My Lenten discipline of making confession became something much bigger. It resulted in a challenging and amazing conversation with a monk who also is a Catholic priest. While on retreat, I had scheduled time to make my confession – a practice I am committed to as part of a “rule of life.” After we introduced ourselves, I explained that I am an Episcopal priest. That’s where things seemed to head south.
First, noting my practice of making retreat at monasteries (some Catholic), he pointed out that I keep coming to the Catholic Church; this struck me as a lightly veiled attempt to see if I am at all drawn to “conversion. “ “There is only one church,” I told him. “One Lord. One faith. One baptism.”
He was completely flustered. “Why would you come to a Catholic priest for absolution?”
“Why not?” I asked.
As he began to explain our differences, I explained my simple faith, based on the Gospel, based on the command to love God with all our heart, mind, and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. I must admit, his confusion – his not knowing what to do with me — felt like rejection. Part of me wanted to cut and run, maybe even pack my bag. But then I noticed that this man — the neighbor sitting right across from me — was uncomfortable, too. He was struggling.
We spoke about our churches briefly and then the conversation got real. He spoke about his resistance to a call to the priesthood and even more so as it became a call to the monastery. I shared with him about my own experience with resistance, first spending 15 years fighting a call to ordained ministry, and then resisting a call to ministry on the street (what could this white woman of privilege possibly know about life in the street?).
As we spoke less of theology and more of humanity, we discovered that we each have “Mary” temperaments and “Martha” lives – vocations that call us to busy-ness and yet still yearning for a life of silence and prayer.
My friend spoke of a desire for unity and yet is unable to dismiss the differences and separations that exist between and among our churches. I spoke of Christ’s presence in all things, of his relentless action (though not always with our cooperation) to bring about unity and reconciliation among all people. “That is an interesting way to look at it,” he told me.
Noticing much time had passed and not wanting to overstay my welcome, I thanked him for speaking with me. “I don’t want our conversation to end without peace,” he said. “You came here for something in particular and I feel badly that I can’t give it to you.”
“I would rather have an honest conversation, would rather we be authentic with one another. That we are able to spend time together and speak honestly about these things is a gift.” We sat with this for a moment.
“You did come to make confession. Is there anything heavy on your heart that you want to share?”
“Would you be willing to pray for me?” I asked. He agreed.
After I named two or three troubling shortcomings, he placed his hand on my head and prayed for me tenderly. He prayed for God to forgive all my sins.
As we parted ways, we agreed to pray for one another.