This afternoon I walked out of confession.
No, not out of the confessional itself. I was only in line. But I still feel guilty having left.
It's only the second time I've done such a thing. The first time was in 2005. April 2, to be exact. The reason I remember it so clearly is because I was freelancing for the Florida Catholic at the time, and with (now Blessed) John Paul II struggling to hold on to life, we were all on death watch. We'd even been given assignments about which church to go to should he pass and, as I waited for my turn to confess, I felt the phone in my bag start to vibrate and I knew it was time to go.
Today was different, though. I haven't been to confession in about two months (I like to go every month, generally) and, while I hadn't killed anyone, I needed to go. Since I work on Saturdays, I've taken to going to confession at the church near my office during a break in my afternoon. The pastor there is typically very quick and always gives the same penance every time ("Say five 'Our Fathers for any guilt that you might feel'"). He also gives the same penance to everyone... I know this because there are two doors into the confessional, neither very thick, with space beneath the bottom of both doors so sound carries across the tiled floors in the chapel. Typically it isn't an issue, thought, because Father only raises his voice when he's giving penance and absolution. If he offers counsel, he modulates his voice accordingly.
Today, there was a visiting priest, however. There were a good eight or nine people in front of me, and as the priest began to hear the first penitant, it became clear that every word he was speaking in response to the woman confessing could be heard. I thought "Maybe she's hard of hearing. She is somewhat elderly, so perhaps she asked him to speak louder." I felt for sure the priest would use a lower tone with some of the others in front of me.
Only he didn't. A few more people went in and came out in turn. The visiting priest was equally loud. I felt sure someone would say something; ask him to speak more softly, maybe. He was also rather long-winded. I don't mind that, generally, but when you're trying to tone out counsel someone else is receiving in response to sins confessed, it's very frustrating. None of us were trying to over hear. One man cleared his throat frequently. I tried focusing on prayer and reading the Sunday Mass readings, but couldn't concentrate. Another man, two people ahead of me in line, was even pressing his fingers into his ears to avoid hearing details of others' confessions.
As I sat there waiting, debating what I should do, I realized how uncomfortable I was. Part of it was trying to avoid overhearing. But part was also worry that others -- several people having come in behind me, by this point -- would hear what he would say to me once it was my turn. In truth (and, weakly perhaps), I was more worried about that. So I left. I can hear you saying right now, 'Why couldn't you have said something to the priest when you got into the confessional if he hadn't started using a lower tone by that time?' Sure, I could have. I'm sure if I'd gone ahead, my confession would still be valid, and I'm sure people wouldn't have listened to the priest's response to my confession on purpose.
But I didn't go. And now I feel a bit cowardly, like perhaps Satan got the better of me. I know confession is uncomfortable even in the best of circumstances. No one likes admitting they've failed. It's probably people's least-favorite sacrament...until it's over, that is. Everyone hates having to go but loves having gone. That's certainly the case for me. Part of the beauty of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, though, is the seal of confession. No matter what you've done, how bad you think you are -- and this takes me back to college, when (I think it was) Brother Jude used to say "I'm the worst sinner I know" -- confessed sins are only between you and the Lord. The priest is the intermediary, the conduit to Christ. No one no can be told what you've said, and only a priest can hear what you confess.
Unless the priest is loud. At any rate, next Saturday, I will try again.