Thursday, February 10, 2011

Confession for the iPhone: That App is Whack

Have you heard about this? A couple priests and lay people got together and created an app for making your confessions.  It's getting a lot of press right now -- in fact, Maureen Dowd covered it today in the New York Times.

Now, let me say, about 7 times out of 10 when I hear confessions, people don't know what to do.  That is, yes, they know they're going to talk about some things weighing on them, but that's it. How to start, and especially the act of contrition -- they just don't have it.

And so, in theory, the idea of something that reassures them and helps them along, is not a bad idea. Sometimes I walk people through the basic steps before we get started, if I have the sense they're uncertain. In many places today you'll also find a little copy of the act of contrition in the confessional.

But this app goes far beyond that. It offers suggestions as to things you might think about related to each of the ten confessions. And based on your age or career, it offers different suggestions. So, under the 6th commandment, among other things married men are asked about masturbation; men and women are asked about whether they've been guilty of homosexuality. Priests, on the other hand, are asked about flirting. (I kid you not.)

That example alone should warn you as to what to can expect from this app. I'm sure it's well intentioned, but there really is some wacky in that appy.

But if I can just make a more constructive point... or claim... I would assert that for most of us, the best way to use confession is to bring the major things that are weighing on us and share those.  Because, let's be honest, as adults, when we're going to confession, usually we have a pretty good sense of what it is that we've done wrong. We don't needs lists; we need help. We need to be forgiven.

Not that's not to say we couldn't all use a little additional soul searching from time to time -- honestly, I think before they go to confession everyone should ask themselves, do my sins include anything that actually hurt another person? If they don't, 8 times out of 10, you better look again. You're probably missing something important, some area where you need grace and freedom. (And someone else is paying for it.)  And maybe for some people, the confession app will help in this regard.

But in general, a "let's go through the 10 commandments and figure out all the things I've done wrong" model imagines God like a prudish Santa -- he sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake; he's making a list and checking it twice. As if having a complete list of things I might have done wrong is more important than seeking forgiveness for the major things that are really weighing on you. Or even possible.

In the confessional, we do not have to "watch out"; we do not have to get it "right" or "complete". If anything it's the priest that needs to get it right - how many Catholics have I met that have been scared off confession by a bad experience!

We should just come with whatever we bring, whatever burdens us.  That's enough -- more than enough. And let God welcome us, forgive us and set us free.

I posted a little video on Vyou today about the app, as well. I've posted it below. There are also been some good articles online herehere and here.