Recently, I heard a priest note during his homily that he had fallen asleep in the confessional. I trust he was implying that it was because no one showed up, rather than because penitents were just extra boring that day. This image of a lonely confessional reminded me of G.K. Chesterton’s observation that Catholics have a treasure trove of riches from which they normally pluck out only a coin or two.
Since Lent is for redoubling our focus, we decided as a family to be less spiritually frugal and to try harder at making the sacrament of reconciliation a regular family tradition.
It seems God wires kids for the concept of reconciliation. Just the other day I waited outside the grocery store while Teresa went in to pick up some milk. I had parked behind an armored truck.
“Dad, what is that truck for?” Joseph, 4, asked.
“Those two men are taking the store’s money to the bank in that truck.”
“Why do they need a big truck?”
“So bad guys can’t break in and take the money.”
“Like Electro and snow monsters?”
“Can those bad guys become nice guys like Jesus?”
“Dad, if you ever go to jail, I’ll jump through the window and rescue you.”
Aside from the last sentence, which was more than a little worrying, it really was a fruitful exchange. The pump was clearly primed. We headed home and made plans for the day that included making a stop at confession.
Grace, 7, having made her first reconciliation this past fall, was looking forward to going again. I handed her an examination of conscience that included the Ten Commandments, then I headed up to take a shower. Halfway up the stairs, I realized that I might need to translate them into second grade English – that is, by the way, not as easy as it sounds. I did my best, and thoughtfully left Teresa in the kitchen to field the soon-to-be-asked hard questions.
Returning sometime later, I saw Grace still ruminating at the table:
“This one about stealing – does it apply to the people in our house as well?”
“Well, I don’t recall Moses handing out waivers to family members.”
Such a technical line of questioning had never crossed my mind at that age. I was the kid who, to the dismay of his pre-adolescent peers, tried to lift up a manhole cover one day while standing on it. I also chased squirrels during recess – but that’s not entirely relevant.
Anyway, before long, we were on the road. When we arrived at the church, I took the two boys to the park nearby while Teresa and Grace went inside. The equipment was wet from the snow, but the boys didn’t mind and even seemed to enjoy slipping off the climbing wall. We were there all of five minutes before Joseph needed to use the restroom.
Trying to find a restroom in a church can sometimes be an adventure, and trying to find a restroom in an unfamiliar, very old church should really only be attempted by veteran members of Mensa. Nevertheless, I entered the church with Joseph and John, 2. Once inside, we saw no restrooms, but searched and found a medieval staircase that descended quickly into darkness. I walked in front, just in case the boys fell, or, heaven forbid, one was to push the other. It began to feel as though we were entering the Roman catacombs, and I was hoping we could find our way back. Although, I remembered John drools a lot, so, in a pinch, we could follow his trail.
Ultimately, we found the restroom and to my surprise were able to find our way back. Teresa and Grace were right there waiting for us. After my turn, we had a little time before Mass, so we stepped outside to get a little more fresh air. After corralling the boys through the doors and down the front steps, I turned around. At the top of the stairs, I saw Grace smiling. She turned to her mother and said, “I feel so much better.”
Those words pretty much summed up the rest of the day. There really was no sense in letting all those spiritual riches go to waste. Besides, we might have even helped the priest stay awake.
(Joe is married to Teresa. They have three active children and run a joyful home in Plymouth. Opportunities for heavenly inspired humor abound. Joe, a librarian and Teresa, a physical therapist, are parishioners at St. John the Baptist, Plymouth.)