Thursday, May 19, 2011

Confession, Scruples and Just Being A Little Crazy

I went to confession on Saturday afternoon before Mass. It began in an interesting manner, because the kindly old priest saw me and apparently decided that I’d never been to confession before (three priests seem to rotate each weekend and we've only been going to the parish for a few months) or at the very least thought that it had been a very long time, and launched into an explanation of confession and how I should do it (ending with “You may want to begin by noting how long it’s been since your last confession.”). In the pause that followed I began:

“Bless me Father for I’ve sinned, it’s been about four weeks since my last good confession.”

This was followed by confessing the same sins that I end up confessing every single time I go to confession. It’s a little depressing that the script is so regular… but I guess that’s often how it is… the same old sins that are hard to shake… arguing with my husband… losing my temper… repeating something to my husband that I’m not entirely sure was gossip… but that could have been… That sort of thing.

And then came my penance. When I heard it I winced (internally).

“There’s a prayer outside the door” (I’d seen it) “and I’d like you to take it and say it every time you think of it for the next three or four weeks.”

I said: “Okay.”

But what I thought was “Oh no! Father! You don’t know me yet, but this is going to be a problem! While I can mostly ignore my borderline scruples” (because most of the time they’re just silly) “this will definitely cause them to become inflamed to epic proportions! You see, I’ll think about the prayer 50 times a day! I’ll think of it and realize that I’d taken it with me and left it in the car” (it’s already happened) “and so I’ll take it out of the car when Paul gets home and think I’m fine and say it every time I think of it before bed, but then I’ll put it in my jacket pocket when I leave the house and forget my jacket in the car and the next day” (today) “it will be at Paul’s work all day and I’ll think of it 30 more times and feel like I’m sinning and say an Act of Contrition each time and promise myself I’ll be more responsible and remember to take it with me… which will work for twenty four hours until I’m haired and exhausted and lugging around a ten month old and a two year old and I forget it again, in this bag or that bag, this pocket or that pocket. And that’s just the beginning: Which is it… three weeks or four weeks? When is my penance done? After twenty-one days or twenty-eight days?”

The prayer is two pages long and from the sixteenth century (and it's quite beautiful) and while it is a prayer I'd like to memorize, it's probably going to take a while before I know it by heart.

Deep breath. Yeah. I know. It sounds a little insane. I think it’s my INTJ, “Rational” (by the Keirsey Temperament sorter) that likes things clearly defined and laid out.

So the next time I make it down to confession I can explain my imperfect penance and how I tried and failed many times a day and was successful sometimes too. And the priest, like anyone I’ve shared this with, may realize how crazy I can be about completing penances (although I should say that I prefer “three or four weeks” to “a while” which has also happened in the past).

Then I’ll wait and hope that the next penance is one that I can know that I’ve completed…


  1. I'm so curious now, what prayer is it? Is it online somewhere? (I don't want you having to type out two pages).

  2. Oh, dear! Why is it that the folks who never seem to commit "big" sins, are the ones who worry so much about whether they've completed their penances satisfactorily?

    Considering the fact that Father likely figured most people wouldn't "think of" the prayer more than a few times over those weeks, I think you just have to do your best and relax about it. Would Jesus want you obsessing like this? No.

    Perhaps the next time that happens, you could even mention that you tend to be a little compulsive, and could Father please specify the number of times he wanted you to say the prayer...

  3. Of course, you can always hope that you get a different priest, or that he forgets that he assigned that particular penance.

    (or you can be a weasel, as I sometimes am, and just go to a different parish because I find it hard to face the same priest and admit what a failure I am.)

  4. I'm so sorry you have to deal with that. I get so upset when the priest gives me a penance that doesn't have a definite end or worse had specific steps that I can't remember within seconds of walking out of the confessional. My last confession was like that and I was very tempted to go to the back of the very long line and ask him what exactly I was supposed to do again. Instead I decided to do the penance to the best of my memory and just hope that I didn't screw it up completely. Next time I go I'm laying it on the line and telling the priest I'm pregnant and can't remember anything and to please make the penance something I can do and not lose sleep over for weeks.

  5. When you know that you run to the overly scrupulous you'll need to pay attention to when you're being so. I have a very bad habit of being passive-aggressive. Sometimes that's okay but mostly it's not accepted by society as normal and is seen by many as harmful. Scrupulosity falls into this same issue. Are you being so hard on yourself that you deny what God wants to give you? For me to combat my passive-aggressiveness I find that it is easier to "feel" or intuit when I'm being passive-aggressive. I just cannot use logic to recognize it. You may need to take a deep breath and see if you can intuit if you are being overly scrupulous. If you are, tell yourself to take a step back, take a deep breath, and move forward again. If you try to use logic to figure out if you are being overly scrupulous, you'll be on the losing end every time. As humans we can convince ourselves of anything if we put our minds to it. God gave women extra intuition. Use it to help yourself grow closer to God. Maybe when you recognize it and you take that step back, thank God for being there for you.

  6. I should be thankful that we just say a few Hail Marys and an Our Father :-) But I am totally like this about some practice I should be doing - I got the blue leaflet out with the the Regina Caeli on and when I got to Church found I'd left it at home on the bed! lol


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