Golden Ground: A Convert’s Perspective on Confession

When others ask why I converted to Catholicism, my mind goes at once to a cherished hobby of mine: weaving. Catholic communal life reminds me above all of priceless handwoven fabric, two thousand years’ worth of fantastically colorful silk still on the loom, the pattern alive with dancing saints and trees in flower. Yes, I know—I know about the damaged areas and the rips and the mistakes and the people screaming about whether they really were mistakes and the people screaming back at those people and the rest of us, eyes bloodshot, whispering novenas to St. Joseph, under whose calm gaze we all manage to stay in the studio. Still, Catholicism is to me such a fabric. If one gets up close and analyzes it with a magnifying glass, one sees all kinds of marvels, among them a crisscrossing ground of golden threads, upon which surface ever more extravagant and luxurious designs are worked for the praise and glory of the Name of God. Golden ground: the Sacrament of Confession.

In the church from which I came, a general confession was said at weekly services and one-on-one confession was optional: “all may, some should, none must,” as we said. This made for an odd and troubling dynamic: how could I know whether I was one of those who did not need to go? Catholics, on the other hand, must go to Confession at least once a year in order to be in good standing with the Church. Many people, of course, go more often. Among other things, it was precisely this requirement to confess one’s sins to a priest that attracted me so powerfully to Catholicism. The requirement means that there is no such thing as a person who does not need to avail herself of one-on-one Confession. I am a sinner like everyone else and will benefit from Confession as everyone else does. What a relief!

It isn’t my own efforts, of course, that make the Sacrament of Confession so powerful for me, but Jesus Christ and the good and holy priests who minister in His Name. Let’s face it: the bit of thread I bring to the loom to be woven in by our Master and His artisans is bedraggled, moth-eaten, and generally pretty awful to behold. It would stay that way without this sacrament. I need to bring it there anyway. I need to come and say that I have sinned as Jesus and His priests labor on that golden ground. I need to obey this precept of the Church so that Jesus can turn that poor thread into something better. Most of all, I need to trust, in the words of St. John Henry Newman, that “He knows what He is about.”

There is more. If I am (Heaven forfend) out of charity with another Catholic, it means that there are limits to how much energy the two of us can spend on that lack of charity, particularly if one or both of us go to Confession frequently. I may have a problem with someone and that person with me, but since Our Lord commands that we forgive others as we have been forgiven—notably, before receiving Him in the Eucharist—in our heart of hearts we two Catholics know that this is an issue for the confessional and it is only so long before it will be brought there for light, repentance, and healing so that we both can get on with the business of becoming saints.

This mutual knowledge of the need for repentance, surely a result of the Holy Spirit at work, is to this convert’s mind one of the most striking aspects of Catholic life. The practice of frequent confession will be of real help, then, not only to my fellow Catholic and me, but also to the surrounding community, which will, no doubt, have suffered in all sorts of unseen ways from our disagreement. Stabilized by the golden ground, the joyful pattern full of color goes on. The loom clacks away; the shuttles sing. Laudetur Jesus Christus!

By Anna Bendiksen