Act of Contrition

by Natalie

It’s been almost five months since my last confession.

Forgive me Father for I have sinned… apparently we don’t actually have to say that, nor do we start with the Act of Contrition. I forget how to say the Act of Contrition, I inform him. The priest chuckles. “Everyone always wants to start with that,” he says. “But we don’t actually say it until the end.”

The church isn’t crowded, but in the quiet of Adoration every noise is amplified. I’m not sure what to do with my keys, and as I pick them up the sound seems to reverberate throughout the space. How funny. The simple act of tossing my keys, a noise which I almost never register, and here and now it is so loud. The woman on my right “Your keys are making so much noise.” Her child is behind me humming a song and clucking her tongue. I’m annoyed, but I’ve decided I like the woman. I’m not annoyed at her, but at the wait. It’s Thursday night confession. I don’t want to spend my whole evening here. I was here by 7:15. The priest has seen a grand total of three people since I got here, and a fourth is in the confessional right now, over an hour later. I can’t focus.

The Eucharist is prominently displayed in front of me. I try my hand at prayer, “God, please envelop me in your love;” a prayer someone told me I should pray to move on. It goes from insincere lips to ever gracious ears. While the intent itself is true, I’m not into praying at this moment. I am focused on how I have to go to the bathroom. On the fact that I’ve had to wait for over an hour to confess two minutes worth of sins. What the heck did these other people do?

The woman on my left is texting. Her nails are long and blue and chipped. She’s texting someone named Daniel. Wearing a wedding ring. Probably her husband. The man behind me lets out an exasperated sigh at the length of time we have all had to wait. I feel you, man. The little girl making noise is actually quite beautiful, with big brown eyes. Dressed all in pink. Her sneakers are emblazoned with a character from some children’s TV show I don’t know. I sit here and ponder the child’s sneakers, whether or not these glittered purple shoes provide any real support. I imagine her running on the playground. Her mother is not wearing a wedding ring. Because the child is here with her and not at home I wonder if perhaps there is no father in the picture. What happened there? Was the child a “mistake” that she is now eternally grateful for? Is she widowed? If I have children and my husband dies will I one day cease to wear my ring?

She comments on a ring I am wearing, “Where did you get that?”
“It’s a gift from my mother,” I say.
“In my country we have lots of designs like that. I was wondering where it is from.”
“Where is your country?” I ask.

And now I am thinking about “my country,” about how that used to be something I could say. My Country. But I am in my country now. I am American. And presumably this woman is here to stay too. At what point does my country become this country, become our country? Or does it become home but never home?

The exasperated man behind me is young. He’s wearing a wedding ring, a solid band of silver. His hair is long, and his eyebrows slightly overgrown. Most of the people are Latin. There is some Spanish being spoken that I understand. I turn to him. “What time is it?”

“The priest is taking too long,” I say. For surely not all three people before us could have committed grave sins. I think the problem is that he must like to talk. When it is my turn I am going to tell him to hurry up.

And then the door on the other side opens up. Apparently another priest is here. I look around. Everyone else wants to go to the Spanish speaking priest. I hesitantly get up, only for my seat mate to nudge me on, “Go!”

The priest is young. I’m not used to confessing to someone who looks to be my age. It’s interesting. Not in a bad way. I feel like in another life in an alternate universe we could be friends. But I don’t think 33 year old priests typically hang out with 26 year old women.

“Well then why don’t we start,” he says.
“Right so,” I begin. I list the sins quickly. I once heard a joke about the difference between an Irish confession and an Italian confession. An Italian will confess the sins in great detail, making sure not one nuance is left out. The Irish will throw out one word that can encapsulate a multitude of sins. I give an Irish confession. And then I get to the part that is hard. “Someone hurt me,” I say, and my voice gives me away.

I’m having trouble with the Our Father, I tell the priest. I’m stumbling on, Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. I thought I had forgiven, but the hurt still isn’t gone.

We talk about how we first have to see ourselves as God sees us in order to see others that way. Vanity is something I will spend my life attempting to overcome.

The Priest, “Repeat after me.”

Oh my God
I am heartily sorry for having sinned. 
In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good,
I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things.
I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more,
and to avoid the near occasion of sin. 

And just like that I am washed anew. I used to think that confession would lead me to feel a lightening of spirit. I don’t actually feel much of anything. I notice my need for confession by it’s absence. By my willingness to suddenly gossip or make a snide remark, to judge someone.

I leave, glad to go home. I get in the door, “You’ll never believe how long confession took,” I announce. And I am reminded of how perfectly human I am.