Thursday, February 16, 2012
Barbers, Priests, Haircuts, and Confessions
Today is my day off, so among other things, I went for my haircut. Because I like to keep my hair cut short, about eight years ago, I bought a hair trimmer, thinking that I would be skilled at providing myself a good haircut. Imagine all the money I would save and I would never have to play barbershop roulette again. You know what barbershop roulette is, right? That's when you arrive and see how many people are ahead of you, how many barbers are working, and who in the chairs already is likely to be finished up first, second, third, and fourth. Then you start going through the line-up to see which barber is going to be the one to call you. Because then, you are left with that fateful decision. You will either have to go and get a haircut from the barber who never cuts your hair quite right or you have to announce in front of the whole shop, "Nah, I'll wait for Joe." This is very stressful--the next three to four weeks of my grooming depend upon it.
So, I bought the trimmer and started giving myself haircuts. The experiment was short-lived. With each self-haircut, the back of my head was becoming more and more a spectacle. It was no use. I had to go back to the barbers and, quite honestly, except for that little bit of anxiety when I have to tell some barber that I'm going to pass him up for another barber, I enjoy the whole thing. I enjoy taking my seat among the varied characters who show up at the same time. Some of them know me. Most don't. I enjoy the monthly banter with the barber and I definitely like the finishing touch of a straightedge razor cleaning up my neck. I definitely wouldn't have tried that on my own. Nope, I need a barber. (Though there is evidence that some day down the road, I might not have need of one.)
Before going for my haircut today, I made another stop. I went to a nearby chapel, got into the pew, examined my conscience, and waited for the priest to arrive for confession. I was the first one there and was about 30 minutes early. Gradually, more and more folks arrived and filled the two pews of penitents. Unlike the barbershop, there would only be one confessor so there would be no picking or choosing. Since I am on my day off and was running errands, I sat there in a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt. I was definitely the youngest penitent among the twenty or so folks who waited. But other times that I've been to this chapel, there have been younger persons than I waiting.
I kept glancing at my iphone and had the sense that the person next to me was getting annoyed at that. But, I wasn't checking email. (Though not out of any virtue but because the reception was bad). I was checking the time. Confessions are 30 minutes before Mass and the priest was already five minutes late. So (this happened before and the priest told me to definitely feel free to help out if it ever happened again), I stood up and told the folks who were waiting that--despite the jeans and the sweatshirt--I was a priest and that anybody who wanted to come to confession could do so. With that, I entered the box, put on the stole, and started hearing confessions.
Five or six folks into it, I heard a tap on the door. So, I finished with the person confessing and then opened the door to find the scheduled priest waiting. He smiled and thanked me. I came out of the confessor's side of the box, turned left, and went into the penitent's side of the box. After making my confession, I came out of the box in time to hear one old timer who was still waiting turn to a new arrival and say, "That guy's a priest. He came out from hearing confessions and went right back in to go to Confession. Isn't that something?" And they had a good chuckle about that. I have a feeling he'll be telling that story over and over again.
We all need haircuts (at least I do for now). And, I've learned from experience that attempting to be my own barber isn't such a nifty idea. Besides, even if I could cut my own hair, my neck never looks right unless that straightedge razor has been put to it. And I'm never going to try to do that to myself. And, there's something human about showing up at the barbershop and getting in line for a haircut. It says that we are part of the human family.
Similarly, we all need confession. Those who say that they don't, probably do about as good a job on their souls as I would do shaving the back of my neck with a straightedge razor. They'd make a total mess of themselves. As much as I like my barber, I bet he wouldn't put a straightedge razor to the back of his own neck. He's smart enough to entrust himself to the care of another barber. Like all of the other sinners in the world, priests have to get into the line of penitents and humbly confess their sins as well.
Lent is the perfect opportunity to get cleaned up. Outside if you need it, but definitely on the inside.