A Run and A Confession

I ran five miles tonight after three days break.

Afterward, I drove to Confession at St. Ray’s. I made for the last hour and spent most of it in line, waiting.

And what a wait it was!

I had conversations with three random women. When was the last time a stranger talked to me in public, doing anything? It was refreshing and unexpected.

At first I felt a bit self-conscious in my skirt, even though it’s an athletic skirt. Everyone else was so buttoned up and well, Catholic. Hee! But a woman in the pews pointed to my skirt and asked, “Do you play tennis? Cute!” We got to talking about exercise. She had a big black boot on her foot. “I’ve never been a runner,” she told me. But she loves tennis. She said she’s not sure what kind of work out she can do with her foot.
“Yoga?” I suggested. She agreed. Pointing to her arms, she grabbed one and jiggled it! She likes to lift free weights. She was wearing a bright orange shirt, black pants. Cute choppy blonde haircut.

The line moved up, so I moved. I said goodbye to her and we smiled at each other.

Two women in front and behind me were having a conversation. Whispered, so I couldn’t decipher what they were saying specifically.

I was looking at the woman in front of me, scoffing internally at her bright yellow banana clip– straight out of the ’90s!– and the wierd black pipecleaner thing she had somehow wound around it.

And while I was judging her, she began talking with me. The woman in front her saw my Shamrock Shuffle hoodie and asked if I had run in it. “Yes!” I said. “My daughter ran it,” she told me. I felt so proud. This hoodie wasn’t cheap but I knew I’d live in it. It felt so good to be recognized for an athletic achievement by a stranger. I’d told myself it’s just an 8k, a mere five miles. Small potatoes in the running world. But that’s five miles I couldn’t dream of two years ago!

It was her turn.  So it was just me and the woman behind me, who had a thick braided ponytail– almost white blonde. She was holding a small finger Rosary.

“Is it Amber?” I had asked.

She wasn’t sure. “I got it in Poland,” she told me.

I told her that on the other side when I got there, there were several nuns waiting in line.  “I wonder what nuns confess?” I mused.

She said a lot to me, but I couldn’t hear most of it. But clearly, she was alive with faith. She spoke of Jesus, I caught that much.

Then it was my turn.

I told Father that it’s been about a year since my last Confession. I had missed Advent. I was kneeling on a dark wood bench– there was simple cloth curtain separating us. It seemed to be a large confession booth. He was a good listener. It was almost 9 p.m., closing time, but he wasn’t hurrying me at all.

I was surprised at how good I felt– I wasn’t wracked with guilt about anything. I told him the truth– that I haven’t been to Mass much lately.  That I had a hot dog for lunch. That I quit choir so I could get to bed earlier and focus on running. That I gave up envy for Lent, and that I struggle with it. That I gave up sleeping in for Lent too– also for running– and have failed that on multiple accounts! That I want to be more independent. I’m trying to save my money.  That my parents are my best friends and I want to do right by them. That I want to learn the Rosary but it’s overwhelming and not happening yet.

I told him other things of course– but I’m keeping that to myself!

I was genuinely shocked by his reaction.

He didn’t chastise me once. Not even for going MIA from Mass for awhile.

Instead he told me that God wants us to progress in our lives. That I’m doing that with my running. That my tenacity will pay off.

He asked me to say One Hail Mary and one Gloria.

I left feeling lighter. I’m always inspired by how forgiving and open-minded priests can be. I should have gotten his name. I’d like to confess to him again. He had a soft accent.

I left feeling grateful and cleansed, like I do after a good run.

Confession was like a five mile run for my soul. I feel more spiritually fit.

If you haven’t been to Confession in a long time, don’t be afraid. Be honest. And let it go.





A Little Confession

Just had my first Confession in probably a year, after Stations of the Cross.

Usually, my Dad and I go together. It’s something that’s bonded us.

But this year we had different schedules. I went to our local cathedral instead.

I had hoped to get my parish priest, but I saw him leave just before Stations of the Cross began. Though a little bummed, I figured there was someone else meant to hear me today.

I reflected prior, but not a lot.

This year, it was different. I wasn’t berating myself with a list of things I’ve done wrong. I had no list, period.  I didn’t feel ashamed or desperate or angry at myself.

My confession was brief. I listed a few things, but mostly I just talked about those I love, and how I want to do right by them. Where I am in my spiritual life. What I’m seeking. And what I need/want from God.

I talked about wanting to be a better daughter.

About struggling to find a balance in my life with my choir/parish and other events that pop up spontaneously on those allotted times for choir and Mass. Feeling afraid that my parish will close, but continuing to belong/participate because that’s where my heart lies.

About how daunting it feels to be so focused on waiting for a relationship with another Catholic, but that this is something I feel that I both need and *deserve* in my life. I’ve sacrificed to adhere to that. It’s so important to me that if someone is another denomination, that’s a deal-breaker. I’ve endured a lot of criticism for that over the years, but most times I shrug it off. Pretty much everyone on either side of my family is who is married is married to another Catholic–happily. I know it’s possible!

But something I’ve realized is that I can’t stop being myself to accelerate finding a compatible relationship. I don’t smoke anything or drink, I don’t do drugs, I’m a Democrat, I’m Catholic. Those are core tenets of my identity. I’ve ended relationships to preserve those aspects in myself, because it’s essential for my own happiness and mental health.

And to my surprise, Father wasn’t punitive. He was patient. His voice was soft.

There was no recipe for salvation by reciting a certain number of prayers

Instead, we was affirmative. He basically told me to just keep doing what I’m doing– examining myself, pursuing my spiritual life, being aware and sensitive to what’s appropriate in my relationships.

I was given instant absolution. I wasn’t made to feel that my confession hadn’t been sufficient, even though I had completely blanked out on my Act of Contrition.

“I absolve you of your sins,”he said.

I didn’t have as dramatic as a reaction as I had in some other years– I didn’t cry.

I didn’t need to cry.

Confession was just an expression of my faith, a part of my spiritual routine.

And I smiled.

I felt like God was telling me, “You’re doing okay, kiddo.”

Atheists, Creative Spirits, and The Glory of Defiance

For a long time, I’ve been struggling to understand why I continually attract–and am attracted by– Atheists, artists, and creative people.

All my life, I thought I was looking for a “good Catholic man.”

I think I’ve been wrong.

I like having the culture aspect of growing up Catholic in common. But I’m not convinced that I’m only compatible with Catholics.

I’ve learned that I see God in everyone. Whether they “believe” or not. I’ve learned to look beyond the obvious.

If I am looking for a Catholic man, he will also need to be very open-minded. Progressive, not only conservative.

It’s not the answer to simply conform and obey.

It is RIGHT to question authority. To insist on thinking for yourself.

I thought maybe I was attracting these types because MY faith was weak. That I needed to pray more, do more good works, or something. That somehow, it was *my* fault– and this was a punishment.

Because that’s the way we are taught to think, when you’re raised Catholic. Guilt is embedded in your conscience. Any unanswered prayer, any bad thing that happens, there’s always a reason– God is teaching us some sort of lesson. And it’s up to us to figure out what that is, in the void.

I believe that, to a point.

But I think I was misreading it all along.

Now I see that many people who profess NO faith are the kindest, most loyal people you’ll ever meet. They will agree to help you move without even knowing the date, and stay the whole time. They will be your friend unconditionally. They accept people as they are, exude enormous empathy, and in many ways embody the Christian faith and the example of Jesus more than many of the most vocal Christians.

And many Christians are self-righteous, afraid to associate with anyone different, paranoid that allowing their children to meet, befriend or date anyone of a different race or creed. They hate anyone who challenges their beliefs.

And hate is not the answer. Love is the answer.

Empathy and tolerance is the answer.

I still identify as Catholic– but I am quick to qualify that I am also a Democrat.

It is not wrong to be gay. I also support a woman’s right to choice.

People are human– and God made us all. Diversity is the glory of life, not the bane of it.

I am a proud liberal who ENJOYS having friends and dating people who challenge me, who show me a different aspect of humanity. I like learning about different cultures. I like to listen and find out WHY people believe what they do. I don’t just interrupt and say, “Well this is what *I* believe,” and then list all the reasons why someone else is wrong. I’m not out to convert people to my point of view at all costs.

I used to be terrified of change. Now it’s comforting. Change is the one thing you CAN count on.

I accept people as they are, and I’m not threatened because their having a different opinion doesn’t make feel insecure or less of a person. I am happy to agree to disagree.

Some people just want to argue for arguing’s sake. Even if you AGREE with them, they will switch the conversation to another topic they can debate. They don’t care about a civil conversation, they just want the drama.

The only way to deal with these people is to just shut them down.

Truthfully if your faith is strong enough, you should be able to get along with anyone. You know who you are, so you can be anywhere and know that you are the same person.

I wasn’t attracting the WRONG kind of people. I was hung up on labels.

The reason I have such a strong and persistent attraction to Atheists and creative men is deceptively simple.

And it’s only recently– in the past year– that I’ve had the insight to see it.

I learn slowly, but I do work through information I’m given and make up my own mind. I will change my mind, openly admit it, and explain why once I figure it out.

The common denominator is a defiant spirit.

It’s taken a long time for me to embrace it, but I realize that I do have a rebel yell.

I appear to be very “nice”– and I usually am benevolent to most people. Unless given a reason otherwise, I treat people with respect and expect they are being honest with me.

But make no mistake, I have no problem asserting my opinions and calling out bullshit, either.

And men respect that in a woman. Too many women are submissive, desperate to agree. They don’t want to upset their man, they have no opinions, they agree with everything and put up with everything as well. Even abuse, be it verbal or physical.

At times in my life, I’ve been that woman. But not anymore.

I used to be so afraid of confrontation. But not anymore.

You can’t avoid things– they don’t go away. You have to face them and work it out.

Sometimes the only thing to do is fight, for your own dignity.

Because “fun” is not the glue of love, as I have learned. TRUTH is the the glue. When you’re secure enough and respect one another enough to tell the truth, especially when it hurts.

Because I’d rather be told the truth than flattered.

Until now, I had only done this in my closest relationships. My very best friends, and only the romantic relationships that were the deepest. If I trusted another person enough to fight with them and let them have it, that meant they were part of my inner circle. I used to be a woman with weak boundaries, who was too worried about upsetting the status quo to stand up for myself.

I was quite naive, and my kindness was often used against me.

This translated to every area of my life– friendships, jobs, relationships.

Finally, I learned to recognize these manipulators. I stood up to them. I shut them down.

Now, I’m slowly rising in my confidence. In the past year especially, I’ve gotten in touch with my anger. When you’re Catholic, you’re also taught not to express anger– but to repress it, so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings. You’re taught to pray it away. And it doesn’t work.

That’s WHY a heaping majority of Atheists were formerly Catholic.

The truth is, religion can be damaging.

Silence is the weapon that kills the faith of many.

When you’re raised in a culture that teaches you not to talk about what’s hurting you, not to show emotion– just to carry on and stuff it all, it’s not good for you.

Praying is not enough. Confession to a priest is not enough.

We need to defend ourselves as well. We need to assert boundaries. We need to communicate with others directly.

Faith can be a rock in the storm. It is for me.

But it takes a lifetime to work through how to manage it in a way that allows us to balance our feelings, express them when necessary.

I’m still working on it, myself.

But every day I’m getting smarter. I’m less afraid.

And my voice is getting bigger.

This blog is helping immensely.

One Our Father and Three Hail Marys

That was my Penance tonight, after Confession.

I left the Confessional with tears, as I usually do. And I felt wonderful.

I can’t imagine anything more sad than NOT being able to have a good cry.

Crying is good for you. Humility is good for you.

The salt washes our guilt clean.

I had texted my Dad earlier, telling him I was in the back of the church and wearing my dark green vest. I hadn’t found him anywhere.

That had been 40 minutes ago.

I was getting anxious, because he had responded that he was on his way– and he’s never late. If anything, he’s 10 minutes early. He lives maybe 10 minutes away.

My Dad is 70. A very fit and active 70, but still.

Had something happened to him on the way? I was beginning to fidget, restless in line.

I texted him again– “Still coming?”

I kept glancing behind me, to the doors of the church. Searching for his tall frame to come in.

And I turned forward, to see him standing right in front of me in line– two people ahead. I had been so wrapped up in worry that I couldn’t see what was right ahead of me… my own father.

He smiled his gentle smile. Relief flooded my heart.

He went in and emerged soon after, knelt in a pew. After mine, I joined him. We sat side by side. That’s a moment I know I’ll cherish forever.

Just that quiet moment, of sitting by my father in church after Confession. Of the relief of knowing he was there all along.

It’s a lot like how we feel about God.

We spend all this time searching for God– for “signs” of him. Is he with us? Will he talk to us?

But whether we see him or not, he is always there to support us– quietly. Just like my father, always there.