At work we have these consultants with whom I meet every Tuesday. We start at ten a.m. and usually go past one, by which time I’m starving and achy and ready to bolt. Every other week we have a call at eleven with our customer service rep Suzi at TMAR.
Today though I announce that I’ve got a church thing at 12:15 and that we gotta be done by then. And magically enough we are. But then I get back to my office and check the Lent 2006 brochure, and it says it starts at 12:10, not 12:15. Ack! I’m late!
I get to St. Matt’s just barely before 12:10, dashing madly across Connecticut Avenue against the light. I’m huffing and puffing when I get to my pew and kneel, so it’s hard to calm down and pray and get settled before the service starts. We have a booklet to go by and, unusual for midday Mass, we sing a processional hymn. Ah, but this is a Holy Week service, not a Mass.
Specifically it’s a Communal Penance Service. I’ve come to this in lieu of going to confession during Lent, because confession is so scary. But then I notice, in the procession, instead of eucharistic ministers, there are priests. A lot of priests. I guess that they’re here because they’ve been hearing confessions all morning, and they all might as well join in and concelebrate Mass.
But wait, this isn’t Mass, remember. It’s a service. So I look in the back of the booklet and, sure enough, the confessions are going to be after the service. They weren’t before. And now there’s no reason whatsoever for me not to go to confession. I mean, I’m here already. I can’t now just not go, just not do it. I would now have to affirmatively walk out, reject it even.
I’m stuck! Wait! Stop! I’ve been tricked!
Now, now, calm down. How bad could it be?
Okay, first of all, I haven’t been in three years. And that’s like the first thing you’re supposed to say, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been three years since my last confession.” You’re supposed to go at least once a year. Even better if you go more often, but once a year is the minimum. So I’m in trouble right there.
And this is pretty much emblematic of my whole life, my whole level of organization, anyway. I don’t do something I’m supposed to do, and then the longer I go without doing it the worse it gets. And then I can’t do it after all this time because it’s been too long. So it gets worse. And then I really can’t do it, because it’s now been way, way too long. Lather, rinse, repeat.
And then I have to tell the priest actual sins. Like about the Internet porn. Yeah, that’s gonna go over well. And then the biggest sin, it’s easy to confess but much, much harder to actually do something about, much harder to stop. That’s the first and last commandments, having other gods and coveting my neighbor’s goods. I talked about this the other day, about worshipping the god of consumerism, about wanting more stuff, when people are starving in the world.
So I think about all this. And then I screw up my courage and deliberately go to Monsignor Jameson, rather than sneak off to any one of the many priests who don’t know me. And but then he’s so very kind to me, thankfully. He doesn’t yell at me, like I half expect him to do. He doesn’t stand up and denounce me to the assembly. I’m sure he’s heard much worse than poor little me. He does tell me to read Psalm 100, though. And I perk up, asking, “Isn’t that ‘Make a joyful noise.’ That one?” Indeed it is, he tells me. So I’m pretty pleased all around with the whole thing.
I get back to the office and read Psalm 100, but unfortunately the Catholic Bible has it simply as “Shout joyfully to the Lord.” Other translations have the ‘joyful noise,’ but not us. Sigh. But then I go to www.biblegateway.com and compare, and there’s no substantive difference between our New American Bible and, say, the King James. But the King James is so much lovelier.
Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.
And actually, even back when I was not a practicing member of the faith, heck, even when I didn’t especially believe in God (although I was always a lapsed Catholic atheist, as in “There is definitely no God, but the God who doesn’t exist is the God of the Catholic Faith.”), whenever I stayed in a hotel room, when I checked out I would leave the tip for the maids in the Gideon Bible, lying open on the nightstand, opened to Psalm 100. This really used to annoy my girlfriend Erin.
The booklet had said that Cardinal McCarrick was to be the principal celebrant and homilist. But he apparently can’t make it, because Monsignor leads us and Father Greenfield gives the homily. He tells us that when he was in grade school, one nun had this particular grading system. There was c-plus, c-minus, and “see me.” (It’s a better joke when you hear it rather than read it.) And he relates that to the Gospel reading from today, the Prodigal Son from St. Luke. I may have noted before how I always feel for the older son, the good son, who doesn’t even get invited to the party for the no-good younger son returned from his wanderings. Father Greenfield talks about the words prodigal and prodigy, next to each other in his dictionary. How the tax collectors and the sinner are the prodigals, the c-minuses, and the Pharisees and the scribes are the prodigies, the c-plusses. And the story is for the prodigies. They’re the ones who need to hear it.
Listening to the parable today I’m struck anew by the language, about how we sinners are the prodigal sons, the ones who have returned to our father’s house after wanderings and sinning. Yes, that’s obviously why it’s the reading at this service. But Father Greenfield tells us that a lot of times we are also the prodigies, the older son, the Pharisees and scribes to whom the story is told. We expect things of God, we want things on our terms, forgetting that God is the one whose terms we need abide. And, hey, okay, now I have a lot less sympathy for the older son, that dolt, for forgetting that he’s had his father’s love all along, and then he’s whining about missing this little party that’s for someone else, that’s not for him. For me, the dolt, for wanting things on my terms and forgetting God’s terms.
And, so finally, the Act of Contrition is beautifully poetic too, although there are a number different of versions of that as well, but our booklet has this one.
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin.