Our priests are truly a gift from God. They have given their lives in service to Christ and His Church, working tirelessly to minister to their flock and bring us God’s grace through the sacraments. And sometimes in carrying out their vocation they can wind up in some very interesting situations.
Recently on St. Joseph’s Workshop, Fr. Matthew Spencer, OSJ shared a story of one of the strangest places he has ever heard someone’s Confession. He said:
“I was flying from Chicago to Phoenix, if I remember correctly. It was a quiet flight, or at least I was planning on it being a quiet flight, but when you wear a priest collar you can never be too sure what kind of conversations or encounters you might have.
In this case, I hadn’t even buckled up my seatbelt when a strong, tall gentleman, maybe in his 40s or 50s, sits down next to me and immediately starts chatting. He’s chatting about everything – about life, his parents, his family, the weather, airplane food.
And let me tell you this, it was him talking and me occasionally slipping in a few uh-huh’s or some chuckles and laughs at what he’s saying. I’m sitting here and he’s just chatting a mile a minute. And I’m happy that he’s OK with it, because I’m happy to just be quiet. I’m OK to just hear him out and listen to him.
I learned he was a cop in Chicago, and boy did he have some stories to share – about the streets, about rough times, about difficult situations. But also about his Catholic upbringing.
It seemed he was surprised to learn that I was a Catholic priest, like he hadn’t noticed the collar. He said, ‘So you’re a priest? Actually a Catholic priest? I was raised Catholic, and it’s been a long time, Father, since I’ve been to church. It’s been a long time since I’ve received Communion or been to Confession.’
He starts sharing more personal things. And I’m sharing with him a little bit about my own vocation, when it comes around that he wants to go to Confession.
This is the strange part, it immediately goes from this realization that I’m a priest to the realization that he could go to Confession right now. I told him that we were on a plane, so he could but there was no privacy. He responds, ‘Oh, I don’t know anybody on the plane! I don’t care if they hear my sins!’
Normally there’s that privacy that comes with Confession, but he was insistent. He said that as long as it still worked up at 30,000 feet, he’d like to go to Confession. I was racking my brain thinking – what does canon law say about this? What about the Seal of Confession? What about the privacy that we normally safeguard?
And then I realize that, of course, I’m not allowed to reveal any of his sins; but if he’s sitting there and he wants to go to Confession, he wants to reconcile his life to the Lord, I’ll encourage him to just be as quiet as possible. I was wondering if he was going to be open and honest, if he would worry about what other people think, but it became very clear he was not concerned with what other people think.
And I can tell you (because this happened outside of Confession) that here is a guy who is contrite. Here is a gentleman who knows that he needs God’s grace, even though he had been away from it for a while. And here’s a person resolutely saying, ‘It’s time for me to come back to the Lord. It’s time for me to reconcile my life to God.’
He probably was not going to darken the door of a church out there, to stop in to go to Confession. But I told him before he began that if he does go to Confession he’s going to have to change some of these things he’s been telling me about. He’ll have to start going back to Mass on Sundays and making that a priority.
And he was on board! He was ready. The Holy Spirit worked in his life and he was ready for this amazing conversion experience. It was a beautiful experience that I still think about today, because it reminds me that God works at any point in our life. God is working at every moment in your life. God is present, and active, and desiring your participation.
I’ve been thinking about this gentleman more often in the last few months. I would love to know where he’s at, if he’s going to Mass, if he’s studying Scripture, if he’s praying the Rosary daily, as I was encouraging him to do. I don’t know.
But I do know that God is challenging you to the same response. He’s challenging you to ask, ‘Am I ready to up my game? Am I ready to say yes in a new and powerful way to the Lord working in my life?’ I hope it’s a resounding yes. Or maybe it’s a yes with a little bit of trepidation, but that’s OK. As long as you say yes and you ask the Lord to help you to go with His will and follow what He wants.”
Listen to the story below:
St. Joseph’s Workshop with Fr. Matthew Spencer airs weekdays at 7:00 p.m. Eastern/4:00 p.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio®