Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Every Confessional Is Hewn From the Wood of the Cross

St. Dismas, the Repentant Thief, and Christ

The first email I received today was at 4:30 in the morning. It was from a brother priest who simply asked, "Alb and stole or just stole?" He is one of several priests who will be helping me out tonight for our Holy Week confessions at Boston University and wanted to know what he should bring with him.  I will bump into that priest later on this morning at the Chrism Mass, the Mass when all of the priests in the archdiocese gather with the Cardinal for the blessing of the Holy Oils.  

What really struck me though when I woke up is that this priest will have a busy and long day. He was sending emails at 4:30am and will be hearing confessions until about 9pm tonight. He and the other priests who will help me out tonight are all going out of their way and adding something additional to their already full Holy Week schedules. They do it because they're good priests and because hearing confessions--especially the confessions of college students--is such a great joy and privilege.

Undoubtedly, by the time confessions end this evening, all of us will be exhausted. Hearing confessions is not just physically tiring. It brings with it almost a metaphysical exhaustion. While you are hearing confession after confession, you realize that you are being used in a way that is completely beyond your natural capacities.  All of the sacraments receive their efficacy from the Cross of Christ. Thus, in the confessional, we are entering into the Mystery of the Cross. In some mysterious way, as a priest, you feel quite close to the Cross when you hear confessions. I think most priests would agree that after you've spent a substantial amount of time hearing confessions, you feel completely spent. But there is no greater feeling than that exhaustion. You feel as though you have given everything you have, but what was accomplished is way beyond what you gave. 

No matter how much the individual priest might give, none of that could bring about the forgiveness of sins. It's only because the priest is the instrument of the One who truly gave everything that the Sacrament brings about the obliteration of sin. In the confessional, we experience the fruits of Christ's total gift of self. Every confessional--be it in a Cathedral in Rome, in a college chapel, on the battlefield, in a hospital room, or in the case of St. Dismas, on a cross--every confessional is made from the wood of the Cross, stained in the Blood of Christ, and animated by the the breath of Christ which he breathed from the Cross. What happens in the confessional is so much greater than we ever truly grasp. In the confessional, we enter into the Mystery of the Cross. We stand beneath Christ and are washed in His Blood and our dead souls are resuscitated by his breath.

Is it any wonder why priests who give themselves over generously to hearing confessions continue to do so time and time again? They know that they will be exhausted, but there is no place more life giving than in more perfectly uniting themselves to the Crucified Lord.

I pray that tonight many young men and women will come to the Wood of the Cross. I also pray that Catholics everywhere will come to confession during this Holy Week and receive the Mercy of God. Jesus died for sins. We are not beyond His Mercy. We are not beyond His Grace. I know that sometimes people feel as though it is too late or they say, "I know eventually I will have to go." Don't put it off. He wants to forgive you NOW. He wants to free you NOW.  

The Wood of the Cross was soaked and stained in the Blood of Christ. Every confessional is hewn from the Wood of the Cross. Every confessional is soaked and stained in the Blood of Christ. There is no sin that cannot be washed away by touching it to the Wood of the Cross. Come, receive forgiveness. 


  1. Don't have a problem with confession but never liked that black box. Where and when did the western church come up with that? I'm a Byzantine Catholic so we don't do that. Never have at least in the 'old countries'. I understand that here in the U.S. in the early days the priests were cowed into installing them by the Roman Bishops. It took years before we got our own Bishop and once we did out they went! Our practice is to go forward to the Iconostasis (Icon Screen), kneel before the Image of Christ, Father places his stole over our head and shoulders and we make our confessions. Thinking about it, one could say that the Iconostasis is a part of Christ's cross as it is made of wood. Also, in the Anglican/Episcopal form of kneeling at the Alter Rail with priest laying hand and stole on the penitents head serves the same symbolic thing. Not sure what they do in the new Anglican Ordinariate practice, perhaps both. Thanks for your article and your blog. You were mentioned on a news post on the Saint Gregory the Great (Anglican Ordinariate) webpage.

    1. The Ordinariate in all likelihood follows Roman practice.

      Confessionals were installed to ensure anonymous confessions, at least from the perspective of the penitent and priest. They also were installed to prevent scandal and impropriety. The Protestants often slandered priests by accusing them of sexual acts during confession. Keeping a wall between priest and penitent would have staved off some of the abuse in the last several decades.