What is better than an exorcism? Hint: Using it makes you cleaner, and fills you up?
Give up? Confession! Also called Reconciliation or Penance, your soul is cleansed of sin and filled with grace with every trip to this sacrament.
Did you just glaze over? Yeah, yeah, confession…I know all about it. Well, maybe you do and maybe you don’t. Too many Catholics don’t.
When doing a story on the exorcism and deliverance ministry a couple years ago, I interviewed Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of Springfield, IL, chairman of the bishop’s Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance. “If you live a sacramental life, you don’t need to worry about the devil,” he stated. “The sacrament of confession is more powerful than an exorcism. An exorcism is a help toward grace but the sacraments offer grace.”
Have you ever thought of Confession that way?
In Catholic Truths for Our Children, I wrote a whole chapter on Confession. Don’t worry, I won’t paste it all here, but there are some things worth contemplating. For instance, one of the first things Jesus did, after he rose from the dead and appeared to his apostles, was to give them the power to forgive sins. Whether you regularly stand in the Confession line, or don’t frequent this sacrament, have you considered that this was on Jesus’ to-do list during his first visit to his apostles after the resurrection?
He breathed on them and said, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 21:22).
Just prior to giving them the power to forgive sins, Jesus sent them out into the world to act in his place: “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” What you may not realize, is that the only other time the Bible mentions God breathing on anyone was in Genesis 2:7 when he breathed life into the first human beings. Likewise, confession breathes new life into our souls. That is worth standing in line for!
As Catholics, we not only have all the same apostolic teachings and all seven sacraments, but we have something else our Protestant brethren don’t have – funny Confession stories!
Gather a group of Catholics together at your next outdoor barbeque and share a funny confession story. It’s likely that others will have funny stories and before you know it, the circle of Catholics at the barbecue will be laughing so hard that everyone else will want to know what is so funny. But you can’t really explain it to them. They won’t understand. It’s a Catholic thing.
Here are a few humorous Confession stories— a few actually collected at a barbecue. Some were published in best-selling Amazing Grace for the Catholic Heart.
Susan Braun converted to Catholicism when she married Steve. However, it was nine years later, through learning about apparitions of the Blessed Mother that her real conversion and love for the Church began. The fact that she had never received the sacrament of confession started to bother her. Somehow it was passed over during her initiation period but now she longed to receive this gift of grace and forgiveness.
She arrived early to prayerfully prepare for her first Confession. The church was empty; not even the priest was there yet. It was a Saturday evening, and also Halloween. Susan sat in the empty, dimly lit church, and lifted her soul in prayer to prepare and try to calm her nerves.
As she prayed, Susan looked upon the tabernacle, fully believing that within it was contained the True Presence of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Suddenly, her heart leapt to her throat and she held her breath. There, on the shiny, gold tabernacle door appeared the face of a dark-haired man. She blinked and looked again. Yes, there clearly was a face of a man. Was it a vision? How? Why? Suddenly she heard footsteps coming up from the back of church. There… slowly walking up the aisle was dark-haired Fr. John Guthrie.
Susan let out a deep breath as she realized it was his image that reflected onto the door. Laughing to herself, making her first confession suddenly no longer seemed quite so daunting.
Standing in Line
Nellie Edwards was in a hurry to get her kids out the door to church in time for First Friday’s evening Mass. It had been a hectic day and Nellie was impatient with their dawdling but also felt guilty that she had given only brief notice before herding them into the car. Once inside the church, a restful calm came over the family with the exception of five-year-old Andrew, who was sitting at the far end of the pew. He was fidgeting and trying to get his mom’s attention but she motioned for him to sit still.
Being absorbed in her prayer book, Nellie had not noticed that Andrew had gotten up and was in the confessional line, jumping up and down. He was still three years away from making his first confession. When she spotted him, Nellie hurried down the aisle to the line. She grabbed his arm before he had a chance to go in. “What are you doing?” she whispered.
“I’m waiting my turn for the bathroom room!” he blurted out. Nellie suddenly realized what the poor boy had been trying to tell her!
Avoiding a Kidnapping
Some mothers say the only place they find peace and quiet away from the kids is in the bathroom. Given that doors can be knocked on and yelled through, I never found it a guaranteed place of refuge, but I did think the confessional was. But no, just before Fr. Wayne Sattler at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit was about to give me absolution, my five-year-old son Jacob opened the door and ran in. “Jacob, you need to wait for me outside the door,” I told him.
“There’s a man trying to get me,” he said with fear in his eyes. Fr. Wayne and I looked at one another. What could be going on? We got up and looked outside the door. There was an orderly line of people; no obvious kidnappers. And, with several adult witnesses, who would try to grab a kid waiting outside the confessional? There was no convincing Jacob that it was safe to wait for me outside.
“Can you just go ahead and give me absolution with him here?” I asked Fr. Wayne. He readily agreed. I then stepped outside the confessional and wondered what on earth had actually happened.
A man stepped out of line and came over to me. “Your son was standing up against the door,” he explained. “I motioned for him to come over to me. He’s not supposed to be that close to the door where he might hear.” Now I understood. Jacob lacked the understanding that no one should overhear a confession. He thought the stranger waving for him to come over was what his parents had always warned him about. Oh well, I had my absolution and yet another humorous family story.
Slamming the Door
Pattie Frandson went to a confessional with the priest in the middle, and a room on each side. When she went into the tiny, closet-sized room, she knelt and closed the door. It was pitch black. “I didn’t want to go face to face, but in the dark I couldn’t see if the sliding screen over the window was open or closed,” she said. “I started sliding the thing back and forth trying to figure out which side was closed.” While clanking around, she put her face close to the window, trying to see. “Suddenly, Father’s face appeared full-view in the window and scared me half to death,” she said. Instinctively, Pattie gasped and slammed the screen in his face. “Oh dear,” she realized in horror. Not only had Father seen her, so she was not anonymous as she had planned, but she had just slammed the screen in his face. Oh, well, nothing could be done about it. “Bless me Father for I have sinned,” she began.
Another funny story collected at said barbecue was when my friend Celia Sattler became locked in the confessional with Fr. Tom Richter, again at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit. She sometimes takes advantage of Confession offered before daily Mass. On one occasion, by the time it was her turn, Father Tom, a newly ordained priest, said he had run out of time to hear her confession but would be glad to do so after the service. After Mass, Celia waited in a pew until she saw the green light over the confessional door, signaling that Fr. Tom had returned. It was a Friday, the usual day for church cleaning, so during confession the sounds of a vacuum cleaner reverberated through the door.
After her confession, Celia thanked Father and went to leave but found the door locked. She announced she could not get out. Apparently the janitor had locked the door, not realizing they were inside. Because of the noise from the vacuum, neither Celia nor Fr. Tom had heard it lock.
“Well, turn the handle,” Fr. Tom said.
“I am trying,” Celia answered. “It won’t turn.”
Fr. Tom came over from the other side of the screen to try the door himself. After failing to pry it to open, Celia saw a look of panic cross his face. He placed his hands and forehead against the door and prayed aloud, “Dear God, please help us!”
Fortunately, after a few shouts and loud banging on the door from Fr. Tom, a janitor soon came with the key. With a grin he asked, “What’s the matter Father? Did you get locked in with this lady?”
Celia quickly slipped away but always thought she detected a sly grin from Fr. Tom thereafter. She actually had never told the story until she heard I was collecting stories for a book. Before using it however, she wanted me to check with Fr. Tom to make sure he didn’t mind.
Fr. Tom laughed loudly when he recalled the story and said, “That was Celia?” Celia had made her confession behind a screen, but had assumed he knew her identity once he came over on her side. In fact, Fr. Tom maintained her privacy. He backed out of his chair and looked down at his shoes while he yelled for help and pounded on the door. Fr. Tom initially told her to bang on the door and call for help herself so as not to intrude on her anonymity.
But then suddenly, he shot out of his chair in a panic and yelled, “No wait! I’ll do it!” Being his first day on the job, it occurred to him that it would not make a good first impression in his new parish to have a lady’s voice screaming from within his confessional: “Help someone! Let me out!”
Fr. Tom said he much preferred being greeted by the janitor’s grin and comments than inciting the imaginations of the people still in church.
Worth Your While
Like all the sacraments, Confession confers grace. It can take a dead soul and breathe new life in it or take a grace-filled soul and fill it up even more. Peace, joy and even laughter are natural reactions to such divine gifts. Of course, human foibles can add in some humor at times.
So if you haven’t already done so, consider making Confession a regular part of your life. Even if nothing funny happens, it is worth your while.
Patti Maguire Armstrong is a speaker, author, and winner of the 2011 About.com “Reader’s Choice Award”. She has appeared twice on EWTN’s Bookmark program, and EWTN with Father Mitch Pacwa, as well as on Catholic radio stations across the country. Her latest books, Big Hearted Families (Scepter Publishers) and children’s book, “Dear God I don’t get it” (Liguori Publications) will be released in Spring 2013.
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