…. No, this is not a post about mammograms, prenatal screening or prostate testing.
…. This is a post about confession.
…. Earlier this week I shared with you things that were on my mind after hearing a talk about spiritual direction. This also is about something on my mind following that talk.
…. During the course of the talk, the presenter made a side comment about confession. He stated that, in his opinion, we “ought” to go to confession face-to-face because we need to be “humiliated a bit” (yes, that’s a quote) and so should confess while sitting across from the priest rather than behind the screen.
…. Humiliated? Why? Humiliation is not a virtue, humility is. Humility and humiliation are NOT the same thing. Humiliation means to make someone feel ashamed and/or foolish by injuring their dignity and self-respect. Humility is an accurate view of one’s self in light of Truth.
…. The sad truth is that shame can keep someone away from the font of mercy that is the Sacrament of Confession. I can imagine the pain and fear of humiliation can be so great for some that it will keep them from seeking God’s forgiveness. “Public” humiliation is not required to obtain forgiveness and reconciliation and the Church does everything she can on her part to make a clear path to God’s mercy. If exposing us to humiliation was the best way to help everyone grow in Christ, then the Holy Spirit would have guided the Church to continue the tradition of truly public confession and truly public penance.
…. After many years of going to confession face-to-face, I became very frustrated with the situation. So frustrated, in fact, that the time between confessions stretched further and further. Not because I have excruciatingly humiliating things to confess, but rather because of something else I mentioned in my post on spiritual direction.
Nicer Than Jesus Syndrome
…. “Nicer Than Jesus Syndrome” is what I call the “condition” of those who have a tendency to excuse and minimize my sin ~ be they friends, family, acquaintances or confessors. They “understand” too much. They want to give me lots of breaks. While they don’t realize it and don’t intend it, they tend to keep me small and weak rather than encouraging my spiritual growth.
…. In face-to-face confession, I found that I spent a lot of my time explaining why this or that really is a sin and why the fact that I have a large family or I homeschool (or whatever) is not an excuse for my sinfulness. I wasn’t looking the priest in the eyes seeking soothing words or begging his understanding or desiring that he assuage my conscience. No. I wasn’t telling him that this is all just too hard for me and he (and God) just had to understand. Too often I found that I was trying to plead with him (through the explanations) to acknowledge my sins and forgive them in Persona Christi! I was giving rebuttals to his excuses! Almost every time I left confession I felt frustrated and like I did not have a good confession.
…. **I understand that there are times when advising that what someone confesses is not a sin is good and right (for example, confessing a temptation that I rejected rather than a sin I actually committed.) For this advice, I am grateful. This is not the thing to which I object.
…. It is true that Jesus was (and is) always merciful, always loving but he never compromised about sin. He knew what he would be facing. He knew the price of sin. He always called us to reform our lives and to live in perfection by His grace.
…. One day I was inspired to stay behind the screen. This was with a priest I confessed to regularly, see regularly, speak to regularly. He probably recognized my voice, so I really wasn’t able to “hide”… and still it transformed confession for me.
…. Not looking at each other afforded me the opportunity to just confess my sins. I didn’t hear the familiar excuses (this priest was least prone to that of the priests that I’ve known), though I still got some good advice for combatting certain things. This was not a one-time deal, either. I have been using the screen for about a year now with a variety of priests and my confessions have been consistently better. I have not felt the urge to “argue” about my sinfulness and reject excuses made on my behalf. I find that I am going to confession more frequently because I am able to accomplish what I set out to do: seek God’s mercy, completely and honestly confess my sins, express my sorrow and make a firm purpose of amendment without being compelled to make the priest understand that it is too a sin! Confession became simpler, quicker and I found myself able to confess without all of the extra stuff that frustrated me. The change was immediate and has been consistent and I can only conclude that using the screen was the difference. I am so convince, in fact, that I have simply not gone to confession a few times because there is one priest in our area who will not sit behind the screen, leaving the penitent no choice as to how to receive this sacrament.
…. Now, having said all of that, I have a disclaimer here: if the priest is comfortable with it, I do not have a problem with face-to-face confession *by choice*. (Priests are NOT required to meet a penitent face-to-face, nor are they allowed to require a penitent to meet them face-to-face, though I understand certain circumstances may dictate that it be done that way.) I can understand why others would find that face-to-face is better for them and I am glad that they have the choice to go to confession this way. I only have a problem with the premise that face-to-face is always somehow better or that humiliation (rather than humility) is always good for the soul.
…. I would recommend that anyone frustrated by “Nicer Than Jesus Syndrome” found in their face-to-face confessions consider using the screen to see if that makes a difference. Maybe it won’t, but what if it does? It has for me. I choose to screen and have been better for it.