by Tara K. E. Brelinsky
On Saturday, I had to make a spur-of-the-moment decision. I had plans for the day, but suddenly they needed to change if I intended to get my family to confession before Easter. Because of the pandemic, going to the sacrament of reconciliation has become a challenge.
So, I cast all of my previous plans aside and ushered my younger children into the van. Just under thirty minutes later, we spilled out of the mini-van onto the campus of a parish which was holding confessions outside.
A good number of other penitents had also turned up to take advantage of this seemingly singular opportunity. The four lines were long. We divided ourselves among them.
My Burning Conscience
Taking a position in a line, I began to examine my conscience. At that point, the heat of the day was a welcome change and I scarcely noticed its intensity. However, after an hour of standing nearly still under the hot sun, it wasn’t so easy to ignore the blistering rays.
Indeed, thoughts of escape broke through my examine. And I began to ask myself whether or not this extra bit of penance was really necessary.
Yet, re-scanning the area, the only shady respite appeared to be at the end of the line, in the make-shift confessional. So, I resolved to chalk the additional suffering up to the long list of Lenten penances this unusual season has made possible.
Confessions of My Youth
What a very different experience this was compared with my youth. Back in my Catholic school days, donning gray and maroon plaid uniforms, we formed neat lines inside the church pews. In relative silence (because we were kids after all), we sat mentally rehearsing our reconciliation lines, awaiting our turn in the tiny penitent’s room.
Those occurrences, repeated at least monthly, formed my understanding of the Sacrament of Penance. Overall, I harbored no ill feelings about those penitential exercises.
Well, there was that one priest, the gruff Father. I prayed not to get stuck in his line. We all did. But, in general, I just accepted regular confession as standard protocol.
No School = No Sin
The problem with that formation was my sins only needed forgiveness during school hours. Summer breaks never included trips into the confessional. And after my eighth grade graduation, there was no one calling me to repentance. Therefore, in my young mind, confession was only necessary when someone enforced my attendance.
Add to this confusion the fact that I was shoulder-to-shoulder in those confessional lines with other children. Missing from view were the adults: the moms and dads, the grandparents and neighbors. Their absences validated ours once we were graduated from Catholic school.
Jesus Knew How to Reach Me
Fortunately, Jesus is patient and merciful. He knew exactly how to lead me back. He blessed me with children and set me over their formation.
Preparing my oldest for his First Penance caused me to reevaluate my understanding of the sacrament: what it is, why it matters, what it requires. Teaching my son about the Faith taught me about mine.
Put Your Oxygen Mask on First
Every passenger who’s flown on a plane has heard the directive “put your oxygen mask on first.” Because before you can help someone else, you need to help yourself.
Likewise, I couldn’t effectively instruct my children in the Faith when I was lacking. I couldn’t give what I didn’t possess. So, I relearned my Faith: correcting old misunderstandings, renewing forgotten lessons and solidifying my beliefs.
A New Experience
Reexamining my conscience again under those penetrating rays while waiting in the outdoor confession line, I considered what an incredible blessing this unusual day afforded my family. We’re regulars to the sacrament of reconciliation. We purposefully make a journey to one of several parishes in order to go to confession. My children always have the benefit of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers and acquaintances of all ages. But still this day held within it a new experience.
On this Saturday of Lent we were given the gift of longing for reconciliation. The closed doors of churches caused us to search for access to the sacrament. The unexpected change of plans allowed us to reorder our priorities. The sacrifice of our comfort was an invitation to practice patient endurance.
The Blessing of Closed Doors
For all of the worrisome events taking place during this penitential season in the middle of a pandemic, there are ample blessings to be counted. Understandably, many are deeply concerned by our loss of freedoms, but the closed doors of schools, businesses, and churches are creating openings for Christ.
So many parents have assumed leadership in their children’s Faith education, because closed schools thrust them into the role. Closed churches have led the faithful to yearn for the sacraments. Shuttered businesses have put families back around the dinner table together. And concern for others have strangers praying for each other. For all that has been lost, much has been gained.
Never So Grateful
I was never so grateful as when I watched the last penitent before me stand up to go. Of course, I was thankful that my time under that pressing sun was ending. But more than that, I was grateful for the extraordinary grace that the Son of God poured out on my family that day. And indeed for the graces He’s lavishing on the whole world during this wondrous time in history.
Accessing Sacraments During the Pandemic
If you are currently unable to access the sacraments, consider making an act of perfect contrition with the intention of going to confession as soon as you are able. If you are longing to attend Holy Mass, take advantage of the live stream Masses that are happening throughout the diocese.