There are some things that are uniquely Catholic. Going to confession is one of these. This sacramental gift that Jesus gave to his apostles on his first appearance after his resurrection, bonds us with our Catholic family. We share in the amazing grace and sometimes, things happen that only a Catholic can understand.
Celia Sattler often takes advantage of the confession offered prior to daily Mass. On one occasion, by the time it was her turn, Father Thomas Richter, a newly ordained priest, apologized saying he had run out of time to hear her confession but would be glad to do so after the service. After Mass, Celia waited in the pews until she saw the green light over the confessional door, signaling that Fr. Tom had returned. It was a Friday, the usual day for church cleaning, so during confession the sounds of a vacuum cleaner reverberated through the door.
After her confession, Celia thanked Father and went to leave but found the door locked. Trying again in vain, she announced she could not get out. Apparently the janitor had locked the door, not realizing they were inside. Because of all the noise from the vacuum, neither Celia or Fr. Tom had heard it lock.
“Well, turn the handle,” Fr. Tom said.
“I am trying to,” Celia answered. “It won’t turn.”
Fr. Tom came over from the other side of the screen to try the door himself. After failing to pry it to open, Celia saw a look of panic cross his face. He placed his hands and forehead against the door and prayed aloud, “Dear God, please help us!”
Fortunately, after a few shouts and loud banging on the door from Fr. Tom, a janitor soon came with the key. With a grin he asked, “What’s the matter Father? Did you get locked in with this lady?”
Celia quickly slipped away but always thought she detected a sly grin from Fr. Tom thereafter. She actually had never told he story until she heard I was writing Amazing Grace for the Catholic Heart, a book with both humor and inspiration.
“Oh, I have one for you,” she reported. Before using it however, she wanted me to check with Fr. Tom and make sure he didn’t mind.
|Msgr. Thomas Richter|
Fr. Tom laughed when he recalled the story. “That was Celia?” Celia had made her confession behind a screen. It's an option to face him or go behind the screen, but I had assumed he knew her identity once he came over on her side. In actuality, Fr. Tom had still managed to maintain her privacy in spite of the awkward situation they found themselves in. He backed out of his chair and looked down at his shoes while he yelled for help and pounded on the door. Fr. Tom initially told her to bang on the door and call for help herself so as not to intrude on her anonymity.
But then suddenly, he shot out of his chair in a panic and yelled, “No wait! I’ll do it!” Being his first day on the job, it occurred to him that it would not make a good first impression in his new parish to have a lady’s voice screaming from within his confessional: “Help someone! Let me out!”
Fr. Tom said he much preferred being greeted by the janitor’s grin and comments than inciting the imaginations of the people still in church.
For more uplifting reading: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories From Everyday Families a collection of stories on love and life, and Dear God, I Don't Get It, children's fiction that presents faith through a fun and exciting story.