There’s nothing so wrong that it can’t be put right. That’s what growing a little older has taught me. We are sometimes led to believe that our mistakes define us. Once a dropout, always a dropout. Once a coward, always a coward.
But it’s not true. You can get out from under your mistakes. You can make things right.
When I was in the eighth grade, I gave my parents a hard time about going to confirmation class. They told me that they wouldn’t force me to get confirmed if I really didn’t want it. I happily took them up on their generous offer. I was in the eighth grade. What did I know?
It took a long time for me to realize my mistake. I got used to telling people, “Well I was raised Catholic, but I was never confirmed.” It haunted me. This past summer I finally put it behind me and was confirmed by Bishop Lori in a ceremony with hundreds of other adult Catholics at the Cathedral of St. Augustine in Bridgeport.
Upon reflection, maybe I was better off having waited. After all, I got much more out of the Office of Pastoral Services’ preparation course as a 37 year-old than I would have as a 13 year-old. Things work out the way they’re supposed to.
But there’s more. On a Saturday this past November, I sat with my daughter in a pew at St. A’s while she prepared to make her first reconciliation. Clara was nervous. I told her not to be.
“Just relax, sweetheart. You’re too young to have done anything really wrong,” I said.
“What would you say if I told you that I haven’t always been a good girl? Sometimes I’m not always patient with Paddy and Magdalena,” she said.
“If you told me that I would still tell you not to worry. Sometimes Daddy and Mommy aren’t as patient as we’d like to be with each other. Sometimes we’re not as understanding as we should be. No one is perfect. God understands that. All we have to do is try as hard as we can to be good people. And when we mess up, we just have to be really honest about it and truly ask God for forgiveness.”
“But won’t He be mad?”
“I don’t think God works that way. All He wants is for us to admit in our hearts that we’ve done something wrong. He always forgives us if we do that. He might be a little disappointed in us if we knew we did something wrong but didn’t really feel sorry about it.”
Raising children is a good test of your tolerance for hypocrisy. You make up rules that you’d never follow yourself. You answer questions that you have no right answering.
What I didn’t tell Clara was that I hadn’t been inside the confession booth myself since I was her age. I went once, and then managed to steer clear for 30 years.
Some example I am. Good leaders are not supposed to ask anyone to do anything that they aren’t willing to do themselves. I knew I was going to have to get on the right side of this issue.
Clara came skipping out of the confessional. “That was fun!” she said. The words hit me pretty hard. Monday morning I fired off an e-mail to my pastor asking if he had a little time for me. It wasn’t easy, but it had to be done.
I didn’t exactly come skipping out of the confessional. I had a lot to account for after all these years. But I was glad to have vanquished yet another of my secret shortcomings. It was a big relief to have the weight of sin off my shoulders. It was a bigger relief to look my children in the eyes without feeling like a phony.
It’s easy to think we are limited by our past mistakes, but we aren’t. Lent begins in a few weeks. Maybe Clara and I will hit confession together.
There’s nothing wrong that can’t be put right.