Have you ever laughed so hard tears ran down your face? I call that tears of joy. Many people associate tears with sadness, but my favorite tears are the result of a heart overflowing with emotion. Of course when I’m upset I cry, but also when I’m really frustrated or when I’m really happy. Sometimes I even cry when I encounter Jesus in the Eucharist as I mentally tell Him what’s on my heart and mind. There’s one circumstance in which I always cry: reconciliation. Sometimes the tears come when I’m preparing myself and reviewing what actions or failures to act have pushed God away. The true sorrow I feel often is expressed by tears. Sometimes tears come when I’m in the confessional as I admit my wrong-doings and receive God’s mercy. And if it didn’t happen before or during confession, then the tears will come as I am performing my penance, realizing that I’m starting with a cleansed soul.
Confession does not come easy to me, but I do appreciate the sacrament. Although I tend to call it by the colloquial name, confession, that’s just the word for the action that we take within the sacrament. While there are many names, the one that I think sums up the sacrament best is reconciliation. I’ve heard Bishop Barron refer to the derivation as coming from the same word-root used for our eyelashes. Thus when we are reconciled with God, we see Him eyelash to eyelash (or eyeball to eyeball). That’s quite close and intimate; the only thing closer is when we receive the Eucharist, for then God is within us. That’s why reconciliation is a great way to prepare to receive the Eucharist.
It’s a beautiful sacrament to celebrate, if we only let go of our human egos and realize the gifts God wants to give us rather than focusing on the embarrassment of saying our sins out loud. I find it fascinating to hear the objections others have to the sacrament. Many times they think they can just confess their sins to God directly and avoid going through a priest. But the priest isn’t there to make a checklist to hand to God, he’s there in the person of Christ. For me it means that Jesus is using the priest as His ears to hear what I say and His mouth to give me absolution. Not only that, when I humble myself to express my sins out loud to the priest, I have already taken the first step toward reconciling with God.
When we stop struggling and let God in and ask for His forgiveness and help, our relationship is healed. The postures and environment reflect what is happening in the sacrament. Usually the Church is quite silent, mirroring the stillness we have reached. While there are many different types of confessionals, I’m most familiar with the kind that looks like a small closet with a door that the penitent enters. A screen prevents the priest from seeing the penitent and the penitent can’t see the priest—he has his own door and his own cubicle and there is only that screen to connect the two. Usually, there isn’t much light in the penitent’s part of the confessional. One would kneel on the kneeler in front of the screen to confess and to receive the sacrament. Walking into that darkened room feels like walking into my darkened soul, but I am not there to hide in the shadows. The gentle light that filters through the screen is like the light of God beckoning me to come closer. Like being in a shower, I usually close my eyes and let God’s mercy wash over me as the priest says, “And I absolve you from your sins…” After receiving the sacrament, when I open the door and the light floods in, it is just like what God’s grace and mercy have done to my soul in the sacrament. As I walk into the light of the Church, it’s like I’m walking back into the light of Christ. This is when my tears of repentance become tears of joy.