Sunday, July 27, 2014

Patron Saint of Confessions? I Nominate Father Tom Allender

The other day while I was cleaning my desk, I ran across a 4 page handwritten list of sins I wrote while waiting in line for confession.  As the old saying goes..."Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.  It has been 43 years since my last confession and the list is long, so long that you may not have enough hours left in your day to hear them all."

St. Ignatius
After attending a 3 day parish mission called "Life's Journey" led by Father Tom Allender, I decided he was the one to hear my confession after many years of procrastination and transgression.  Father Tom has written several nonthreatening books on the subject of love and forgiveness and life in general so I though he might be the right guy to hear the litany of embarrassing sins I had committed in my life.  He is a Jesuit priest who's life is now traveling and speaking all over the United States.  The Jesuits are considered the marine corp of the Catholic church, front line, in the trenches, gut wrenching selfless helpers of the sick and needy, the old and the illiterate.  I've always had a special appreciation for the Jesuits.  So in a nutshell, Father Tom seemed the easiest to tell.  I felt I could come out of the closet, confess that it had been 43 years since my last confession and I wouldn't see him at breakfast after mass on Sunday. He had a plane to catch and I liked that part a lot. 

 Now that I have outed myself, I need to explain why it took so long before I could face going to confession.  I felt many of my sins were unforgivable and if I didn't speak aloud of them then maybe they wouldn't exist.  Many I just dismissed, justified or refused to think about because of the discomfort they caused me.  Many I though about and felt such guilt that I couldn't even allow myself to ponder without tears the pain I most likely had caused others.  It's a conundrum to know you need forgiveness but you can't begin to ask for it because you don't believe you or your sins are forgivable.  So days,  months and years go by without really facing the weakest part of your soul and in the process you live on the periphery of a value system you know to be just and true.  I rationalized because I painted saints for a living.  I was busy convincing myself that I was doing penance and holy work by spending my time creating and painting beautiful saint statues that would go on to tell their story to others.  I almost had myself convinced until I heard Fr. Tom speak.  His topic was from his book called "God Loves An Unmade Bed" and boy, did I feel like one rumpled mess inside.

Father Tom was hearing confessions in the afternoon of his last day before leaving town on what is jokingly referred to as his Highway to Heaven tour.  I arrived early.  The line was long.  It seemed many had felt the same level of comfort with him that I felt. As I began my wait, I did the math.  There were over 30 people ahead of me and the average he spent with each was more than 10 minutes.  That meant over 5 hours of waiting.  I wanted to leave right then because after all I had other things to do that day.  Plus, it had been so long what did it matter if I went to confession today or not.  It took a giant act of self discipline to settle in and  begin my wait.  First, I quietly pulled out my iPhone and did a quick search to update myself on the process of confession.  I'm pretty sure it's a sin to use your phone in a House of God but I was desperate. Then I prayed and fidgeted and daydreamed and wished I was anywhere else but waiting in line to confess years of sin.  I studied each person around me and made up stories to entertain myself.  Periodically a transgression I had forgotten about would float through my consciousness.  I would write it down and before long I had filled a page.  Then I began to remember and list every sin no matter how small.  I made a timeline sketch and noted them in chronological order and the pages multiplied.  And then I started to cry.  Seeing 4 pages of less than stellar behavior, 4 pages of contributing to someone's  pain, 4 pages of living outside of a value system that I really did believe in, dredging up memories I didn't want made me realize that the worst part was I hadn't been able to admit these to myself let alone confess them.  Besides, just maybe the Divine didn't know I was such a sinner and I had foolishly been hoping to keep it that way.  Suddenly, I saw the value of confession in a way I hadn't before.

4 1/2 hours later I was invited into the confessional.  One look at my swollen eyes, worried face and wad of notes and Kleenex must have told Father Tom all he needed to know...I was his worst nightmare with 43 years of sins to confess and a line of 25 more people behind me and another Parrish to visit across the country by tomorrow.  I got the Confession-Lite version.  Thanks be to God.  He asked me about love in my life and who I cared for and what was important to me.  He asked me about caring for my 100 year old mother and what I felt from doing that.  As I wept for being such a horrible person, Father Tom helped me to realize that I have done much good, right along with those sins.  He told me "God is love and if your life is filled with loving and being loved then you have found God inside you.You have been forgiven but now you must forgive yourself". I was expecting to be admonished and told to do some extreme penance like scrubbing the altar with a toothbrush.  It was a beautiful confession, exactly what I needed.  Father Tom knew anything more would have made it another 43 years before I'd go again. That's why I love those Jesuits.  Instead of driving me away, I was embraced and made to see, for all my sins, I had done many more good things in my life.  I felt like I had sprouted the beginnings of wings and I was light enough to fly. 

St. Ignatius is credited with founding the religious order of Jesuits in 1534.  He professed vows of poverty and chastity and obedience to the teachings of Jesus.  Because of St. Ignatius' military background, the Jesuits are willing to accept orders anywhere in the world and live in extreme conditions when required.  They really are the soldiers of the church.

I took those 4 pages of sins and ran them through the triple shredder  and then I buried them in my compost pile.  I figure they can still do some good on earth and so can I.         



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