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From closed-in darkness into the open light Print
Guest column
Thursday, Apr. 13, 2017 -- 12:00 AM

Marilyn Uselman

As a Catholic child, going to Confession was a scary and anxious time for me. It involved dark small spaces, dirty drapes, and talking to a stranger about things I did wrong -- not a good experience!

As I grew up, going to Confession still was anxiety-provoking. I came to realize I do not like small spaces with closed doors, or talking personally with a stranger. I have a hard enough time going into doctors' offices. Avoidance is certain.

Well, I gave communal Confession a try. It's a new concept for me. I had thought I would go into the church, say some prayers along with others, sing some songs, say I'm sorry for my sins, then the priest would forgive the group and bless us -- and I'd be out of there!

Now I have to say that most of the above is true, with the addition of a short homily and group act of contrition. What I didn't realize is that there were several priests stationed at the corners of the church. People started to line up to speak with a priest individually, which was part of the program. So I got up, and looked for a priest who would definitely not know me.

I looked at the lines of people move closer to their confessor. I tried to estimate who was the quickest. A couple of minutes per person was the norm, so I got into the shortest line.

As I moved up the line I remembered going to Confession as a little girl. I remembered the smell of the dusty curtain, divider, and kneeler. I remembered the door closing in darkness. As those memories filled my mind, the anxiety started. I thought of leaving church.

But then I looked up from the line of people, up at the beautiful stained glass windows overhead. I heard the piano playing softly in the background. I felt fresh air coming from an open doorway. I took a deep breath, moved closer to my confessor, and found myself actually smiling at him when it was my turn.

This was all out in the open -- a non-scary place. It was nice, and I liked it. It felt good to ask for God's forgiveness. As I left the church, I thought more Catholics would do this if they knew what it's about. I looked up and saw the clock in back of church. All this happened in less than 30 minutes from start to finish.

I understand that the norm today is for private Confession with a light turned on in a clean confessional (with door still closed, mind you). And I realize the communal Confession I went to ended up being individual.

But being in the open space was a blessing to me. I don't know how many other Catholics feel like I do, but "communal" Confession in the open will be my way from now on.


Marilyn Uselman is a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Monona. She experienced communal Confession at St. Bernard Church in Madison.