A Dad’s View: The Hennesseys Make Confession

We made a family confession. I know that sounds like we subjected ourselves to some bizarre public humiliation ritual. We didn’t.

The director of religious education at our parish graciously arranged for interested families to come for the sacrament together on a Saturday morning. Our priests graciously gave their time. The Hennesseys graciously dragged their carcasses out of bed.

For Patrick and Magdalena it was their first time. Both did great, sitting face-to-face with the priest, though I can’t imagine what they might have had to confess to. I’m not saying that they’re innocent of all wrongdoing. I have a file on both of them. But they are well below the age of culpability.

I always prep my kids by saying, “You’re too young to have done anything too terrible, but this is a good habit to get into. When you’re my age you’ll have plenty to confess.” In other words, tell God what you did, but don’t sweat it too much. It’s a fine line with kids.

My wife worked with Magdalena for months—learning the act of contrition, rehearsing what would happen when she entered the confessional, coming up with a few minor misdemeanors she might want to cop to.

I wish I could say I helped out. My sole contribution was my usual contribution: blind optimism.

“Everything will be all right in the end.” That’s my mantra. Luckily I married a woman who has the good sense to know when things might go horribly wrong. She was right about 9/11 (it was as bad as it seemed); I was right about Superstorm Sandy (that tree by the driveway did not fall on the house). We make a good team.

Magdalena has Down syndrome. I don’t know about everyone with Down syndrome, but Magdalena doesn’t appreciate “surprises.” She’s best when she can learn a script and deliver her lines.

If that seems contrary to the spirit of the sacrament of reconciliation, believe me when I say that the alternative is worse. We’ve bailed on more than our share of birthday parties and doctor’s visits when some slight change in the atmosphere threatened to derail our plans.

In short—Magdalena likes to know what’s coming. Who can blame her? The world can be an unreliable place. We did our best to make sure that things went according to the script she had learned. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall.

In the end, the coaching paid off. Magdalena emerged from the confessional with a smile as big as any I’ve seen in all her nine years. “I did it!” she announced to a chapel full of penitent fellow Catholics. Punch has never been so pleased. Hallelujah, amen, and thanks be to God.

Paddy went next—a home run. Our Clara, an old pro, went next. Then me. Then it was my wife’s turn.

Ursula has some old-school habits that she finds hard to break. The face-to-face booth isn’t for her. She says she can’t concentrate on contrition unless she’s in the kneeling position.

Holing up in the “anonymous booth” also allows her to sneak peeks at the notes she’s written on her hands. I like the metaphor—write the sins on your hands, go to Confession, wash your hands, watch your sins slide down the drain.

Boom! You are forgiven.

We all left the chapel with the peace and refreshment that comes from knowing in your heart that you are a little bit closer to God than you were five minutes ago. It’s tonic for the soul and it’s 100 percent free. I recommend it.

Confession is hard for most people. It’s hard for me, too. I don’t go nearly as often as I should. But as our pastor, Monsignor Scheyd, is fond of saying, we shouldn’t think of Confession as punishment.

Nor should we think of it as a gloomy occasion for guilt and shame and all those other bad things that people imagine Catholics wallow in. Rather, we should think of Confession as a source of strength.

So be strong. Get strong. Go to Confession. Just do it.

(Follow Matthew on Twitter (@matthennessey)