In seminary, one of the things Bishop Barron instilled in us as our rector with absolute clarity was this: after you are ordained a Catholic priest, when someone asks you for Confession, the answer is yes. Period. I consider it to be a foundational rule in my life as a priest, and as it turns out, it has proven practical.
A few years ago, I was starting mile five of a half marathon—just at the point where my legs and lungs were starting to feel a bit tired—when I heard, “Hey Father, are you able to hear my confession?” I was wearing a shirt from the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Newman Community where I am chaplain and my bib said “Fr. Rob,” so I was pretty visible, but I was still so surprised it took me a minute to respond.
But, as a priest, “When someone asks you to go to confession, the answer is ‘yes,’” so I said “Sure, absolutely” to the person, and, while keeping our pace, the two of us moved away from other runners, so as not to be overheard. After listening to a heartfelt and thorough confession, I gave the runner a penance and offered the prayer of absolution, which took a bit longer than normal, because . . . well, we were still running a half marathon! The person said “Thanks, Father,” and we parted ways. I still smile when I think about it, and laugh at how hard it was to pray the prayer of absolution on short breath.
While I have never heard of another priest hearing a confession while panting through a half marathon, my brother priests have shared dozens of unique and amazing stories of unusual confessional circumstances (with no details about the person or what was said in the confession, of course), so my story is just one of many. Priests have heard confessions in prisons and schools, on battlefields, in college dorms, and in living rooms. A good buddy of mine was once asked to hear someone’s confession while he was eating a Big Mac at an airport!
My point is this: Go to Confession. When urge and opportunity come together, even if the circumstances seem less-than-perfect, even if you feel like you’re missing the booth and the screen, follow where your soul is being led and go to Confession.
Be blunt and totally honest—I promise, you won’t say anything the priest hasn’t heard before. And because confession is always under what is called “the seal,” the priest would rather go to prison or even give his own life than reveal anything that you say, no matter the setting. Nothing but mercy awaits you there.
Of course, it’s great if you can catch confession at the scheduled times at your parish or if your parish has a Lenten or Advent Penance Service (Lent begins on March 2nd this year!), but never believe that asking to go to confession is a burden for a priest; it is our privilege. At the risk of sounding cliché, you are not alone in the fight for holiness; your priests are running this race with you, mile by mile, road by road. We gave our lives to God, and to offer his mercy through the sacrament of Confession is an honor, never a burden, no matter the time or place.