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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Rich in Mercy

The most amazing thing happened yesterday.

I recieved a voice mail from the mother of a girl who need to recieve the Sacraments of First Communion and First Confession.

That's not so amazing. In fact, that's my job, to work with such parents and their children. But this call was different. Her question applied to an older child, one who is beyond the typical age.

I returned her call and after some chatting, I requested to know their background so as to know how we can best answer their needs. She was a bit hesitant, and explained that when her children were babies, she and her family fell away because the babies cried so much during Mass. And so, even as the children grew, she and her family just never returned to Mass, and admittedly, she was ashamed of this.

So I explained our current process for the Sacraments and that I will have to get back to her with an answer as to what to do specifically, but we will work with her. She was fine with that.

But our conversation continued as she explained that she hasn't been going to Communion since she has been away for so long, and doesn't feel that it's right to recieve.

My excitement was growing...this woman TOTALLY GETS IT! I affirmed her feelings; as she's been away, it is NOT proper that she recieve Commuion, and I commended her on doing the right thing. Then I just about fell out of my chair when she asked me, "How do I come back? What is the process I have to follow?"

So there, from my humble position on the floor under my desk, bursting with excitement, fighting to keep a measured tone, I simply affirmed what I'm certain she already knew...she had to go to Confession.

Quietly I said to God, "You're sending me an easy one! She already gets it!"

I did not allow too much of a lapse in our conversation, because I know from experience it's so hard to come back. And she's not coming back for herself; she is coming back for her children, and her return is a resistance to her husband who does not want to come back. So I looked up the hours for Confession at this parish, and explained she can come anonymously and has a right to do so. But I also recommended very strongly that she make an appointment with Father, and then...enter the testimonial.

There was no detail to my testimony; only enough so that she knew I understood her fears. She herself commented on a sense of shame and guilt for having been away so long. I told her I understood, I'd felt the same way...but that we want nothing more than to have her come back into communion with the Church. And that when she went to Confession, that it would be the was that way for me. I emphasized that it SEEMS scary, but it's not, and that all she needed to do was to say it had been awhile, and Father would walk her through it.

I also recommended an examination of conscience. Unfortunately I did not have one immediately linked, but promised to get back to her with one; she accepted this.

One other issue that came up; she is not so familiar with the parish as it's been so long. She hasn't been to Confession in a long time, and was apparently never much of a member, so didn't know where the Confessional was. I gave "directions", but realized they didn't make a lot of sense to someone who doesn't know the geography of the building. Remembering that this was also one of my issues, I offered to meet with her to give her a tour of the church to help her feel more comfortable.

Because I've not spoken of this before, I feel it's proper to mention; one of the things that keeps people away from Confession is the lack of knowledge of WHERE the confessionals are! They aren't marked anymore in many places, they aren't obvious, and sometimes people need a MAP to get there! Some parishes have Confessions regularly, and so it's easier, but still. Even in my home parish, it's not obvious. Other churches have traditional confessionals, others have "Reconciliation rooms", and the lack of consistency is very confusing to people who have been away for a long time.

So I recognized in her the same fear I've had; where to go? What to do? When?

She didn't ask all her questions, and I didn't want to overwhelm her, so I just told her that if she has any questions, to call me, that I'd be happy to show her around, and encouraged her to call Father...because that's what I wish I had done.

What a wonderful lady. You should have heard the absolute relief in her voice! When our conversation began, there had been an edge; she was unsure. She had questions, not just about her children, but about her own status. She wanted to know what to do, but wasn't sure really how to ask. She wanted a map...but didn't know where to look for it. She had a clear sense of what was right and what was wrong...but wasn't certain that this was correct. My goodness, what an example of humility!

And if you could have heard her tone when she spoke of not recieving Communion...there was an ache there. She'll do anything to come Home. She was terrified that I would say something to build her sense of shame, and because I know that feeling, all I did was welcome her. All through our conversation, in the back of my mind, was the story of the Prodigal Son, and John Paul II's Dives in misericordia. All I could do was reach out to her, wanting to bring her and her family home.

I could hear her very desire to be reconciled; she knew she wanted to come Home. And I wanted to offer her that reconciliation; but I couldn't. I don't have the authority. I'm not a priest.

So I did what God created me to do; I reached out to her...and directed her onward, to the one with the authority. I can offer a welcome...but I can't offer her complete absolution.

And in the moment, I realized the power of the authority carried by priests; the ability to truly welcome us all home. I don't want to be a priest, and as a woman, I cannot be a priest. There are good, theological reasons here, and even those reasons came home in a different way today.

As a woman, my goal is not just to be like Christ, but to be like Mary, as my model, for she ALWAYS points to her Son. Today, someone came to me, and I got to point her to Christ, via the one who stands in personal Christi, the priest who was given, via ordination, the power to bind and loose. What a blessing! I never before considered the very Vocation of woman to stand "in persona Mariam". To always point to Jesus.

To all of you you REALIZE how AWESOME and INCREDIBLE this is, to be able to welcome people home, and by the very authority of Jesus Christ, to WELCOME them back HOME!????

Seriously...if I was a guy, I'd have called the Vocations office this afternoon and asked what I need to do to become a priest.

This is powerful stuff. Having a front row seat to conversion does amazing things.

And as I'm a woman, I'm going to take this to the next level; I'm not going to demand to be a priest; instead, I'm going to work as hard as I can within my state in life to help more men answer the call to the priesthood, and for women, the call to religious life. What woman would settle for being a priest when she could work to answer the need to cultivate a THOUSAND priests? As one person, I can do nothing; but if one day, a thousand priests and religious stand as witnesses at my Judgment and say I had a positive effect on their choosing or reinforcing their Call...well, I choose that. Let me stand "in persona Miriam", and do all within my ability to point people straight to Jesus Christ.


Therese said...

What a fantastic testimony. Thanks so much for sharing it.

uncle jim said...

you certainly are getting [or had all along] the hang of it quickly.

i think that interview panel knew what they were doing when they gave you the nod.

Michelle said...

Good story.

Once I was in a very long confession line and it was past time for the priest to stop. I happened to talk to the woman behind me who mentioned she hadn't been in something like 10 years. I started praying really hard, and miraculously, the line started moving very quickly. I think my own confession took about 90 seconds (I opened with, "Father, there's a really long line, I'm going to make this quick..."). I don't know how many more people he heard after me, but he did get that woman right behind me. Deo gratias.

Warren said...

This is beautiful! Thank you for sharing!


Anonymous said...

Adoro - Oh! I just LOVE stories like that!!!!!

Angela M.

Father Schnippel said...

Amen, sister!

(more later, late for a lunch appointment)

Cathy_of_Alex said...


I'm so happy you are in that job. I thought someone who experienced being away and mired in dissent but is now orthodox could be a powerful witness and help to those struggling to come back.

I'm thrilled that I was correct.

God Bless! I will pray for this woman today during my fast.

Another thing about Confessionals that is good to inform new people about: what do the lights mean? If it's on does that mean someone is in there already or not? I do know of some parishes were 'off' means someone is in there.

BretonHobbit said...

wonderful post, and is particularly relevant to my job as well. i admit that last sentence struck me because you use the name Miriam, and that's my name, so it made the post that much more meaningful, haha!
keep up the good work,

Anonymous said...

Oh, I think God so put you in your new job for a reason! Good work adoro!

Adoro said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. I actually spoke to the Pastor yesterday, he gave me some examinations of conscience we can copy and hand out as needed, stuff he uses, different ranges for different people - we do NOT want to freak this sweet lady out with a long, complicated examin.

Things are going well there, but it's all God's grace. I can't take any credit for anything.

Hidden One said...

Amazing. She and her family are in my prayers.

The Ironic Catholic said...

See, this is one of many reasons I am profoundly hopeful about the Church...people I know who work in it get experiences and stories like this so regularly. God is at work, and it's humbling and amazing to see. Even more so to be a part of.


Terry Nelson said...

What a beautiful story. And what a grace!

Adoro said...

Hidden One ~ Keep praying! I've been there, but I didn't have other souls who depended on me. She does. Prayers needed!

IC ~ It IS humbling! It's amazing when God sends souls to us...and then helps us to say the right things. (hopefully...)

Terry ~ What a grace. An amazing grace. God is so good!

Anonymous said...

You are so right that the mere mechanics of confession can be a worry. I joined the Church this year and when I was preparing for first confession I was really bothered by the fact that I had never been in a confessional before and didn't know how it was set up and where exactly to go. And I didn't know how the lights worked either, as Cathy mentioned. I asked people how to do it and they kept handing me examination of conscience booklets; they didn't understand what I really needed help with because it was so obvious to them! The most comforting thing was when the priest said, "Well, that sounds like a good confession,"-- I just wanted to know if I'd done it right. :)

Adoro said...

anon ~ Welcome home! :-)

So if you just entered the Church,I assume you went through RCIA? I'm surprised they didn't explain the "formula", although if someone goes to Confession and just says it's their first time, the priests know what to do.

Many examination of conscience booklets have more than a list of sins; they often contain the ritual itself, and explain them. Did any of the booklets handed to you contain that info? If so, it could have been that the people trying to assist you wanted you to read through and see that information.

But I know what you mean; people often take it for granted what to say and do in Confession, so don't understand when a person entering the Church has questions on, as you say, the actual "mechanics".