Mercy for the Taking: Lining up to Confess


New Yorkers lined up for “Reconciliation Monday”

Monday, I took advantage of “Reconciliation Monday” in the greater New York area and went to confession at my favorite spot for the sacrament, St. Francis of Assisi, in midtown Manhattan.
I arrived around 5 p.m., and was pleasantly surprised to see a lengthy line, spilling out the door and into the hallway.




There were signs of welcome.




And, for those who need them, some guidelines, too.




There were three priests hearing confessions, so the line moved briskly. Standing there for a few minutes, cataloguing my sins, I remembered some reflections I published several years back, about my return to the sacrament in that very same church:

I had wandered into the basement chapel of St. Francis of Assisi in Manhattan, a place whose lifeblood is the endless stream of commuters from Penn Station and the Long Island Railroad, who find their way there for confession at all hours of the day. There is always a line. As I soon discovered, it is easy to understand why.

After entering the small confessional/reconciliation room and closing the door, I found myself seated opposite a kindly old friar wearing the familiar brown robe and, oddly enough, sneakers. I cleared my throat and began: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been (quick tally in my mind) 10 years since my last confession.”

He broke into a small smile. “Welcome back,” he said. “It’s good to see you again.” He had never seen me before in my life. But I knew what he meant.

And with that, I began my confession. I spoke. He listened. He nodded. He had heard it all before, umpteen times, from the quivering lips of countless sinners like me. When it was over he gave me a mild penance and some gentle advice: “Just live the Gospel,” he said softly. “Just live the Gospel.” He sighed and smiled. “There you are. Good as new. God bless you.”

I remember leaving that confessional feeling reborn. How many of us fail to appreciate the gift we have been given through the Sacrament of Reconciliation—and the blessed grace that it brings to our parched lives. It helps us go on.

As I concluded all those years ago:

Those final words of the Act of Contrition put it so succinctly and clearly. The purpose of the sacrament, really, is to amend life. To improve on what is there.

And with that improvement, I think, comes this beautiful promise at the heart of our faith: the promise that we will rise. We can be uplifted. Resurrection is available. All of us can roll aside the stone of our personal tomb and stagger, blinking, into the sun. As more than a few preachers have proclaimed: the paschal mystery didn’t end on Good Friday but on Easter Sunday.

So it can be with each of us, too.

The profound act of being reconciled with God enables us to live Easter every time we emerge from that confessional. We breathe again. We see light again. We hope again. We are given grace.

At bottom, what begins with seven short words—“Bless me, father, for I have sinned”—ends in transformation. It may last only an hour or a day. But the fact that it happens at all is miraculous. And that gives me reason enough to keep going back.

Been to confession lately? There’s no better time than now to go.  Mercy awaits.

Photos: Deacon Greg Kandra

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