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My Greatest Confession

It was dark outside. There were a few lanterns lit, revealing a few chairs, seated opposite each other and spaced apart in the starry night. It was my turn. I was standing next to a friend, and when I saw the open seat, I hesitated. “No, I think I’d rather speak with a priest who knows me better,” I thought. My friend could see my hesitation. But I said I would go.

Here I was on a weekend away with the young adults from our church in beautiful Simonstown. The night had begun in Adoration and praise and worship, and now we had the opportunity to go to Confession. The priests from the various parishes had made the long drive to serve us with open ears, words of wisdom and to take the seat of Christ who, through them, forgives our sins.

Father Charles had spoken to us on the first night about how our desires are good. However, sometimes we don’t trust God with them, and we allow these things to become a block in our relationship with God. He likened our connection with God to a wifi signal, and how our sin can weaken the ‘wifi’ connection between God and us. The Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession is an opportunity to clear the pathways of communication and enable us to live in freedom with God at the centre again.

As I trudged through the grass to the open seat, I prepared my heart for what I was about to say.

I have been to Confession many times in my life – I remember when I was a child, I would list my sins on a piece of paper and go through each one in detail, asking to be released from them. The movies portray confession as guilty Catholics mournfully confessing their sins from behind a curtain never do this gift justice. I have come to see this sacrament as a call to new life.

Every priest I chat with becomes like a counsellor. God’s mercy and grace heal us, but we are also healed by the simple act of being heard – releasing the things we have kept in the dark. I have come to appreciate this more and more, so I have come to see it as a space where I can speak in freedom about what has been dragging me down.

This time, I just wanted to chat with the priest about one thing – something I wanted to let go. I explained why it was becoming an obstacle in my relationship with God, and he listened with the most loving mercy – the mercy of God. When I finished, he said, “I can understand how hard that must be for you.”

With that simple phrase, I felt as though I had gained a friend and confidante. He loved me. A stranger I had never met loved me.

Now, I listened, and I noticed how young this priest was. He explained that he was from Nigeria and had moved to South Africa not so long ago. He loves Mumford and Sons, and he quoted a line from Babel, telling me how he and his friends were chatting recently about how strange and philosophical this line was; and how it reminded him of my situation. I smiled to myself, appreciative of how relatable this man was. Then spontaneously, I began to speak about some of my dreams; and he told me some of his too. It felt as though I was one of his friends around a table, having a drink, speaking about our interests.

I will treasure this sacramental moment as one of the most unusual, satisfying and poignant conversations I have ever had. It was as though time stood still, and two stranger-souls had a glimpse into the unique things God was doing in their lives.

I am sure that the Holy Spirit was with us that evening. Father Godwin spoke into my situation with a deep wisdom, putting into perfect words a situation he had not journeyed through himself, but somehow gifted me with all the hope I needed. I will never forget the wisdom we exchanged.

He said, “The rule of discernment is chaos. Before a big life change, there is always chaos. But God brings order out of it. We see this in the creation story of Genesis – the world was crafted out of chaos.”

A lightbulb moment; some solace.

And then I said to him, “I believe that our stories are never meant for ourselves. They are collective; to be shared with others. And that’s why, I suppose, the stories of those long ago are written down in Scripture, and we learn from them still.”

“I like that,” he said, musing to himself, “I’m going to write that one down.” And then he reflected on this and told me how it’s true of his life.

“I suppose I should give you your penance now.”

We laughed. The timelessness had us behaving like old friends, forgetting the formalities.

And then he gave me the most beautiful and helpful penance I have ever received: “Thank God for all he has done for you, and thank Him for all He is still going to do….I am excited about your life and what is to come.”

The hope and the joy I felt were tangible. It was through his human heart and ears as he listened, with his hands forming the Sign of the Cross, and through his eyes that made me believe I saw the face of Christ that night, present in the most unexpected way.

Moreover, this man was a vessel of Jesus’ divine mercy – something true of each and every priest who administers this sacrament. It is when we are healed that we can have the strength and joy of being living sacraments – bringing healing and companionship to those around us; that we might share our “crosses” and “resurrections”, thus sharing in the life of Christ.

We should never see the Sacrament of Reconciliation as something intimidating or guilt-inducing. It is an opportunity for newness. It is to have faith that Christ will be with us in every word and action that takes place. It becomes something we long for.

About the Author

Caryn Tennant

I am writing from under the shade of beautiful Table Mountain in Cape Town. Here, I studied a BA degree and qualified as a high school English and Drama teacher. My constant fuel over the last 5 years has been ministry, prayer and coffee with friends. My bucket list for the upcoming year includes speaking Spanish in Spain, running a half marathon and marrying my fiancé.

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