The thought occurred to me tonight, just randomly, how nice it must be to slip out to mass and confess sins and then feel better. Really. Like I had this funny longing just to go, sit on the other side of the wall of the priest, and start talking. And I don’t even have a long list of big unconfessed sins or anything. I try to keep my sins on a short leash, and confess them quickly. Because left unattended, they fester and grow and do more and more damage.
And God is nice about all that. His grace is there, on the other side, ready to wash over us. And His forgiveness is poured out long before we ask. It flowed without reserve from the heavens, when Jesus hung on the cross, washing over every sin ever committed. And the wrath of God, against sin–not mankind, was satisfied that day, just over 2000 years ago. After talking to God I feel much better, to be sure, but there are times when the body is weary and the mind exhausted when a voice on the other side of that confession, in human form, would be so reassuring.
Imagine the following when you go to confess:
The Penitent begins: Bless me, for I have sinned.
The Priest says: The Lord be in your heart and upon your lips that you may
truly and humbly confess your sins: In the Name of the
Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Penitent: I confess to Almighty God, to his Church, and to you, that
I have sinned by my own fault in thought, word, and deed, in
things done and left undone; especially __________. For these
and all other sins which I cannot now remember, I am truly
sorry. I pray God to have mercy on me. I firmly intend
amendment of life, and I humbly beg forgiveness of God and
his Church, and ask you for counsel, direction, and absolution.
(Here the Priest may offer counsel, direction, and comfort.)
That first line, “Bless me for I have sinned…” Honestly, doesn’t it about melt your heart into deep repentance, right about there? I’d be far more likely to request a good thrashing so that I get what I feel I deserve, than to ask for a blessing. And maybe that’s what I learned in childhood–at home and at church–that I deserve. Good harsh discipline.
But not at confessional. No. There, having asked for a blessing, listen to the words the priest offers, “The Lord be on your heart and on your lips…” Such beauty! The Lord on my heart and lips, influencing me to speak truth and confess sins, not hide them.
Granted, if I showed up stoned a hundred times asking for the same blessing, and heard the same words, and confessed redundant sin, I might not be so deeply moved, but really those words are filled with life and hope. It’s not a gentle reminder of getting kicked out of church for doing the bad stuff, or a breathing of God’s judgment for it, but a gentle prayer and blessing that truth will be spoken in that confession, because the Lord is on your heart and lips.
I know, I know. It’s all ritualistic and how can there even be heart and meaning in it? But it sure as goodness beats getting clobbered over the head for sinning. And it sure would be nice to hear that reassuring voice on the other side of that prayer, offering counsel, direction and comfort. Audibly. (Lest someone is going to message and say, “But God does…” I know that too. But He is so very quiet about it. And sometimes I wouldn’t mind if He would just say it out loud, you know?)
But this whole thing started with one thought. I wonder if people who go to confessional are less depressed? And that led me to doing a Google search: Church with lowest depression rate. Which led me to reading an article in LaTimes called, Church Attendance linked with reduced suicide risk, especially for Catholics, Study says. And that kind of impressed me, to find the risk decreases like that.
There’s something to be said for generous grace and liberal blessings. And while I have no proof that this is what makes that difference, it did intrigue me. But it’s that voice on the other side of the confessional, talking back out loud, that is my first reason why I secretly wish I was Catholic. Well, not so secretly anymore. Only thing is that I’d have to be an out of the box one, because I will never fit inside a box again. Ever. In my life. I blew the sides out of that concept and, well, just couldn’t do it again.
The second reason is because their sex crimes are exposed. There’s not this big general delusion that the Catholic church is spotless and these crimes don’t exist, the child sexual abuse. It’s been plastered hither and yon (until it drew a big yawn from bored audiences) so that only the particularly naive and willfully ignorant would believe such a thing again. That exposure, in my opinion and understanding, is the first step to ending such violence. When leaders are exposed, held accountable and charged for covering up, there is greater safety in church.
But I’d be a lousy Catholic, and I’m not so naive as to believe their problems are solved, so I’ll let that idea go. Unless they recruit me as a priestess for victims. Then I might reconsider. (And with what I’m about to tell you, it is entirely possible that the events of this comedy video would be my fate, if I went Catholic and had a pet.)
So I didn’t join the Catholic church to preserve my mental and physical health. Yet. But I did get a Purebred German Shepherd dog given to me, and they are known to be good therapy dogs. (Currently I’m still determining if they offer therapy, or simply force their masters to find it.) He is stunning. He is brilliant beyond words. And he engages me as much as only one other animal ever has, if not more so; my first cat.
Boots. Almost anyone who hears the name could give a fairly accurate description: Mostly black with white boots and a white patch on the face and belly. All cats named Boots look like that. There’s girl Boots and boy Boots. It makes no difference about gender, when a cat looks like that. Boots is the only appropriate name.
Boots was a beautiful creature, sold to me for $1 of my dad’s money after much begging and pleading, when I was 9 years old, and only soon before we moved to the Mennonite community in the Clinton/Bayfield area. I loved Boots and waited a long while for her to get pregnant and produce offspring. She never did. More accurately, he never did. Eventually I learned how to investigate his gender and resigned myself to the fact that it wasn’t meant to be. Besides, I loved him so much that it didn’t matter a bit. He greeted me in the morning before school, and sat on my lap, licking my chin over and over again.
And then one cold day Boots crawled in the back of mom’s dryer to warm up. Mom, who always had more laundry than time, popped in a load and my beloved Boots had his back broken in three places. He was a limp rag, from what my sister told me, legs dangling carelessly. “Do you want to come shoot him?” she asked, “Or would you rather have someone else do it?”
I shuddered. No, I didn’t want to do it or be there. They could do what needed doing. I shivered at the thought, but resigned my heart to it. This is life. And I never cried even one tear. I willed my heart to move on and never again did I open it up for another animal. We’ve had cats, and I’ve liked them. We’ve had dogs, and I’ve liked them too. But I never loved another animal the way I loved Boots, with a sense of belonging and ownership.
That is, until eleven days ago when I met Kaiser, our new German Shepherd. I set my heart on having him, after I learned bits of his story, and even more so when I saw his face. Kaiser (German for Emperor) won my heart in the first five minutes of meeting. On a walk with his former master and doggy camp owner, he walked with me and obeyed my commands, looking me in the eye and not even attempting after a minute or two, to return to them.
I had already signed the contract before I met him; he would be mine at no cost, as long as he is still with us in two years, and if not he would cost us. A dog with his pedigree papers, chipped and professionally trained. I couldn’t believe it! But they had handed me the leash, given me a bag of toys, doggy dishes and told me his favourite things to do. He was mine. I commanded Kaiser into the back seat of my car, and strapped him in with his doggy seatbelt. (Who knew they exist?) And with that we set off, leaving the beautiful city of Montreal behind, and driving for seven hours together, to our home. It never occurred to me to muzzle him, a German Shepherd away from anything ‘home’ and familiar. Sure, someone suggested it, but this was about trust. When he whimpered, I slipped my hand to the back seat, let him lay down and nuzzle it, and immediately he would settle and sleep. It was magic
I knew I was in for an adventure of a lifetime when, about two hours in , while flying down the 401 at 120, I found myself suddenly comforting a giant German Shepherd, his butt parked firmly on my lap, his head covering my stick shift as he experienced an all out panic attack. I had never read about panic attacks or anxiety in dogs. I didn’t know they exist. Until that moment. We were two kilometers from an On Route rest stop, but there was no way to drive there safely, so I pulled over, traffic whizzing by, and tried to get a berserk dog out safely, to go pee or whatever the heck he thought he needed.
Only then, pacing back and forth on the far side of the rail, the dog running back and forth like he was going mental, and therefore me running back and forth at his will like I, too, was going mental… only then did I wonder if someone might have done me a huge favour to give me a generous smack upside the head, lock me in a room and talk some sense into me. And in that moment no one could have convinced me how much good this dog would bring into my world, combined with more challenge than I had any clue about…
And two kilometers down the road, at the rest stop, with five more hours of driving, I would see a side of this gorgeous animal that would make my stomach tighten in fear, and bring out more mental resolve and determination than I knew I had in me.
But the bigger story is another story, for another day… with a whole lot more background to share. Right now I have a massive dog to feed his supper and play awhile so he sleeps tonight. (Update before posting: It’s a rainy day and he’s lazier than he’s been since he arrived, lying here and snoozing.)
~ T ~
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