Saturday, August 4, 2012
Reconciliation at Holy Family was, like the congregation itself, a bit old fashioned. As he slipped into the clean, pressed alb, Kevin let his mind wander back to his first few weeks as Pastor. His predecessor had scheduled time for Reconciliation once a week, alternating between Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. Seeing no reason to change what his parishioners were familiar with, Fr. Kevin had decided to keep to the same days and times, hoping to make the transition a smooth one. On his very first scheduled day, he went to the church, settled himself into a pew at the front near the altar, and waited. Although he extended the wait time an additional hour, not a single penitent arrived. The same thing happened the following week, and the week after that, despite making God's mercy and forgiveness the subject of several homilies. It wasn't until a member of the church community thought to explain to the new Pastor that he was most definitely in the wrong spot to hear confessions.
Unlike the parish he was assigned to before this one, the community of Holy Family wanted nothing to do with face-to-face Reconciliation. He was directed to a small room off the sacristy, with a door on either end, and separated in the middle by an open space covered in a light weight, red curtain. This was, apparently, the one and only confessional on the church proper. He flushed remembering how he had thought the room a strange closet, and had begun to stack supplies in it. Once he had straightened out the whole business of location, he happily had a steady stream of faithful seeking the Lord's mercy on a regular basis. Normally, he missed the connection and bonding that came with a more personal approach to the sacrament, but today, with his face a colorful mosaic of bruises, he was happy to remain, like the mystical Oz, the man hidden behind the curtain.
He lay the purple stole over his shoulders, grabbed his rosary, and pulling the curtain across the opening, made himself comfortable in the quiet space. He was lost in prayer for quite some time when he heard the door on the other side open and close, and the fumbling of someone on the kneeler beyond the divider. He made the Sign of the Cross, and waited for the person to begin. After a moment or two, he heard a woman's hesitant voice begin in the traditional manner.
"Bless me Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was...well...um...a very long time ago."
Feeling for her discomfort, Fr. Kevin tried to encourage her. "You are most welcomed here. Start whenever you feel ready."
The woman opened up to him in a sudden gush of words. "Oh, Father. I'm not even sure where to begin. You see, I didn't mean for it all to go like this. It was supposed to be only for a little while, until I could get on my feet. But then, one thing lead to another, and it just got out of hand."
On the other side of the curtain, Kevin waited patiently for her to continue. When she said nothing for several minutes, he added, "Sin has a way of doing that. Just keeps piling up. But God's mercy and love can cross over the biggest piles. You'll feel better when you lay it all at His feet. Honest."
The woman sighed, and went on. "We stole some money, Father. Lots of it. From a whole lot of people that trusted us, and deserved better. And now I don't know what to do anymore. I just want out of this whole mess. I need to be able to start all over, fresh, in a new place. Be a better person than I've been."
Fr. Kevin wondered about the use of "we" in her confession, but added, "Then if you're truly sorry, you know what you need to do. You need to offer restitution...return that money and apologize for taking it in the first place. You won't feel better until you do so."
"I know that Father, and I wish I could. Honest I do! I'm so very sorry for everything I did. But...it's not only me at risk. If I tell, we'll both be arrested. I just can't let that happen, Father. Somebody else has to make this right. It can't be me."
Before he could make another comment, or even offer penance or absolution, he heard the sound of retreating footsteps and the opening and closing of the other door. Not wanting to break the privacy of the confessional, he waited silently on his side of the curtain. After thirty minutes or so, he doubted she'd return. Disheartened, he pushed aside the drape, and looked at the empty side of the room. On the kneeler rested a nondescript blue suitcase. He stood and picked the luggage up, noting that it was a lot heavier than it looked. There was no ID tag, no identification of any kind. Resting it on the table on his side of the confessional, he played with the closures, until they unlocked with a loud click. He hoped that maybe there was some way he could return it to the woman, because he was sure it was she that had left it. When he lifted the lid, he found himself staring, mouth open, at the largest amount of money he had ever seen.
Copyright 2012 Victoria Rocus