Tag Archives: confession

The best (according to me) tweets I have twitted over the course of the previous week or so, as a momentary stay against the essential evanescence of twitter.

That last was from a party we hosted. I disappeared from 10:00 – 11:00. One of the guests apparently thought maybe I was busy with a lady. Nope, nope, I was lying in the dark, staring at the ceiling, thinking how much I hated being around people, and how stupid people sound when they laugh and have a good time, and how fun is dumb.

Then I went down and played more beer pong, so whatevs. To be fair, the party went for nine hours. NINE. I consider myself a hero for succumbing neither to sullenness nor to apoplexy.

The best (according to me) tweets I have twitted over the course of the previous week or so, as a momentary stay against the essential evanescence of twitter.

Today I told my confessor that I’d rather not talk about homosexuality every single time I’m in the confessional. If I say I looked too long at an attractive person, he doesn’t need to ask whether it was a woman or a man. A sin is a sin, and the gay ones aren’t special.

I said it gently and I hope I said it humbly, but my stomach still turned over slightly at the feeling of telling a priest his job, telling him: No thank you, it’s fine, I don’t want your help. Yes, it’s a cross; No, you don’t have to tell me that there are therapies available.

I vastly prefer the approach of Father T, who first asked me in the Confessional, fifteen years ago — not “Are you seeing a therapist” or “Have you ever dated a woman” — but just: Do you want to talk about it?

Oh boy, I sure did, then. Now, I’d rather think about more important things. That has always been the point.

No, not what should the penitent say — although a lot of people do google “how to confess masturbation.” I get it, it’s an embarrassing word. You don’t have to say it if you don’t want to. You can say “I committed an impure act, by myself” and the priest will totally know what you mean. On the other hand, you may find that, as with Lord Voldemort, the thing loses some of its morbid power if you just plain say it.

Anyway, a reader, Father R., asks:1

What would be helpful for me to say to a penitent during a Saturday evening confession time and with people in line? [I have to watch the time to be fair to the other penitents.]

I usually say that I understand that it was difficult to say certain things, to remember they are a beloved child of God, the distinction between attraction and action, and that the Church (and Christ for that matter) is not calling them to a loveless life. It will be a life of loving and being loved as Christ teaches (just like for everyone) and according to our state in life [i.e., single, married, clergy, consecrated religious]. I offer to meet with them if they want to talk further (just like with other penitents with complicated situations since my time is limited in the confessional). No penitent has followed up in this way.

I responded:

I think the most important thing is something you’re already doing: to offer to discuss their situation outside the confessional. I don’t know why nobody’s taken you up on the offer yet — maybe they’re too timid, or maybe they don’t want to bother you, or maybe they already have somebody to talk to about it. Maybe it would be good to frame your offer in terms of a question, something like, “Do you have anybody you can talk to about this?” I think it would be just impossible to deal with the problem without at least one person to talk to, one person who can be turned to when things look darkest.

It occurs to me that it might also be helpful to make sure they know that they are by no means alone in their situation. One hears plenty from dissenting Catholics, and from secular people who are openly gay and see no moral problem with homosexual activity; one hears less from Catholics who deal with same-sex attraction but still aspire to chastity. But there are an awful lot of us out there.

So, I don’t know. Readers, what do you wish you could hear in the confessional? What did you hear that changed your life? What did you hear that made you feel excluded or marginalized? What did you hear that made you feel loved? What have you never heard, but would love to?

And, of course, priests: what approaches have you used in the confessional that gay people have seemed to appreciate? Do you have any recommendations for Father R.?

1 Father R. gave me permission to use part of his email on the blog. Feel free to let me know in your emails if you would like to allow me to do the same, with all personal details removed, of course. I’ll never do it without asking, unless you make it clear that that’s what you would like.

1—It’s my writing day, and that’s a good day, but frankly, I’m in a lot of pain. These road bumps come and go, and I know better than to try reinterpreting my whole life in the light of how I happen to feel today, but today I happen to feel really awful. It’s like those days when you lie in bed shaking with the flu and you just think, “Gosh, I’d like this to over, but it keeps going instead.” Just waiting for the upswing, and in the meantime finding comfort where I can.

2—On the bright side, Pope Francis has released a new encyclical today: Lumen Fidei, the light of faith. You can get it on the Vatican’s website, of course. I’m working my way through it now.

3—I’m super psyched for Matt Jones’ coming out post today. He’s one of the best gay Christian writers I know on the interwebz, and a great human being besides. If you haven’t already read his stuff (as “Jordan”) on Gay Subtlety, there’s a lot of wisdom and entertainment (wisdertainment?) there too.

4—This and other events have me rethinking my own stance towards anonymity. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if I followed suit before too long — partly it’s just a matter of bowing to the inevitable, since my voice is already out there on the net, and soon my face very likely will be too (more on that as that story develops), so maybe my name won’t be that big of a step. But I wanna have some fanfare! I want a party! And also I just want to bide my time and make sure I’m doing it right.

5—Today I needed Confession, like bad, and I actually left my writing spot at the coffee shop in the middle of the day to hunt down the priest after the 12:15 Mass at the Cathedral. Turns out this is the one day he couldn’t make it. That didn’t help my day any. It’s like, you know the Lord isn’t actually telling you “I don’t want to see you” or “I don’t forgive you,” but it’s hard not to feel that way anyway. Catholic Guilt, I know.

6—On the plus side, on my way back to the coffee shop, as I’m processing this and reminding myself of everything I really do know about the Lord, how he’s actually not mean and would actually not rather see me burst into tears in traffic, if it could be avoided, I see this bumper sticker: “Esfuérzate y sé valiente”, be strong and courageous; which is not only relevant but contains a little personal nod, because for me (thanks to my stay in Peru), Spanish is the language of the Lord and of the heart.

Then I look up the full verse and just kind of go, Huh. Well.

7—I’m not nearly as big into Signs as I used to be, but whenever I see something like that, I think of that bit in Lewis’ The Silver Chair:

“Don’t you mind him,” said Puddleglum. “There are no accidents. Our guide is Aslan; and he was there when the giant King caused the letters to be cut, and he knew already all things that would come of them; including this.”

I know that doesn’t do a great job of explaining this moment, but if you’ve read the book you’ll get it, and if you haven’t, you should!

J. and I have been driving for four hours or so, with C. asleep in the back seat. Even though the setup is perfect, we haven’t had a single DMC1 yet, just a stream of banter as we find the places where our senses of humor fit together. Is something wrong, or is this good? Is this how friends are?

There are some things you can ruin just by thinking about them too hard. All we have to do for friendship, maybe, is to put in motion the heavenly mechanism that already exists in us; when we scheme, when we calculate, we ruin all.

With J. it wasn’t like that. I didn’t pursue him or suck up to him or emulate him or seek him out or employ any of the hundred tricks I had so often used to Make Friendship Happen. I just did what I did, and found that he and I had unexpectedly fallen into step. The greatest blessings are the ones we don’t expect.

There in the car, I had the impulse to bring up something heavy, something personal. It was a manipulative instinct: if I could get him talking about something that he wouldn’t talk to just anyone about, it would be another confirmation (I always wanted more!) that we were Really Friends. A forced bond is better than no bond at all, and if you bond with somebody, that makes it less likely that they’ll leave you behind.

But I decided not to manipulate. It was pure grace, or a nudge from my long-suffering angel, that made me remember something Father T had just told me about patience.

Patience means not only being willing to wait for the end of something, but staying alongside it the whole time: not just waiting for the fruit of the tree, but watching as it grows, loving the dirt and the sap and the rain, rejoicing in the bud and the blossom as well as the apple; not only because they are necessary precursors, but because they too are ends, are good.

And I remembered how, in dirty church basements, I and the other support-groupers would tell each other all our old shames and fears, wring ourselves dry, try to get it all out in an effort to know and be known, understand and be understood. How it helped, and how it missed the point.

It’s a great blessing to find that you can speak the unspeakable and not be reviled. But only time makes friends out of strangers; and at the end of the night, or the month, or the year, we hardly knew each other any better than at the start.

You’d think our secrets would make us most ourselves, but they turn out to be the same as everybody else’s. Everyone hurts in the same ways, everyone debases themselves in the same squalid rituals that every priest has heard and absolved and forgotten ten million times.

What we really own, and what makes us delight in our friends, are those sparks of self that dance along our surfaces: the unrepeatable gesture, the characteristic chortle, the way that only he will react to something that only you would think of saying.

It takes time. I settle back, grin, and belt out the chorus to the Zeppelin song on the radio. We grow so slowly! But patience is another kind of joy.

“I think,” says Fr. John from behind the confessional screen, “that we tend to see our sexuality as a burden, instead of a gift.” He laughs to himself a little, maybe thinking You and me both, buddy; you know as well as I do that celibacy is no joke.

“It feels like a burden because it’s so powerful,” he continues, “and so hard to control. But make this your penance: ask that the grace of this sacrament will help you to see your sexuality in a positive way. As a gift.”

Phew boy, okay. I’ll try. A couple of thoughts flit through my head — about fatherhood as an expression of masculinity and therefore of sexuality, about how all men, even (especially?) the celibate, are called to be fathers in one way or another — but mostly I put the question aside and hope I’ll remember to pray about it.

While Fr. John is still talking, I glance up at the screen. Usually I go face-to-face, because I like Fr. John and he knows all about me and it’s nice to visit with him and confess at the same time. But the screen’s good, too. You can’t see the face of the priest, so it’s a little easier to realize that it is in fact Jesus behind there, and that the kindness and humanity of Fr. John is at least equal to the kindness and humanity of the One he represents and makes present.

More than equal, of course. But I make allowances for my weakness of imagination. When I picture Heaven, I stop short of the Beatific Vision and just picture a place where there are always friends to go exploring1 with. When I imagine Jesus, picturing somebody more or less like Fr. John is a lot easier, and a lot more effective, than trying to conjure up an image of perfect love, and ending up with some saccharine2 unreality.

I’ve been nursing a grudge against the Lord, because I still don’t understand what to make of the hell I went through earlier this year, the hell He didn’t save me from; I’m still trying to learn what trusting Him could mean. But while I imagine Jesus behind the screen, listening to my silly little selfishnesses, the grudge melts for a moment, and I whisper, too soft for Fr. John to hear: How do you put up with this shit?

I don’t mean to swear at the Lord, and I hope he takes it the way I mean it: as a squalid little cri de coeur instead of a sign of irreverence; as a way of saying, I’m confused and angry and grateful and in love all at the same time, and I don’t know what to do with any of it because, like Philip, even after keeping your company all this time, I still don’t know you. I hope he takes it the way he must have taken it when his earthly friends slipped up and let fly with the occasional oath.

They were, after all, a bunch of fishermen and whores.

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