I am one of the 23 sixth-graders marching over from St. Cecilia School to the church for our semi-monthly confession to Father Gallagher. He’s a pretty cool priest and also my football coach.
We enter, taking over two pews in the back. As usual, I’m attempting to contrive venial sins I feel would be appropriate for a boy my age to confess. My palms are sweaty. Gary Mulhall is stepping out of the confessional box and now it’s my turn to seek sacramental forgiveness.
It’s dark inside and I can hear Father G breathing religiously. To avoid identification, I disguise my voice, dropping down to a Tennessee Ernie Ford pitch (wasted behavior since I’m the only kid in school who stutters). I get on a roll spewing sins suitable for kids in the 1950s: disobeying my parents, lying, taking the Lord’s name in vain, anything to draw Father G’s attention away from what I’m sure are my mortal sins. I don’t confess to him my impure thoughts toward eighth-grader Becky Bennett, or other secrets I fear are truly iniquitous. Father G assigns Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s for repentance and I sneak back to my pew to blend in with the others.
Seeking forgiveness is a tricky business at any age. Today, I find that if I don’t occasionally review my inappropriate behavior with myself, I’m less likely to make constructive changes and, sometimes, my guilt can turn into shameful thinking (guilt is about what I do; shame is about who I am). People in 12-Step programs and those who follow religious dogmas have structures to deal with contrition and forgiveness. Many people do not.
My belief is that forgiveness of self and others is worthy work for any individual. It can be the difference between experiencing grief or joy, understanding or self-deception.
Part of my life journey is to go from the sixth-grader who made up sins for confession to an adult who can admit when he is screwing up, say he is sorry, mean it and move on.