I walked into the church on Saturday afternoon as inconspicuously as I could and chose a pew that seemed more in shadow than the others. I watched the procession of fellow parishioners make their way to the small room in the back. Eventually the line was down to one – me. I briefly thought of just leaving, but steeled myself and walked toward the reconciliation room. It’s strange how things change; just minutes before the walk from the entrance to the pew had seemed short, but now the journey of half that distance seemed to take at least twice as long.
For those of you that aren’t Catholic, we have various sacraments. Visible signs of heavenly grace. Most Christian faiths recognize baptism and Holy Matrimony, aka marriage. The one least appreciated outside Catholicism is the Sacrament of reconciliation, which older Catholics still call confession. I’m not here to debate Catholic sacraments, but merely to describe one – and only one experience.
It used to be that there were confessional booths – I’m sure they predated telephone booths. In any case, the priest sat in the middle one and the faithful entered into booths on either side; the priest would open a small covered window so he could hear but not see the confessor who would confess his or her sins. After that the priest would offer absolution and assign a penance – usually a specified number of specific prayers.
After the late 1960’s, reconciliation could either be conducted through a concealing grill or face to face. Either way the priest was sworn to silence about anything he heard in confession. Usually I chose to sit face to face with the priest – but today was different.
You see, as we go through life we discover things about ourselves – some good, some not so good. It wasn’t my growing older that made me realize where I had failed, it was as my family grew older. In any case, today I chose to be on the side that would conceal my identity. I knelt down and the priest welcomed me to the sacrament.
“Let us pray that you can use this sacrament as a way to become closer to God,” he offered.
The priest’s voice had an Irish accent. This meant that it was Father O’Brian. The Father O’Brian. Graduate of Notre Dame. Third string kicker while an undergraduate. Chaplain for ten years after he was ordained. Known to disregard all phone calls with the exception of life and death issues on Fighting Irish game days.
I suddenly knew I was going to hell.
“Bless me, father for I have sinned,” I began and proceeded through the sacrament listing those things where I had failed.
“Is there anything else, my son?” he asked. I took a deep breath.
“Father, I try to support my family financially, physically and emotionally, but there’s one area in which I fail.”
“Please continue,” he encouraged. “Don’t worry, you’re not going to tell me anything I haven’t heard many times before.” I swallowed hard and took a deep breath.
“Father, I’m the only member of my family that doesn’t enjoy football.” There was a long and uncomfortable silence.
“About which part of football are you speaking?” he asked.
“All of it.”
“Are you talking college or professional football?”
Another long silence.
Followed by even more silence.
“For your sins, your penance is three Hail Marys.”
“Yes, Father,” I replied.
“For the rest of it, I most strongly recommend a pilgrimage to Baton Rouge. Once you get there you are to tailgate with Tigers’ fans. If that doesn’t help you, nothing will. I frimly believe this will help you be better at connecting with your family and with football.”
“Yes, father,” I replied.
“Oh, and for a home game on Saturday the tailgating starts on Wednesday. Don’t be late.”