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The art of confession

Joan of Arc Statue in the Confession Petit Palais Museum in Paris
Joan of Arc Statue in the Confession Petit Palais Museum in Paris

“Bishop Robert Sarah, the Vatican’s most senior liturgy official, has outlined his vision for Catholic worship, calling for more silence, a greater focus on the sacred and for priests to stop using smart phones and tablets to say their prayers.” – Report in the TabletUK Sept. 15, 2017

The thing I love about confession is it’s all about me! Or is it? Last week, here in Paris, intent on clearing my conscience, I visited St Louis D’Antin parish in the busy shopping district of the 9th arrondissement.(link: http://www.saintlouisantin.fr/horaires.php) A nun had advised me that one can go to confession there anytime, all day.

In Pictou county I had to find a moment in the half-hour offered before certain masses. Here, I have no excuse. And why not offer confession all the time?  I thought while riding in the metro. Around me there were people hunched over their little screens.

I don’t have a phone here. This confounds people. I confess, I only need one electronic device: this trusty computer. At home in Nova Scotia I have a black, rotary dial phone. I love the sound it makes. It reminds me there is a reality beyond whatever is occupying my head and heart. But if I am busy, I let it ring. I trust whoever is calling will phone again.

If I am on the phone when someone calls, they hear a busy signal. I also trust they will call back. Then again my phone doesn’t ring very much so maybe I should reconsider where I place my trust…. Without a device to whisper my sins into, I have to make my way to church to share my human foibles and ask for forgiveness.

When I arrived at St Louis D’Antin there were lots of seats in front of the confessional – most of them filled with women. The only man, the day I went, was the priest. He sat in a warmly lit cubicle shielded by glass. When I wasn’t wringing my hands preparing, I admit, I was watching the person sitting before him. When my turn came, I was as nervous as I usually am.

I don’t confess every two weeks like the Pope. Maybe that would make it easier; each time I do go, things have been building up in my imagination. As I entered, the priest shrugged matter-of-factly, motioning for me to sit or kneel. I chose to sit and began my confession. Then the priest’s smart phone rang. He held up his finger to silence me. He took the call.

The moment felt surreal. Actually, it was realer than real. I couldn’t believe it. Except, I can: Why should a human being, a man who happens to wear a dress to work, be any different from the rest of us? “Is nothing sacred?” I thought to myself. The answer I think is an important one to consider.

What I hold sacred informs the way I behave. When I have not honoured the peace, respect and decorum I expect others to afford me, then I have sinned. On my way back from confession, I wandered unencumbered. No purse, no cellphone, no coffee cup, cigarette or dog attached to me. A young woman stopped me. She wanted to know how to get to a street I had never heard of. She was harried. I thought about all the times I’ve felt like that, headed to an appointment with someone I’ve never met, in a place I’ve never been. Maybe she was going on a job interview.

I looked her in the eye and told her I didn’t know the address she sought. Then I suggested she stop in at the café across the street. “Someone there will know – if it is around here.” I reassured her. I wanted to touch her shoulder but I resisted in case that might be inappropriate from a stranger.

I confess, I wish I had been able to help her more. She was holding a little piece of paper with the address scribbled on it. She didn’t have a phone either… I said I was sorry, just as the priest had excused himself for interrupting my confession. She smiled and said it was all right – just as I had told the priest. We are all still human – after all, aren’t we?

 

Magdalena Randal is a Nova Scotia artist and filmmaker currently studying in Paris.

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