Friday, May 7, 2010

Tax collectors and sinners

posted Wed, 28 Mar 2007

Last night was the Lenten penitential service at the cathedral. For those non-Catlicks out there, this service is where they do confession all at once – a “get out of jail free” card. Everyone stands there and you say a few prayers, examine your conscience and get forgiven. Then your soul is all clean and snowy-white for Easter. You do this instead of going to regular confession, which, alas, has become something most Catholics do not do regularly anymore, although I remember my dad taking us to confession on Saturdays when I was a kid and reminding us what were sins on the drive out to the church, even though as a fifth grader, I had no idea what “abusing myself” was.

Well. Apparently, the Church (or at least the Diocese of Memphis) has decided that group forgiveness is not where it’s at and they were going to take this opportunity to shepherd us all back to individual confession. Sneaky! Annoying, but I have to admire their strategy. Commitment escalation and all that. We did all the regular stuff but when it came time for the “OK, let’s all say an Act of Contrition and go home,” Father Val instead told us that there were priests there from seven parishes and there would be one in each corner and a couple up front and we could wait in line to say our confessions. Talk about pulling a fast one.

I, who usually sit in the back*, had chosen a seat in the middle near the aisle this time. Rats. I saw my nearest confessional in the corner and started fast walking toward it, but there was a little old lady between the corner and me. This was one of those cases where the first would be first and the last would be waiting for over an hour. Step on it, sister, I thought, but I didn’t want to pass her because that would be totally rude. She just ambled along and by the time we got to the line, there were ten people in front of us. If each averaged three minutes, it was going to be well over a half an hour before I got home.

I decided to examine my conscience while I waited. The reader had given us a list of things to think about. Self abuse was not one of them. “Have I failed to protect the environment?” was. I didn’t realize the Church was now on the Al Gore bandwagon. As the people ahead of me took longer than three minutes each to do their confessions, I wondered if perhaps they were being interrogated about their carbon footprints.

It was finally my turn. I’m not going to tell you what I told the priest, but in the middle of our little chat, the lights went out.

Yes. It went pitch dark in the church.

The wrath of God?

Fortunately, the priest was an import and didn’t believe in all that newfangled penance. Despite what God appeared to be telling him, he just said that God wasn’t a policeman waiting to catch us doing something bad and told me to say four Our Fathers. That’s it. Then we both fished out our handy flashlights – “I was a Girl Scout,” I said, “I was a Boy Scout,” he said (I didn’t know they had Boy Scouts in Nigeria – huh) – so I could – finally – read the Act of Contrition, which they have changed, so what I was reading did not match what was in my head, and I was done.

Then the lights came back on.

When I walked out, the people who were still in line looked at me with just a little bit of fear in their eyes.

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