The story goes that a certain Father Magillicutty heard the confessions of nuns from a nearby convent for years upon years. One day, a friend asked the priest what it was like to hear the confessions of the religious week in and week out. With a twinkle in his eye, he replied: “It’s like being stoned to death with popcorn.”
Jesus is clear that the prescription for dealing with sin is about more than being pelted with popcorn, although I must say that what I sometimes listen to is evidence that it is not gone entirely away. Picking nits has yet to evolve out of Christian togetherness. For that reason, Robert Neville once said that living with a saint is more grueling than being one. Misery can be a communicable disease.
So much for priests hearing confessions. If you’re uncomfortable being one-on-one with a priest, you have a chance week in and week out among your peers for what every Sunday we call the (public) confession of sin. A whole catalog of mistakes, betrayals, dishonesty, and injuries can come to mind beneath the soaring resonance of the confession’s words. Sometimes we love the words more than we let them do their intended work of reformation. The confession is comprehensive in that it elicits scrutiny of our interior life: our motives, conspiracies, envies, and imaginative plans to hurt somebody as well as our actions – both what we do and what we neglect to do. If you find yourself throwing popcorn during confession, deepen and broaden the investigation of where your life could use amendment. Think about how the style of your living might extend itself, sometimes unwittingly, to the oppression of the poor. Think about the way you live and the way it corrupts opportunity for others. Think about the way you act and how it contributes to the landfills that poison our environment. Forgiveness of sin is not offered to help you forget: it is offered to help you begin amendment of life. At the end of every confession, be aware that God uses the time with you to help you make the changes you want so much to make. If you return the following week having forgotten what you pledged to change, the graciousness of God will give you another chance. If after more than enough time has elapsed and you’re still stuck, go see a priest.