It’s now “crunch time” for RCIA candidates! Last Saturday I had my first confession, yesterday was Palm Sunday, this Thursday is the evening service where Father washes our feet (I hear he’ll only pick a few of the RCIA folks, and I sure hope it’s not me!) And of course Friday is Good Friday (Stations of the Cross at noon, and then an evening service) and Saturday night is our Easter Vigil.
Despite being coached on Confession at a couple of the RCIA classes, and again by one of the RCIA leaders right before my confession, I entered the booth and completely froze. I don’t know why, exactly. Perhaps the weight of 50+ years of sins? Perhaps just shyness (since I haven’t really met Father, not to have a real conversation anyway). But whatever the reason, I couldn’t even say the first line, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. This is my first confession.”
But Father was very kind, and led me through the confession. I only had a couple of “major” sins to confess, the rest being more a wrong “attitude” or approach toward life, or bad habits. I’d made a list before coming in, but being tongue-tied, I know I didn’t cover all of it. But I believe I mentioned all the relevant “categories”, so to speak.
A major sin I confessed is the one time when I helped a friend get an abortion by driving her to the clinic. She didn’t want the abortion, I felt very uncomfortable driving her, but her boyfriend insisted that she had to get rid of the baby. I (and she) believed at the time that I was helping her, but I realized later that it would have been so much more helpful to have supported her in her wish to keep the baby. I’ve profoundly regretted it ever since (even though I wasn’t Catholic, or even Christian, at the time and didn’t look at it as a sin, per se). We never mentioned it afterward, and a few years later she died. I was never able to apologize to her for doing the wrong thing in not supporting her.
Father and I were sitting facing each other (one of the confessional options, the other: kneeling behind a screen), and I brought up the reason I’d left the Church, a devastating time for me (since I’d been religious my whole life). I’d read the book The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness by Simon Wiesenthal, an excellent book. Wiesenthal solicited essays from many great thinkers, both Christian and Jewish, about forgiveness, and I found, reading through them, that I agreed with every Jewish writer and disagreed with every Christian.
I agreed with the basic premise that one can forgive others for wrongs done to oneself, but one cannot forgive wrongs done to others. According to the Talmud, even God cannot forgive wrongs that man does to his fellow man, only wrongs that man commits against God. “God’s forgiveness, however extensive, only encompasses those sins which man commits directly against Him, bein adam la-Makom; those in which an injury is caused to one’s fellow man, bein adam le-ḥavero are not forgiven until the injured party has himself forgiven the perpetrator. Hence the custom of seeking forgiveness from those one may have wronged on the eve of the Day of Atonement, without which proper atonement cannot be made.”
Murder, therefore, cannot be forgiven, since the injured party is no longer present to extend forgiveness. Thus, in Wiesenthal’s example in his book, no one can forgive, on behalf of the Holocaust victims, the wrongs done to them. It’d be presumptuous to even consider that.
And yet that is exactly what Jesus did on the cross. He extends forgiveness to everyone, no exceptions. All one has to do is accept it. And this is not some minor theological point, but the heart of Christianity. That is why I had to eventually accept that I was no longer a Christian (after spending many days rereading the essays, talking with many people, pacing the floor while rereading excerpts again, and crying).
I didn’t give all this history to Father in the confessional, but just a highlight, and said that although I was coming back into the Church, I still agreed with the Jewish belief about forgiveness. I haven’t changed one iota in that regard! So I wondered if I should just ignore this whole issue? But Father said, No, that God’s forgiveness is vast, unfathomable, and that one (that I) should study it more and more. I can go along with that. 🙂
The penance Father gave me was interesting: before the Easter vigil I should do the Stations of the Cross, pausing at the sixth station to ask for Saint Veronica’s help to reach out to offer compassion. I will do the Stations this Wednesday before RCIA class (since Father said to do the prayers at actual Stations, in a church, rather than just the prayers). I was not expecting such a beautiful penance to do! Very happy…
(Just hoping my second confession goes a bit more smoothly and I don’t freeze like a deer in headlights again!)