The Confessional: A Treasure Unlocked
Steven cautiously opened the door of the church. It was obvious he hadn’t been there for some time, because he scanned the area for a half a minute before spotting the door with “Confessional” over it and walking slowly toward the wooden door. To his surprise, it wouldn’t open. Looking more closely, he saw four key holes above the brass door knob. Geez, he thought, Someone really locked this thing well. What is there of value in a confessional anyways? He looked at his phone. It read 5:35 pm. Weird…I thought confessions started at 5:30, Steven sighed, slightly agitated.
“Can’t open it?” came a voice from behind. Steven whipped around to see a man sitting on the bench across from the confessional. Steven wouldn’t have been so startled if the man hadn’t been wearing a full black robe with a hood that shielded his face from the light.
“Are you the priest?” Steven asked hesitantly.
“I suppose so,” came the gentle and good-natured reply.
“So, are you going to unlock the door?”
“I don’t have the keys, you do.”
“I do?!?” Steven sputtered. “Look, I just got here, I haven’t been here for a long time, and I just want to go to confession and head out to dinner.”
“Just check your back pocket,” the man replied insistently.
Rolling his eyes, Steven reached into his pocket. “I’m telling you, man, you’re cra-” Steven stopped short as his hand grasped a fistful of keys in his pocket and slowly pulled them out. “I promise I didn’t steal them,” Steven gasped, eyes wide with surprise.
“I know, just go ahead and put them in.”
“Ummm,” came the mumbled response, as Steven looked at the locks. “I don’t know which one goes where…wait, I suppose I have the instructions in my shoe or something, right?” Steven shot back, rolling his eyes. Instead of being offended, the man simply shrugged. In disbelief, Steven looked down to see a small scroll of paper at his feet. He unrolled it and read, “One key to expose that which is hidden, and one to bow and then rise again. One key to boldly state one’s fault, and one to see the wounds of sin.” Glancing back at the keys in his hand, Steven saw that each of them had an inscription: Humility, Courage, Sincerity, and Simplicity. Steven then turned to the mysterious priest, which he had mentally dubbed “The Monk,” and told him with exasperation, “I don’t know which is which!”
“Would you like me to help you?” The Monk responded gently. For a moment Steven fought the urge to yell “No!” and throw the keys in the man’s face and leave. But something told him he should stay. So Steven took a deep breath, “Yes.”
“Alright,” the Monk began, “All of the keys are virtues we need to truly enter the confessional and confess our sins. The first key is the virtue which pushes us to expose what has been hidden. To come to Confession without this key is, in a certain way, like a doctor trying to heal a person who is too afraid to say which bone he broke. We have to overcome our fear of vulnerability, and we have to reveal our wounds so that Christ, through the priest, can heal them.”
“Overcoming fear of vulnerability takes…courage?” Steven mumbled halfheartedly.
The Monk nodded in affirmation, the bottom half of his face catching the light so that Steven could see a benevolent smile beneath a slightly ruffled beard. Steven turned to place the key of Courage in the first keyhole. “Now,” the Monk continued, “One to bow and then rise again. With this key we see the wrongness of our actions, which should lead us to a healthy sense of shame, and not a twisted pride and boasting spirit. We see our smallness and failings before the perfect God, and we lower ourselves so that He may lift us up in love and forgiveness. So this key is…”
“Humility,” Steven finished the Monk’s sentence, putting the second key in the next slot. “Can I look at the other two descriptions?” Steven asked thoughtfully.
As the Monk handed Steven the paper, Steven caught sight of a large scar on the monk’s wrist. Startled, Steven quickly averted his eyes and mumbled the third line of the riddle, “One key to boldly state one’s fault.” He automatically looked up to wait for the Monk’s explanation.
“This key involves the acceptance of oneself as the perpetrator. In saying your confession there are not ‘ifs’ or ‘buts.’ Don’t take or take away, just state the simple facts of the sins. You are not a victim of circumstances. And remember, you’re confessing YOUR sins, not someone else’s.”
“Simplicity,” Steven responded, more slowly and seriously this time.
By now Steven’s mind was racing. What am I doing here? Why am I really here? I didn’t come to confess my sins courageously, humbly, simply…Steven quickly shut out the ominous thought and turned to the monk. “And what is sincerity?” Steven said, in almost a whisper.
“Sincerity,” the Monk said, coming to stand next to Steven, “is to ask yourself precisely the question you were just thinking about: ‘Why am I here? To make my parents happy? To look holy? Or am I truly here to be forgiven?’ Most importantly sincerity means coming to Confession because you know you haven’t just broken a law, you’ve broken a heart. You see that your sins wound the heart of God, and add to his suffering,” the Monk finished, pointing to the life-size crucifix above the altar.
Steven felt as if he had been punched in the stomach. He sat back down on the bench with his head in his hands, still holding the last key. All at once Steven saw his sins in a new light. In that moment something happened in his heart. His soul now understood the need to confess his sins courageously, humbly, simply, and sincerely because he wished to reconcile with the God whose heart he had wounded by his sin.
“Ready?” the Monk said.
“Yes, for real this time,” Steven replied solemnly. When he looked up, he was overcome with awe. “The Monk” wasn’t a monk at all. Instead there stood a man with a white robe, a crown of thorns, and wounds in his hands, feet, and side. Looking into his piercing yet merciful eyes, the last of Steven’s hesitancy melted away. “The priest is really just Jesus in disguise,” Steven suddenly realized for the first time in his life. Jesus motioned toward the door. As Steven placed the last key, it clicked into place and the door swung open. Steven quickly stepped inside, now almost anxious to begin. As he knelt down and made the sign of the cross, the four keys remained impressed on his mind and heart: Humility, Courage, Sincerity, Simplicity. Steven knew that he had just gained four precious tools that would change his confessions, and his life, forever.
As Steven left the church some time later, the riddle of instructions ran through his head once more: “One key to expose that which is hidden, and one to bow and then rise again. One key to boldly state one’s fault, and one to see the wounds of sin.”
Turning to see the sunset, reflecting off a stained glass window of the prodigal son, Steven thoughtfully added another rhyme: Four keys to unlock a treasure chest, where one is cleansed like morning dew. Arise, behold, you’ve been forgiven; the God of mercy makes all things new.
By Ashley Osmera