Today I took part in the most useless of activities.
I went to the sacrament of confession.
I took time out of my schedule when many would say I could have been doing something else. I was not being productive as the world would define it – nothing was made, no deal was struck, no contract was signed, no money exchanged hands. I left with nothing more physically than I originally had going in. The interaction took place in a quiet room set aside from the rush and purpose of the world. I did not even have to pay as one would for a session with a therapist – so I cannot even point to that as a measurement of value. It was free.
The church was quiet. Other people had also come in and were praying the rosary in the front of the church. I knelt in a back pew and silently prayed. The church was the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston, S.C. I was in the city for a few days of vacation and stopped at the church before making the drive back home. The sacrament (I came to find out) was being offered. The Cathedral is old and beautiful – made even more so by the Christmas trees flanking the Nativity scene up front and the Christmas poinsettias set around the altar. The old floor boards creaked as people walked by.
In a world dominated by the dual tyrannies of utilitarianism – assigning value solely in terms of productivity and what one can “show” for ones efforts – and a materialism which relentlessly seeks to bracket off any notion of the transcendent actually engaged with and infusing creation, what I did today makes no sense whatsoever. Baptism, confirmation, marriage, even ordination can be explained off by these viewpoints as important rites of passage needed for the proper functioning of a civic religion. Even the Mass can be justified for the sake of fellowship and the value of community it instills. But confession? On a weekday? Confession is the most useless of activities.
Yet that is what I did and I am better for it. To one without faith or even one dominated by the tyrannies of our day I cannot explain it nor will I seek to. What I know is that grace was present, forgiveness was given and hope was born once again in my soul.
For my penance the priest reminded me that it is still the Christmas season and I should offer a prayer of gratitude.
Sitting once again in a back pew I thumbed to the end of the missal and found a prayer for faith, hope and love. The section on hope struck me. “Remind us of the truth of who we are: sinners, yet also beloved sons and daughters of God … give me the gift of hope.”
Hope is born through this truth and in this most useless of activities.