A Catholic chapel. Ornate finery is everywhere. The dark sanctuary has brilliant stained glass windows that light the room with multi-colors. I’m not Catholic, but it’s pretty in here.
I called ahead to see if the chapel was open, I expected it to be closed during a pandemic. The guy on the phone said the chapel was available for private reflection, but not for service. And I had to wear a mask.
So I visited on a whim. I made a long drive to get here. I needed the time to clear my head. I’ve been stuck in my house for 70-some-odd days of quarantine, just like everyone else.
I think the worst part about being trapped indoors is that the only view to the outside world is through a TV or internet device. God help us all.
But this little chapel is filled with peace, which is hard to come by these days.
“You doin’ okay?” asks the janitor. He’s wearing a surgical mask. He is Latino, with a thick accent.
“Yeah. I’m fine.”
I sit in a pew. I am one of three people in this chapel. There is a woman in a pew ahead of me. An old man lighting a candle. Nobody makes eye contact. When you come to a quiet place like this, it’s not for socializing. You come here to… Well, I don’t actually know. Like I said, I’m not Catholic.
The janitor says, “Are you here for confession or reconciliation? You want me to get the Padre?”
“No thanks. I’m just here to think.”
Then again, I’ve never done a Catholic-style confession before. I was raised Southern Baptist. Our version of confession was singing “Just As I Am” for 1,192 choruses then going to Piccadilly restaurant for lunch.
Confession. Sure. Why not? The janitor fetches the priest. My mother would disown me if she knew what I was doing.
The first thing I learn about confession is that it is a remarkably uncomplicated procedure. Basically, you crawl into a sweat box that’s about the size of a phone booth. There’s a privacy screen between you and the priest. And you talk.
I wait for the priest to arrive. I’m having second thoughts. I’m nervous, and I wish I wouldn’t have come. I’m considering slipping out the door, I don’t want to waste this man’s time.
Finally, I hear movement on the other side. The privacy door opens, there is a metal grate between us. It’s amazing what kinds of tiny bodily noises you can hear in this enclosed space. His nose is whistling.
I’m the first to speak. “I’m not Catholic.” I admit this upfront so nobody gets their feelings hurt.
“It’s okay,” says the priest. “Nobody’s perfect.”
Already I like this guy.
I ask, “Do I have to say anything special? Like ‘Bless me Father for I have sinned?’”
“Or we could just talk.”
Then he explains that I can say whatever I want to say, no judgments here.
This surprises me. No judgements? What a concept. This means I don’t have to tailor my words to suit the person listening. I can just tell him anything I feel. So I do.
I tell him I’m worried sick about this world, and sometimes I get anxious about it. Last night, for example, I turned on the news to see riots. Flaming cars, screaming, fighting, looting, and glass storefronts shattered. Sometimes it overwhelms me. Not to mention this little thing called the coronavirus.
I hear nothing from the other side for a moment. Then I hear the Padre clear his throat and say, “Me too.”
His voice is older than mine. This man is 65 I’d say. Maybe 70.
“You mean you’re scared, too?” I ask.
“Sometimes. Yes. This is scary stuff.”
This is not what I expect from a priest. I guess I expected him to instruct me to say 129 Hail Marys and to eat fish on Fridays. But there is only silence.
“Are you wearing a facemask, Father?”
“Yes. Are you?”
“Do you know what I think?” the priest says. “I think that we’re both very blessed.”
“Think about it, we’re alive, and healthy, it’s beautiful weather. I rode my bike six miles this morning.”
Nobody speaks for a few moments. I’m too busy thinking about what he just said. All I can come up with is, “I feel sorry.”
“Sorry for what?”
I don’t know. I guess I’m sorry for my fellow man, and the atrocities we’ve committed. I’m sorry that children are frightened to live in this world. I’m sorry that some people hate other people. I’m sorry that any human being could harm another. I’m sorry for being selfish sometimes. I’m sorry I can’t make anything better. I’m just sorry all over.
“You and me both,” says the priest. “But do you know what?”
More quietness in the booth. I can hear his nose whistling like a mini kazoo now.
If I’m being honest, all I’ve ever wanted was to be loved. Everything I’ve ever done has been a halfhearted attempt to make sure I’m loved. Maybe love is all anyone in this world wants. Maybe if there were more of it, there would be less to be sorry about.
“Thanks,” I say.
He chuckles. “Don’t thank me.” Then he prays a short blessing with lots of three-syllable words. It’s pure poetry.
“Just so we’re clear, Father, this doesn’t mean I’m Catholic now.”
“Of course not,” he tells me. “But you are a child of God. So am I.”
And make no mistake about it, so are you.