Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Good Priest

I shared how the guilt I felt while on the pill had consumed me in my last post.  I walked away from my computer thinking.  Well…I wrote what happened. 

I read it again on my kindle, something about seeing my blog on there brings it home that yep…my whole “seeing strange things when I was alone with my guilt” story is now out on the internet.  Ahhhh…am I really sharing this?!?!

I went to confession nearly eight years ago with the same feeling.  Am I really going to share this? This SHAME.

I had to do something with my SIN.

What was this priest, Father Thomas, going to think of me?   He probably read my name, perhaps written neatly on a sticky note, Stephanie Forbes 7:00pm.  Hmmm..who is Stephanie?

I was part of a rosary group but my involvement was never beyond that.  Justin and I never went up to Father Thomas to introduce ourselves. We didn’t tithe at that time in our lives. It was such a LARGE church in Virginia Beach, lots of Navy families and tourists in the summer.  We blended into the mass at mass.  He didn’t know me.

Ahhh….but he DID.  I was the sheep out of the fold.  This good priest would grab his staff and bring me back in; a good shepherd working for The Good Shepherd.

I drove up to the good priest’s humble house on that evening in November.  I remember it was raining.  Everything was very surreal.  I believe so much in the presence of the unseen, the angels.  When I think of how the forces of the divine aligned to bring me to that hour with the good priest it brings me to praising God and praying for the soul of Father Thomas, wherever he may be today.  I pray for all priests who encounter such a woman at such a crossroads in her vocation.

Father Thomas was tall and thin.  He was a runner. He had a gentle face with glasses.  In his thirties maybe?
The small porch light lit the humble door, in the darkness of the rain.

He doesn’t understand who I am.  He doesn’t understand how awful I am. 

A sinner.

I knocked.

The door opened. “Stephanie, hi…come in!” He was welcoming.  Warm.  There is no sigh.  No hint of inconvenience.  I didn’t give a thought to the rest a busy priest with a Catholic school and a large church might need.  Don’t parents die to self in the same way everyday? Is that why I call the priest father?
I felt so small and needy, like a child.  The hour was before us.  He was all present to me.

We sat down in what must have been a front room/living room meeting space.  Two chairs faced each other. 
Old chairs.

I hadn’t been to confession since…since…

I couldn’t remember. 

I couldn’t really remember how to make a confession either. I was shaking.

What were the right words?? If only I had one of those brochure things that the parish so generously supplies in the hall of the Church.  I couldn’t look up at him, I carried so much guilt.

He sat in the chair across from me.

“Tell me Stephanie, what is going on?”

I couldn’t believe I was about to drag someone into my mess.  But this someone, in this hour, was exactly who I needed.  And I felt courage to give my sin form in words to this priest.  I thought this was ME doing all this.  I thought I had, in my mortal state, mustered up the courage myself.  In hindsight, it was all GRACE.  It was all the Eucharist running life giving blood through my veins.  I wasn’t just going to church on Sunday as an outward sign of piety, I was allowing Jesus in.  He was moving mountains.  The Queen of Heaven was praying for me too.  The rosary group may have been a social outlet for me, but Mary took me seriously when I said,

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death…”

I told Father Thomas all that I have told you.  “I am on the pill.  I know this is wrong, yet I still do it.”

 Hot tears streamed down my face. I clenched my sweaty palms. 

“I feel like I’m under attack.  I sleep with my light on.”

The beauty of confession…I was being freed from my sin as I spoke of it.  I let the words come and felt the sin leave me as I confessed. Time didn’t exist during my confession.

I have touched on how I love ROMANCE.  Nothing thrills me more sometimes then the scene in a movie when the young handsome man is in the rain and he is face to face with the woman and he knows the time is now.  He confesses, “ I love you. I can’t stand being away from you.  I would rather die today then live a thousand years without you.” The orchestra plays some dramatic music, they embrace, and we can all sigh a sigh of relief.  When LOVE is spoken out loud in words, it is a powerful thing to behold.  Love spoken out loud and given existence in this world through words makes it real and stronger.

Sin spoken aloud, given form in words has the opposite effect.  Sin grows weaker.  Sin can no longer hold on as it used to.  Once confessed the chains break.  It feels so good.  We speak the sin and we can look it in the eye and say “I know you for what you are. You go by this name and since my lips have spoken your name the Power of the Holy Spirit can get you out of my body.  I am no longer your host.”

I will never forget, as I felt myself drawing to a close the account of my sin, the stillness I felt.  I looked up. 
I couldn’t believe the look on the priest’s face.

He was taking me seriously. 

Did he not hear me speak about the fact that I felt there was a dark presence in my house?  I sleep with my light on and lock the door to my bedroom.  Doesn't he think I'm a bit crazy??

He was concerned for me. He paused and what he said was this…

God has forgiven you but you must forgive yourself as well.  Do not be above God’s forgiveness.  
You must forgive yourself.

Humbling really. 

Is this not true for all prodigal daughters? All prodigal sons? Whatever our sin may be…we know we have done wrong, we say “forgive me Lord.”

He gives us His Son on the Cross.

We are forgiven.

Then... we somehow can’t forgive ourselves??? Is that the guilt that keeps us from coming to Mass with our brothers and sisters in Christ?

Father Thomas let me soak that in.  I must forgive myself because He has forgiven me.

Then came the hammer.



“ You know that it (contraception) is wrong.  You can’t do it anymore.”



This is the good priest we need, in every confessional.  The priest at the academy did not make life easier for me by telling me that the Church’s teaching on contraception was old.  He made me feel comfortable and it was what I wanted to hear.  I needed tough love, a father’s love. Father Thomas wasn’t leaving any room for error. He was saving lives…

So, I left, absolved from my sins.  Clean. That night I threw my pill case away.  Justin was at sea that November and I couldn’t really think about him and how this was going to change things up a bit in our marriage.  I knew by just missing one night of the regimented pill cycle I was increasing the “risk” of conceiving a child. 

I see children MUCH differently now than I did first coming off the pill.

For the remaining year and a half that we were in Virginia Beach, Father Thomas looked for me after mass.  He spotted me.  He would be talking to friends, parishioners, children and if I walked by he would pause a second and make eye contact, “You ok?” his eyes would say.

I would smile.

And that my friends is NOT the end of my NFP journey …No, it wasn't so simple for me, remember this was about a four year endeavor.

My understanding of the Church’s teaching regarding artificial contraception was very much like the tip of the iceberg analogy (so overused in these scenarios, I know, but right on ).

I saw things for what they were on the surface.  Just as Justin and I had remained virgins until we were married, we weren’t pure in our marriage until about three years ago.  Just as I had decided that I wasn’t going to be on the pill (Justin wasn’t even part of that decision!)  it didn’t mean I grasped what life giving love meant.  Nothing in the Church, in life, in the world makes sense without the Eucharist. 

Thank you for reading! God Bless You! All for His Glory!