Recently a local member of the clergy announced that Catholics must consider themselves lucky to be able to enjoy the sacrament of reconciliation because they can come directly to a local priest. Protestants, he was quoted as saying, have to deal with their sins directly with Jesus.
Attendants were left somewhat confused behind the implications of this statement. What exactly did this unfortunate priest mean by that? A possible answer eluded me until I shared a few unconnected paragraphs from a book I recently purchased. The book is the classic comic novel 'Clochemerle' by French author Gabriel Chevallier. It was first published in 1936 and describes the efforts of the local mayor to introduce a public urinal, to his lasting memory, in the village from where the book got its title. The author begins with a wonderful introduction to the local characters in the village, sparing little detail about their amorous adventures.
The local curé is innocently drawn into these adventures through his sacred education derived from the amorous but repentant villagers. Unable to resist his aroused feelings he develops a passionate relationship with his housemaid. Filled with remorse and guilt he decides to seek forgiveness by confessing his sin to a neighbouring priest within a bicycle distance from his parish. The tables are quickly turned as his confession leads to the discovery that this priest too is involved in a similar indiscretion. They quickly agree to absolve each other and conduct regular reciprocal visits in the future to justify and carry-on with these amorous but illicit adventures.
This fictitious account probably raised many an eyebrow, among its Catholic readers at the time, when the book was first published in 1936. It may even have been on the list of 'forbidden books' for a time. But can we perhaps draw some parallels from these two separate stories? Is the Sacrament of Reconciliation merely a ritual used to deflect our feelings of guilt and shame? Or is it intended to cause us to wrestle with our false self so that we might grow into our True Self? If so, is the celebrant of Sacrament of Reconciliation experienced enough to challenge us to dig deeper and further? Surely, it must include a means that would encourage us to deal with our failings or shortcomings beyond a simple recitation of a few repetitive Hail Mary's? How willing am I to confront my dark-side? What sins am I not facing that need Christ's healing? How can I expect transformation without first naming my hidden sins? Scripture tells us that there is one sin against the Holy Spirit that cannot be forgiven – and that is the darkness that resides in each one of us that we are afraid to confront!
The priest in the beginning of this story may well have meant that we are probably more comfortable facing a member of the clergy than Jesus. After all, for many of us there still remains a hidden fear of a judgemental God who keeps a record of all our wrongs.