31 May 2017

The Encounter at Confession

I went to confession this weekend. Usually, I try to go once a month, but I’ve been a little lax lately and haven’t gone in three months. I knew it was time to go. You can tell. You get that feeling that things aren’t as they should be, and you need to come clean.

Well, I knew it was time. Yet, I had a lot to do this holiday weekend. So, I ran some errands, and as the morning wore on, my enthusiasm to confess quickly waned. There is always a long line, and I had so many things to do—and it started—thoughts that I could go some other time.

But, then I found myself driving to the church. I parked the car and sat in the parking lot, preparing myself by doing my usual pre-confession examination of conscience.

And I entered the church.

Now, going to confession itself can try your patience. And this weekend was no different. The line was long—10 to 12 people had already placed themselves in line for the confessional, so I took my place at the end and prepared myself for the long wait.

Then the chatter began. Two people began a conversation about priests, confession, the state of the world, and anything else that popped into their minds. And they were loud, disturbing the other penitents.

When this kind of thing happens (and it happens a lot) you have to try to remember where you are and what you are doing there. Then you have to control your thoughts. After all, you don’t really want to add to the long list of things you are about to confess.

So, I kept my cool and my thoughts positive.

Then I saw her.

A young woman was making her way down the center aisle of the church. She had a cane, and we could all see she was blind. We watched as she struggled. I didn’t really know what to do—help or not help. I wasn’t sure if she was going to confession or if she had just received the sacrament, and it is hard to go up to a blind stranger and offer assistance. You never know how it might be received. 

So, we all watched her, but it was out of concern, really, and one or two people asked her if she wanted to go before them, but she declined. It is a strange question to ask really, since she could stand like anyone else. But I think it was a way to try to lighten her burden. 

Finally, she made it to the end of the line—right behind me.

So, now my behavior changed. Each time the line moved I would shuffle my feet louder than usual so she could hear me. I didn’t want to keep telling her to move forward, and I didn’t want to treat her any different than anyone else. Yet, I was afraid to touch her and afraid to talk to her too much because I didn’t want to be condescending or question her independence.

I know. I was overthinking.

Then my mind started working. I thought about her bravery and how difficult life must be and how much effort it took for her to get to confession.  What a frightening thing, to be alone, without sight, dependent on strangers, especially in such a dangerous world. And I wondered why she was alone. She must have someone.

By the time it was my turn to confess, I was more comfortable with the whole thing and there were more people in line behind her. I asked her if she wanted to go before me. I had my reasons, but she declined my invitation.

So I went into the confessional, confessed my sins, received absolution, and opened the door. I called out to her, but she didn’t hear me. The man in line behind her seemed oblivious, so I had to walk up to her, take her by the hand, and lead her into the confessional. I told her I would close the door behind her. She thanked me and told me to have a nice day. 

I closed the door. 

Afterward, I watched her to make sure she left the church safely, and then I watched her walk down the sidewalk. I felt good when she pulled out her cell phone and began talking to someone as I drove away. She wasn’t alone. There was someone, somewhere, checking on her.

It seems like a silly story for me to tell, and I’m not sure why I’m telling it, probably because I don’t want to forget the encounter or the woman. I wish I knew her name. 
But, I remember how she looked, and she looked a lot like St. Gemma Galgani.  

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