Like many people my age I made my first Reconciliation in second grade and then didn’t make it back to the confessional for over ten years.
(Of course, come to think of it, my first Reconciliation wasn’t in a confessional. In fact, I don’t think I used a confessional until I was 24 years old!)
When I did make my way back to the sacrament I felt awkward, unsure of myself and, in my normal fashion, probably over-thinking the whole thing. This made me even more reluctant to go. In fact, it wasn’t until I moved to Michigan for a year that I finally resolved to make Reconciliation a regular part of my practice of the faith.
I’ve never liked confessing to priests that I know (which can make things difficult when you work for the Church!) so I turned to the internet for help. I downloaded a good guide to Confession, wrote down the fruits of my examination (my mind usually blanks as soon as I walk in to the confessional), and sat myself in a pew on a Saturday afternoon. When it was my turn I walked inside with my list and guide in hand, knelt down, thanked God for the anonymity of the screen, and started in with the Sign of the Cross.
I wish I could say that it was a grace-filled, holy experience. Truth be told it was a bit of an anticlimax! I launched into the list, read it off without pausing, and sighed with relief as the priest gave me my penance and recited the prayer of absolution over me.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m a believer in what the Second Vatican Council calls “full and active participation.” But recently I’ve been wondering if rote participation in the sacraments isn’t sometimes a good thing. Especially for those who have fallen away from the faith, I wonder if we don’t do them a disservice when we lead them to expect that every liturgy, every prayer service, and every interaction with the Church will be a mountaintop experience. Sometimes I can barely get through Mass because I’m so distracted by kids, the lousy sound system, or thinking about what I’ll be doing that afternoon!
Fortunately the sacrament doesn’t depend on how much I do or how I feel. Even when I’m not giving 100% I can be sure that God is giving his all. We need to remind people that it’s OK to be rote sometimes. It doesn’t diminish the grace of the sacrament. Jesus is still really there! We shouldn’t expect perfection of ourselves every time — that path leads to scrupulosity. Rather, we should recognize that, at this particular time, rote participation gets us where we need to be. Better participating in a rote manner than not at all! And eventually, as we get more comfortable and familiar with the prayer or ritual, we can move towards deeper, fuller, more active participation.
Have you had any experience with intentionally praying or participating int he sacraments in a rote manner? Have you found it helpful in your spiritual journey?