all the proper disposition, observing all we are told to observe in the Catechism, was easier 50 years ago than it was today. Can you blame me if, occasionally, I don't?

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