Monday or Tuesday in Holy Week usually finds me driving to see my confessor as make my final personal preparations for the Triduum (the “Three Great Days” of Maundy Thursday-Good Friday-Holy Saturday/Easter forming one liturgical “day” or action). By then, the fruit of my Lenten Rule has usually become clear, and I have a pretty good idea of what needs to be brought out in confession. My journey towards absolution then finds its place in this week’s journey from sin and death into life and love. That is easy to talk about in a theoretical way; but much more humbling to do over and over again with the same person—someone who has come to know my nature in a very specific and intimate manner.
The nature of a longtime relationship between a confessor and penitent is hard to describe. It passes through many stages, from a certain stiffness and formality, through a gradual awareness on both parties’ part of the other’s character, perhaps a period of dissatisfaction or uncertainty, and then (if all matures well) into a unique relationship of honesty, trust, and openness. The confessor becomes, in a very real way, a sign of God’s persistent desire for our repentance and healing.
As I drive to and from confession, I am reminded how much the Christian may take for granted: forgiveness, a new start, a God of patient and enduring love. For many in this world such thoughts are either non-existent or very rare. So many feel so trapped in a cycle of loss, frustration, and pre-determined outcomes. I am offered the opportunity to have my sins and wrongs scrubbed away, to let go of my fears and anger. I am given the grace and strength to become my potential self.
When the priest places his hands on my head and declares God’s absolution, I am challenged to believe it, to accept the gift given. I usually go home feeling light, happy, hopeful. The difficulty comes when I wake up the next day: can I recall, will I live in, that joy of forgiveness or not?
The first days of Holy Week, after Christ’s Triumphal Entry, have few observances tied to them. Jesus seems to have come into Jerusalem on these days to teach in the Temple precincts, at times having confrontations with the religious leadership as everyone sensed things were working their way to a crisis.
For me, these days are a time to clear my mind and quietly to go about the mental and emotional work of re-committing to walking with Christ through the week. The little evening services on Monday and Tuesday serve to help this occur. By the time Holy Wednesday is reached, and (in our parish) the solemn and poignant liturgy of Tenebrae) is offered, I am ready to enter once again into the Paschal Mystery that stands at the heart of our faith—and to accept in greater measure what is given to me from the hands of a Lord who wants to offer me everything there is.