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My first Confiteor

I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,

I still remember him saying it.

It was both sad and beautiful.

The man was alone. He wore a rumpled, checkered button-up shirt. His faded jeans and leather belt strained against the weight he had accumulated in his late-middle age. The unzipped green windbreaker rode up under his arms not yet settled from the swiftness with which he had hurried it on. His graying tousled hair betrayed a boyish rebellion against the most determined of combs. His head was bowed. And his closed fist met his chest three determined times.

Through my fault,
Through my fault,
Through my most grievous fault;

I wasn’t supposed to be watching him. But I did. Uncertain of the words, I stood next to my cradle-Catholic wife. At this unguided moment, my Lutheran dependence on a bulletin with cues left me helpless. And so I earnestly mumbled my way through the Confiteor which opens the Mass. I was unfamiliar with this frank self-indictment.

But it was that man’s fist meeting his chest three times that jarred me (and especially when I consider the original Latin). To this day, I feel I can almost hear, if not feel, his thump.

Mea culpa
Mea culpa
Mea maxima culpa.

The quiet admission between this man and God in the opening words of the Mass has never left me. Sincere. Earnest. Broken. But in search of mending. I am here because of my failure. My deep, deep failure. But I am here, God,  because You can make me well.

G.K. Chesterton sensed what I sensed the day I saw that man,

The great strength of Christian sanctity has always been simply this – that the worst enemies of the saints could not say of the saints anything worse than [the saints] said of themselves… Suppose the village atheist had a sudden and splendid impulse to rush into the village church and denounce everybody there as miserable offenders. He might break in at the exact moment when they were saying the same thing themselves.


There he stood. And now, here I stand.

Through my fault,
Through my fault,
Through my most grievous fault;

I am Catholic now. And I know the words – all too well.

I am broken. Please make me whole.

How very sad.

How very beautiful.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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