Monday, January 07, 2008

On Cheerfulness

There was a time before when I did not go to confession for almost two years. I don't exactly remember any particular reason for this lapse in faith; perhaps I was just too busy, perhaps it was spiritual acedia; it could have been cowardice on my part, or the basic fact that I did not know how to manage my time in those years. I will spare my readers what I did in those twenty four months of languishing in sin-- suffice to say, these are things that I sill work on and struggle with even unto today.

It was 2004 when our oratory, small and charming as it is, was finished: construction begun in November of 2003, and by February, it was practically done. Only the best materials-- marble from Italy, vestments and vessels from Spain, and the best local artists-- were employed to furnish our Classically-designed chapel. It was also the perfect time to (finally) confess. So there I was, one morning, entering the as yet newly finished oratory, which still hung heavy with the musty smell of cement, the air conditioner chilling the hairs on the back of my neck while I simultaneously sweat gallons. Silently, reluctantly, I reached for a pamphlet in front of me, the folder paper already creased and folded far too many times in just a short span of time, and reviewed the list of offenses I had done. I was ready. After about five minutes, I finally mustered the courage to reach for the confessional box's door, feet dragging like dead weight, and knelt at the screen. 'Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been two years since my last confession.'

For the next ten or fifteen minutes, I recalled all the offenses I had done, recounting them before the priest with an almost robotic quality with which an old lady might finger her rosary beads. Pride, lust, envy, jealousy, anger-- all of these I had done, and all of them I now recounted, citing the frequency and circumstances in which they occurred. Finally, after a seeming eternity, I was done. I felt so guilty having confessed so much filth to our chaplain, and yet at the same time relived, that the ordeal was done. A few seconds elapsed before Father spoke again. To my surprise, he didn't sound wrathful or vindictive at all; instead, he spoke in a manner in which a teacher might give advice to a struggling student. 'For your penance, pray ten Hail Marys'.

Ten Hail Marys? That was it? Surely I was a better sinner than that.

After all that I had confessed, that toxic sludge that could only have resulted in a stubborn procrastination, must have at least merited a rosary. After saying the Act of Contrition, Father dismissed me, saying 'Go in peace'. I immediately went back to my pew, knelt before the tabernacle, and started praying that paltry amount. In the middle of my prayers the sacristy door flung open, and out came Father, umbrella in hand, with a smile on his face. Surely this was not the face of a man who had just listened to so much shit?

Now that I think of it, I guess I should probably be thanking him for letting me off so easily. It is only now that I realize the full magnitude of the difficulty of being a priest. Hearing confessions all day long is definitely not an easy task-- aside from being taxed physically and mentally, there is also spiritual taxation, which in my opinion brings the heaviest weight to load on the shoulders of these priests of God. To think that I am but one of many who confess the same wretched devilries to the same man on any given day-- to think that I think that my sins alone are the be-all-and-end-all of the universe!

How many times has Father forgiven an abortion, and just how many have confessed it in the past? How many times has he heard the confessions of murderers, rapists, and terrorists? How many times has he listened to stories of incest, torture, sodomy, or perhaps even cannibalism? These things I mentioned are all very sick and rotten to the core-- but I wonder, if I can think of them at all, surely others have too-- and perhaps, some have even consummated them! Granted, some of these seem far fetched; but so too does the thought of the Supreme Being taking the flesh of a man and dying an ignominious death on a cross for the salvation of His creation, who are but dust and ash and naught.

I have heard stories of priests who bring barf bags with them in the confessional-- for to such depths can human depravity sink to that we are given pause to think, and rightly so. In that mythical microcosm of Manila that is Quiapo, confessional lines can last up to a day long, and I can only imagine what filth is being filtered through the privacy of that wooden box. Perhaps a father conspired with a lover to murder his family; perhaps a pervert had sex with a minor with the full knowledge that he had AIDS. It could be very tempting for priests to contemplate breaking their vows and start phoning the authorities as to the whereabouts of these people-- the fact that they remain silent, in deference to these vows, is, for me, one of the greatest miracles we have today.

Up until I finished high school, I confessed almost the same set of sins to Father over and over again. To be sure there were variations as to the frequency and circumstances here and there, but for the most part, they did not deviate from the mold. Sometimes, I think he might just snap at me in the middle of my confession, since I practically went every week, and he had practically memorized my voice, speech patterns, and perhaps even the way I phrase my sins. But always I would get that cheerful smile in the end. Always, I would seem to get away easier than I should, and always did I succumb to the same sins.

Perhaps a 'sensible' man would cite this propensity to sin as proof of the inefficacy of the sacrament of penance, stating how, in the end, the sinner never really gets rid of his old ways-- he just adds confession to his routine in the hopes of striking a balance between bad and good, as it were. But then again, penance is not for the laity alone, it is also for priests; and I imagine that for the men of God, the hardest penance to bear would be to listen to the sins of others. To listen to the depths that human nature could reach in the clutches of evil is, in some ways, is to see creation as a failure, hopelessly marred by the machinations of a jealous creature, the Devil. But just as Christ descended into the bosom of Hell to free the souls of the just, so to is confession an icon of the Lord, rescuing fallen man from the his depravity and sinfulness. And in order for us to be rescued, there must first be something from which we must be rescued.

Nearly three and a half years later, here I am, still a victim, still a sinner, still in need of God’s grace. Whenever I see our chaplain, I cannot shake that image of him, smiling, and offering his hand to bless ourselves with. Always, the smile—one of contentment, and of real optimism, the kind that can only be had after a firm trust in God. How can anyone smile after hearing, for hours at a time, secrets and stories that will boil the blood of any decent man? How can someone continue in this ministry knowing that all the filth and degeneracy of the human race will, at one point, pass from the lips of anonymity and through the wooden screen of the confessional? These are anyone’s guesses. One thing is sure, though: there is a reason why many are called and few are chosen. I pray to God that He will continue to send us good priests, who will guide us along the path to everlasting life.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this thought-provoking post. My appreciation and respect for priests has been deepened and I will pray even harder for them.