By Lindsay Steele
When I went to confession Feb. 16, Father Ed O’Melia asked me how long it had been since I made my last confession. A moment of silence followed.
“Um… I think it’s been 20 years,” I said sheepishly.
He didn’t ask why; he simply listened to me summarize my biggest lapses in character and judgment and then he offered God’s forgiveness and asked me to pray a few Hail Mary’s. But later on, as I admitted my long absence to someone else, they seemed surprised. My only explanation was that my family never went, and I never got in the habit of doing it as an adult.
I’d thought about going to confession during times of intense struggle or guilt, but never got around to it. Since I work for the Diocese of Davenport’s newspaper, I feel a lot of pressure to be a model Catholic, but in reality, I am not. I was afraid of people knowing the extent of my faults.
I hadn’t planned to go to confession when I went to St. Alphonsus Church in Davenport to write a story about Masses for healing. Listening to people talk about how much they appreciated confession, I was curious. I knew “Fr. Ed” was in the confessional. Because he was my pastor at St. Mary’s in Davenport prior to his retirement, and because I see him almost every day at St. Vincent Center, I have a certain comfort level with him. I trusted that, whatever I said, he would not judge me.
Offering a confession was every bit as therapeutic as people said it would be. While I couldn’t possibly list or remember every sin over the past 20 years, I did consider the broader patterns of sin in my life. I cited selfishness as perhaps my biggest fault. I left the confessional feeling motivated to continue working on that part of myself. I felt motivated to go to confession again in the near future.
A few days after my confession, I found myself eating lunch across from Fr. Ed in the St. Vincent Center cafeteria. I was curious to know why so many people —myself included — find themselves avoiding the confessional.
“Everyone is embarrassed to admit their faults,” he said. People are afraid of being judged. He assured me that the priest’s job is not to judge, but to offer God’s forgiveness. “There’s probably nothing we haven’t already heard before … and if the priest says, ‘YOU DID WHAT?’ it is probably because he can’t hear you!” he said with a hearty laugh.
Fr. Ed said anytime is a good time to start receiving the sacrament of reconciliation on a regular basis, but Lent is an especially good time to give it a go because of the season’s penitential emphasis.
If you aren’t sure how to go about offering a confession, ask any priest; he will help guide you! You can also find resources at www.usccb.org/confession.
Really, don’t be afraid! Find a priest with whom you feel comfortable, and ask about confession times. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be glad you did.
(Editor’s note: Lindsay Steele is a reporter for The Catholic Messenger. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (563) 888-4248.)