Category Archives: confession

Triage In The Confessional: How M.A.S.H. Helped Me to Relate to the Divine Physician

As a kid growing up in the seventies, I watched more than a few episodes of M.A.S.H. Still young and inexperienced, my understanding of the war it portrayed was minimal. But with only a dozen or so channels to choose from, I regularly settled in front of our little screen and watched the hit show (catching just a fraction of the jokes and thankfully even less of the innuendo).
I remember well the regular scenes announcing the incoming choppers. The sweet voice of Radar and the whirr of helicopter blades still resonate in my consciousness.The characters would exit their leisure scenes and make the frenzied dash to the OR. Next came the line-up of hospital gurneys, broken bodies and tension-breaking dialogue as the characters feigned the chore of putting men back together.

WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER
as Father Mulcahy from tvbanter.net
Probably because I am a cradle Catholic, I had an affinity for Father Mulcahy. His character seemed so gentle, sweet, honest and wholesome in contrast to the ever flirtatous nurses and lonely husbands. I had a frame of reference with which to identify with him. Of course, one couldn’t watch the series without forming an attachment to the character of Hawkeye. That compassionate, comedic soldier/surgeon, with his heart pinned to his sleeve, made war seem endurable.
MASH Goodbye.jpg
Alan Alda from Goodbye, Farewell and Amen
It was 1983 and I was twelve years old, the night they played the final Farewell episode. Alone in my bedroom, sprawled out on the brown, carpeted floor I turned the circular dial a few clicks to the right and tuned in to say goodbye. That episode was like none prior and it left me with the sour taste of the reality behind the props and make-believe sets. For the first time, I began to digest the horror of war and the very real toll it takes on the human psyche. To this day, I can’t shake some of the scenes I saw that night.
Last year at around this same time in Advent, we were sitting in church. Mass having just been celebrated, Monsignor Williams was announcing the upcoming events on the calendar when he invited us all to a penance service. Ever eloquent, his description began to shape an image which harkened back to my M.A.S.H. memories. Monsignor explained that the church was the great hospital, open to all the broken and wounded (every.single.one.of.us). The penance service would host a small army of skilled healers (5-6 priests) who would set up triage stations (confessionals) throughout the building.
Images flooded in as he spoke. I thought about how sin breaks us like bones snapping under heavy artillery; how our anger and unfaithfulness rip holes in our relationships leaving behind bits of imbedded shrapnel.Visions of those young television characters stacked on stretchers crossed my mind as I considered our weakness when it comes to temptations. How many purposes of amendment do we make only to fall like rag dolls when the inevitable ambush of seduction comes. Like the sweaty, dirt smudged, bloodied figures I’d watched on M.A.S.H., we live our day to day lives stained by our transgressions.
However, while those skilled actors only pretended to put their patients back together, Monsignor was offering us real life first-aid. His triage stations could wash away the muck and mend the fractures. The skill level of the individual surgeons/priests wasn’t the determining factor in this hospital. The Divine Physician, through the hands of the confessional ministers, had the supernatural ability to bind up and resuscitate even the most desperate patients.
Not long after I watched the Farewell episode, my time in forced triage lines ended. At the time, I hadn’t made these connections and my only experiences with confession stemmed from the obligatory sessions the nuns orchestrated once a month. I remember standing shoulder to shoulder among my grade school peers, but I don’t have any recollection of any adults seeking help. Based on my experience, graduation from Catholic grammar school appeared synonymous with freedom from the confessional.
I shudder now to think about my years needlessly spent dragging myself around like a member of the walking dead, a wounded person enslaved by my own pride and ignorance. Thankfully, the grace of God finally managed to seep into the cracks of my hardened heart such that I felt that stirring desire to return like the prodigal son. I can’t even imagine what could have been the result of my eternal soul if I’d chosen to remain in my state of mortal sin.
As for my own children, I am trying hard to offer them a more complete understanding of our needs to be rebuilt constantly. We try to make a monthly habit (all of us) of heading to the confessional; however, it goes a bit further when they see not only their peers, but people of all ages and stages freely lined up for healing. No one is immune from the contagion of sin (even more so we adults). The bi-annual penance services in our diocese afford us that extra opportunity to witness the church in action in this broader capacity. Even without my M.A.S.H. references to draw from, it is a vision to behold long lines of familiar faces silently awaiting their turn to spill out their sorrows and sins and receive the outpouring of Christ’s absolution.
Indeed, the Father Mulcahy character was often depicted as tending to the spiritual needs of the dying which was certainly necessary. Monsignor and his fellow priests also have the duty to lead contrite hearts home from their deathbed, but it’s too bad Hawkeye’s character wasn’t regularly seen sitting in head-bowed posture beside a purple-stoled Father Mulcahy. The script for that scene wouldn’t have needed a single word of dialogue. Just imagine what a powerful and enduring statement such an image could have impressed on a whole generation.

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Send In the Laborers, When We Have A Ministry To Fulfill

Perhaps you could blame it on late pregnancy nesting mode or maybe just that time of year, but I simply couldn’t stand another minute of our overgrown yard, the malodorousness ofturkeys under the back patio and all those forgotten plastic

cups strewn about the grounds. With a small army of children, one might fantasize that Brelinskyville runs like sap in summer, but alas too often these soldiers are hiding in their fox holes. The breaking point hit, I rallied the troops and doled out assignments.

Of course, knowing my children all too well, I took precautionary measures to prevent fatigue, heat exhaustion and over-active bladder evacuations. I provided cold beverages and locked the doors to the house.
With me as the constant fore-mama, my crew trimmed the bushes, weeded the garden beds, filled the compost, mowed the lawns, trimmed the edges, scrubbed the patio and transported the turkeys a little further from my nasal parameters. All in all a productive day, although much remains to be done from repairing the roof and chicken field fences to curing the black spot on the rose bushes and repainting the chairs.
More Laborers Hardly Seems The Problem
The day’s tasks completed, covered in sweat and grass stains, I eagerly called it quits and headed straight for the shower. Under that hot streaming water, my mind recollected the parable from the bible about needing more laborers for the harvest (Luke 10:1-9). However, with seven children and one more on the way the necessity for more laborers hardly seems to be the issue in this household, rather I pray that they might embrace the threshing readily rather than planning to come late to the field while still expecting equal pay.
Washing away all that outdoor grime took a considerable about of effort and time (okay that’s my excuse for taking full advantage of the peace, solitude and warmth of a long shower), so my thoughts continued to extrapolate. I remembered the many prayers I’ve offered requesting laborers for the Natural Family Planning ministry. As half of a teaching couple, I’m all too aware of the shortage of volunteers, not to mention physicians.
During a conversation with an area priest, he brought to my attention the severe lack of Spanish speaking NFP instructors and said this topic often comes up in the confessional. How frustrating it must be for him to offer spiritual direction, but lack the referral sources to aid couples in fulfilling their marital vocation when they’ve discerned a serious reason to postpone a pregnancy.
I am often privileged to hear from women who have questions about their fertility cycles and their practice of the method, but sometimes those questions would be best addressed in the physician’s office. Unfortunately, if teachers are scarce, truly pro-life, well-educated (on the topic of NFP and morally licit infertility treatments) physicians are nearly non-existent in many areas of the country. In my own state, I’ve had to drive 4 hours from home to get the proper medical care.
Perhaps more than any other time, the harvest is rich, but the laborers are few.
Fresh and Clean, I Filed In
Later that evening, fresh and cleaned up after our busy work day, we filled in our usual pew at the vigil Mass. My parable ponderings had long since drifted away, but as Father began to proclaim the gospel they were summoned back. This Sunday’s reading was the parable that had rambled through my brain earlier. Certainly a moment of Divine Providence speaking directly into my ears, as I hadn’t prepared ahead of time and so had no earlier knowledge of this weekend’s gospel message.
How biting was the reminder that this job as laborer was not intended to be an easy one.“Start off now, but look, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Take no purse with you, no haversack, no sandals. Salute no one on the road.” Jesus minced no words. He didn’t attempt to sell a sanitized version of the opportunity He had to offer, no bait and switch from Christ. He was sending seventy-two men out before Him with the promise of detractors eager to devour them and no material provisions to allay their temporal concerns.
When my husband and I were certified to teach the sympto-thermal method through The Couple to Couple nearly ten years ago, we were on-fire evangelists, laborers ready to charge into the fields. Books in hand, slides in the projector, we thought our zeal would be enough to spark an increased interest in our parish. Instead our booth at the parish ministry fair caused friends and acquaintances to make a wide circle around us. Like we were enclosed in an invisible bubble, they avoided all eye contact and left us feeling less than successful in our mission to share the Truth.
We soldiered on through the years content that God had a purpose for us in this ministry; however, a few years ago after so many personal trials I began to doubt. On the other end of the advice line, I stood confused and disappointed. Unable to figure out the answers to my own health/fertility questions, how could I continue to minister in this capacity. How could a farmer offer advice on how to grow a healthy harvest when his own crops were failing?
Having made up my mind with my husband’s full support, we were dropping the plow and throwing down the hoe. Someone else could do a better job. Someone else, who was filled with that zeal we’d long since lost, could step into our role.
Where Were Our Provisions?
Now listening to the gospel parable, I realized we’d been hoping for provisions. Having set up camp in out-lying southern towns, as opposed to bigger cities like Raleigh, we’d figured the couples would come (“build it and they will come”). Support from the diocese to promote our classes and committed babysitters to

make teaching engagements workable weren’t forth-coming. In these later years with my own fertility world turned upside down, I’d expected readily accessible aid. I wanted a purse, a haversack and sandals. I wanted to salute my fellow sojourners and have them salute back to me. But none of this was ours to have and we’d forgotten Christ’s instructions.

The lambs among wolves promise had nearly always been apparent, but in the earlier days of our ministry, I felt like a strong, healthy sheep able to withstand the attacks. Now older and wounded, the wolves of doubt and despair found me easy prey.
Of course, no sooner had we privately declared our decision to quit, then Father requested that we teach a group of couples he was preparing for marriage. Ugh! Really? Saying, “no” to Father is harder than telling a teary, smiling, wide-eyed toddler who’s just given you a bear hug they can’t have the last cookie in the jar.
So much for our plans to flee the fields, we taught that class and a few more since. And at present we’re poised to schedule next year’s class line-up.
I’m still praying for God to send more laborers because they are desperately needed, but for now I’ll accept my part in working the harvest. The wolves continue to howl in the background, but we’re assured that the Shepherd will never leave us lost in the wilderness. While the provisions we’d choose might be lacking, those He offers are more than enough to pay the wage.

Love Letters To Sister Margaret, The Virtue of Contrition

She wasn’t the equivalent (exactly) of Mommy Dearest, but writing Sister Margaret a love letter felt about as genuine as that scene from the movie. Penned from the point of view of the actress’ daughter, the movie portrayed an abusive mother who required her children to quip, “We love you, Mommy Dearest” whenever she requested it.
Someone (whose name would only be shared in whispered circles) had used a bottle of squeezable margarine to etch “I hate Sister Margaret” on the school yard black top. And apparently the squeezable oil emulsion stains black top so the hateful message couldn’t be stripped away by our diligent janitor before Sister made her morning crossing from the convent to the school house door.
While she may have presented herself as a hard-nosed enforcer with little patience, on that day we all saw her human-side. Her ruler-wielding nun persona was softened by the tears that escaped the corners of her penetrating glance.
Her sisterly Sisters, wanting to comfort her injured heart, had each one of us children write, draw and scribble love letters. Of course, as I said the sincerity may have been missing for more than a few of us, but nonetheless we obliged and completed the assigned task.
A valuable lesson, I’ve carried that memory with me into adulthood and allowed it to influence my parenting. Yes, I could understand the author’s angst toward Sister Margaret, but his (oops, is it okay to identify the proper gender three decades after the crime?) public outcry warranted correction. And I think that in requiring all of us to write a love letter, we learned communally to say sorry and to reflect on our actions and their potential to affect others.
How easily we spout our opinions and admonish our enemies, and children are especially impetuous in this regard. While I’d like to pretend my own children are sweet-little darlings at every moment, incapable of uttering a harsh word, honesty calls me to accountability. In this regard, I carry with me the wise advice of a peer-mama who once told me that having so many boys (four) taught her to never doubt their ability to do the things they were being accused of.
So while my motherly gut response at times wants to beg, “No, never, not my cherubs, you must have your story wrong,” I’ve learned to listen to serious accusations (there have been a few) and investigate before banging the gavel on the side of dismissal. And more times than not, I must insist that the perpetrator issues an apology, whether in person, via the telephone or in writing. Admittedly, not every apology is fully heartfelt or freely given, but the very action of taking personal responsibility goes a long way in teaching the child that our words and actions have consequences.
When we hide our ugliness in secrecy or cover it with denial and excuses, it more easily becomes habitual. By contrast, saying I am sorry shines a light on our choices and hopefully sparks an amendment of life.
After being graduated from Catholic grammar school, I don’t recall entering a confessional again until I was a married adult with four children. I suppose I’d shelved the lesson of the love letter for a while and the more time that passed the more difficult it felt to face my sins. I justified, ignored and excused because that seemed less painful than the necessitated sorry. But mothering led me to reconsider my perspective and the example being displayed.
My transgressions stained my conscience like that black-top insult, but God’s mercy was only an apology away. And what a beautiful reason to love the confessional because it calls us to true accountability. Saying, “I am sorry” to Christ represented by a flesh and blood individual bears a visual and auditory truth. That is to say, by speaking our contrition to a living person (in persona Christi) we are forced to recognize the hurt we’ve inflicted on the Living God. In response, we hear His loving reply of absolution.
Too often as of late, people are publicly shirking their responsibility. Like a shell game, they shuffle blame from one office or department to another. We see it in politics, we see it in jury rooms, on television, and in classrooms. Saying I am sorry seems to be a lost virtue. In truth, just like we find the shell dealers’ integrity to be suspect, so we also lose faith in the ones who make a habit of avoiding those three powerful words.
Reclamation of the virtue of contrition is a necessity if we are ever to rise from this mire of evil that seems to be fast engulfing our culture. Even if our first baby steps lack the full depth of sincerity, there is merit to be gained in learning to apologize. Like the love letter caused us students to realize Sister Margaret had real feelings, so our first sorry reminds us that we have the power to injure. Conversely, in saying, “I am sorry” we not only accept our part, but we learn that we have the ability to heal those wounds.

From Painted Walls To The Confessional, Renovating Our Interior Room

Halfway to meeting our expected little one, I decided was the ideal time for room swapping in our household. The nursery which had become the youngest boys’ domain needed to be reclaimed. Fantasizing about picture perfect rooms, I mapped out my plan. Of course, my Better Homes and Gardens daydreams were balanced out by budget realities. So, rather than head to the nearest home improvement store, I descending into the basement to rummage through my ample cache of leftover paint cans. Score! Turns out we had two shades of blue paint, enough to renew the battered, old, pale yellow guestroom walls.
As my son assisted me in securing all the necessary supplies, I reminded him of the importance of preparation before commencing a project. Taking the time to map out the endeavor, counting your inventory and having your tools at the ready, all make the job easier.
First, the drop-cloth was laid. Then, we pried open and stirred those buckets of blue before pouring out the desired amount into the paint tray. Armed with the roller, my son’s assignment was to cover the interior of the walls; while I utilized my small brush to define the edges and corners.

Disappearing Act

With each stroke, the tired yellow walls began to revive. The scuff marks and smudges disappeared. Ugly imperfections vanished. By day’s end, the room felt new again. That’s why I love painting, in fact, because it allows me to recreate a space with minimal expense in a limited amount of time. Color, alone, can change the personality of our surroundings.

While listening to today’s gospel about the woman caught in adultery, I found myself pondering its parallel to our painting endeavor. The Pharisees dragged a sinner to Jesus as a means of putting Him to the test. Like the dirty, scuffed walls of our pale yellow cell, the adulteress was soiled by her transgressions. I can only imagine how impure and unworthy she must have felt standing accused in the center of those men. Her sin laid bare for all to see and judge.
But then our dear, merciful Jesus knew her worth, her inner beauty, her potential. Like a painter sees a picture while the canvas is still blank, He saw her heart. In His wisdom, He also read the hearts of her accusers and knew their deceptive motives. So He turned the test back upon them by instructing, “Let the one among you who is guiltless be the first to throw a stone at her.” Knowing no one of them was without guilt, they each walked away.
As Jesus gazed up again at the woman, He asked, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” And when she told Him no one had, He finished, “Neither do I condemn you. Go away, and from this moment sin no more.” Where moments before the woman was stained by her sins, she left the presence of Jesus cleansed and renewed.

Feeling Like A Dirty Wall

Many times I feel like that former yellow room, marked up with sin and guilt, ugly and unattractive interiorly. Sure I can live with those sins, silently carrying around that self-imposed burden, but like dirty walls my sin changes the perspective of everything.
In the Catholic Tradition, we are blessed with the great Sacrament of Reconciliation through which we can experience in a tangible way the renewal of our soul. We start by preparing. In examining our conscience, we map out our endeavor and take inventory of our sins. Honesty/accountability, sincere contrition, purpose of amendment and penance are the required tools.

Washing Away Our Trespasses

No matter whether our sins seem huge or minimal, sin is sin. Jesus washes away our trespasses with equal measure. As our roller and brush dispersed fresh color in our room renovation, so the priest’s words of absolution dissolve our iniquities. Jesus Christ paints us anew, saturates us with His mercy.
My little boys were amazed and excited by our one day recreation of their newly assigned bedroom. How much more we should be enthusiastic about the Sacrament of Confession’s ability to recreate us.
Of course in time, tiny hand prints and careless play will leave their marks on those freshly painted, blue walls; just as our careless words and selfish actions will leave their marks on our clean souls. But, the remedies are as easy as grabbing a paint bucket or heading to our local confessional.