Confession: my burden lifted forever

Fulton Sheen is reputed to have said, “Hearing nuns’ confessions is like being stoned to death with popcorn.” I can’t remember where I read it or why it stuck in my mind, but the words came back to me as I waited in line to make my first confession in more than 20 years.

It had taken several days to gear myself up for Confession, but when I arrived at the National Shrine in Walsingham a coachload of nuns had just disembarked and got to the confessionals ahead of me. I was at the back of a very long queue, and the nuns were taking their time.

“What can nuns possibly have to confess?” I thought testily, before telling myself off for ignorance and impatience. I silently recalled Sheen’s words. After all that nun popcorn, the priest wouldn’t know what had hit him when I walked in with my confession.

I was on holiday in the area. Walsingham was a place my mum used to take me to as a child and we used to have frequent family holidays on the north Norfolk coast. I’d always loved the shrine at Walsingham; its silence and simplicity. So when I found myself alone in the area for a week, it seemed the obvious place to go.

At the time I was being slowly drawn back to the Catholic Church after years of estrangement during my teens and twenties. I’d started praying and saying the rosary again, and skulked at the back of the church during Mass, reminding myself of the liturgy and what to do. The last step before receiving Communion again was Confession. And boy, was it going to be a big one.

It felt as if I had fallen so far. I knew objectively that God’s mercy was assured, waiting for me if only I reached out and asked for forgiveness. But really feeling it – feeling myself truly forgiven – was something I could scarcely believe possible. My sins were just too big. How could He possibly forgive what I was about to confess?

I had killed someone. Worse, in fact. I had killed the most vulnerable someone it was possible to kill: my own baby, at eight weeks gestation. And in the years following that abortion, I’d gone off the rails and totally lost my way. The sin just spiralled until I was in such a dark place there seemed no way back. Continue reading

  • Laura Keynes is a freelance writer based in Cambridge.

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