There's a parish a few miles away. Sometimes - on Friday mornings - I go because they have set aside some time for the Sacrament of Reconciliation before morning Mass.
The priest is getting to know me - my strengths and my weaknesses. I'm finding that there is a freedom to "come completely clean" in the confessional. I need that.
Some would say that you can have that kind of naked honesty before God at home. The priest, some say, isn't necessary. But I don't agree.
I spent forty years of my life doing that. But something deeper, something all-encompassing happens on days like today. Even before I get in my car and make that short drive, I do a serious review of conscience. It begins even before I get to that morning. Sometimes, it begins days before I get to the morning of my confession. I sense the importance of getting to the heart of what's out-of-order. I grapple with what I've done and that self-examination is done in a deliberate and serious way. It's like knowing I need to go to the doctor's office, and before the appointment, I really sort through what needs to be said so that the doctor can treat me more effectively.
This process builds, as the day of my confession approaches, and especially as the minutes of that drive click off one by one.
I enter the parish and bless myself with holy water.
How far I have come from that perfection that was mine through the waters of baptism.
The Sign of the Cross reminds me how far I have wandered from the "little Christ" I am called to be.
If there is a bit of a wait, the conviction of sin grows even more. I can't stand in the Presence of the Eucharist and hold on to self-justification any more than the one standing in the Holy of Holies could enter without sensing every shortcoming, every sin.
Jesus Christ is Truth. I see myself more clearly in the moment I stand before this-One-who-is-Truth... not as I see me, but how He sees me. And I realize that I have a tendency to see myself far better than I really am. He sees me as I really am, and yet, there is love. The grace and mercy are so close now that His love springs up before me. And it is a good thing, because this is the hardest part. That Gift of Love makes the final steps possible.
I find myself wishing that a simple Jesus-and-me prayer would do the job. This is not easy.
I am left with a contrite heart. And that is a painful place to be when one is about to encounter Jesus, wrapped in priestly stole.
This has lost all resemblance to a prayer uttered at bedtime when I was twelve or twenty-two or thirty-seven. Yes, there was contrition when I prayed those simple prayers of repentance. But was there perfect contrition?
A contrite heart, you will not refuse, Oh Lord. The Psalmist got it right. That's it. That's what all this deliberate review of conscience yields.
Lord, you are holy - and I have fallen so short of the mark.
I left the confessional when the Sacrament was over and knelt to pray. It was a special moment - this kneeling in another parish. I saw the Christmas decorations, and it was Christmas all over again. My eyes had grown accustomed to the decorations at my parish. I didn't really see them anymore. Everything was new again.
And the people came. The hour for Mass approached. And it was nice, because none of them know me. Only Father. And Jesus.
In these rare moments, I feel like a little girl again. In the middle of all that is unfamiliar, I sense One who is familiar.
And that's when I know I'm Home. Only Jesus Christ can take an unfamiliar sanctuary in an unfamiliar area with unfamiliar faces all around . . . and make you feel more at home than you ever felt before.
The journey home isn't easy.
But it is worth every step you have to take to get there.