"Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord."
In the book Alcoholics Anonymous, published in 1939, the world of the average alcoholic was introduced to the concept of confession.
Why would I make such a statement, given that today it feels as though the rooms are filled with people declaring themselves to be 'Recovered Catholics"?
I make the statement because I believe it is true. Alcoholics Anonymous was founded by two stalwart WASPs (White Anglo Saxon Protestants) of the Old School variety. While neither one considered themselves a member of any organized religious denomination, both had been heavily influenced by the protestant thinking of their time. Both of them met through a loose association with a protestant based Christian movement brought over from England - The Oxford Groups. The Oxford Group was an attempt on the part of protestants to 'recover 1st century Christianity' without having to confront their own historical dilemma; that being the recognition that First Century Christianity would be found down the street on Sunday at any Catholic Mass.
Like most protestants of their day, the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous rejected the idea of Confession being a Sacrament, and so coming up with the concept of making a searching a fearless moral inventory and then sharing that inventory with another human being seemed revolutionary and amazing. The concept was not so, however, to the scores of early members of the fellowship who were Catholic.
What I find so sad today is how many of my fellow travelers in the room who were brought up in the Faith - even loosely - cannot see how much they would benefit from this Sacrament. I know a lot of it is due to fear - fear that they would need to sit and look a priest in the eye and tell him the truth about themselves and their behavior - but I also think a lot of it is due to poor catechesis.
There is the lie that confession to a priest is somehow bypassing Jesus Christ - a lie perpetrated by those who either do not understand their Faith or were taught falsehoods about Catholic Doctrine as a part of their own religious upbringing - that keeps so many alcoholics like me cut off from the greatest of Jesus' Gifts; the gift of Sacramental Grace. This grace, freely offered and available to all members of His Church, is what has made it possible for me to not have to drink since May 4, 1992. I have not had to drink no matter how I felt or what I did. I have not had to drink despite my own foolish behavior and bad choices. I have not had to drink in the face of loss and gain, triumph and failure. No matter what has happened or not happened in the day-to-day trials I have experience, this alcoholic has stayed sober.
When I returned to the Church at two years of sobriety, I went to confession. All the stuff I had shared with my sponsor about my past I brought into the confessional. To be honest, I made an appointment so as not to spring all of this on some poor unsuspecting priest. I had been away for a long time. I had made some horrible choices to end my pregnancies, to be sexually promiscuous, to steal and lie and gossip and otherwise treat myself and others without any regard for our inherent human dignity. I had forgotten my purpose - to know God, to love God, to worship God so as to spend eternity with Him in Heaven - and thus I had forgotten to be a fully human woman. My sponsor had heard all my story, but now it was time to share it without reservation with Christ's representative on earth.
This is where I think so many of us are missing the boat; we are so concerned with the idea of 'confessing to a priest instead of Jesus' that we forget (or were never taught) that it is NOT the priest that is hearing us and it is NOT the priest that is forgiving us - it is Jesus doing BOTH through the instrument HE established - His Church!
"Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed."
I don't blame people for being afraid. I have been ruined again and again by hundreds of forms of fear. I do feel sorry for those who have walk away from Jesus in The Sacraments. If I could give them anything it would be the gift of understanding - the understanding that they are depriving themselves of something more precious than gold, more precious than the love of a spouse or a child, more precious than existence.
Today I understand that great gift and why I need it.