The power of confession

  • Written by Kevin Birnbaum
  • Published in NW Stories
Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh hears a young woman's confession Photo: CNS/Leslie Kossoff Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh hears a young woman's confession Photo: CNS/Leslie Kossoff

Three personal stories of the sacrament of penance and reconciliation

‘You’re not the same person’

Linda KrugerUntil her daughter’s baptism in September of 2008, Linda Kruger was just a twice-a-year Massgoer at Seattle’s Christ the King Parish. At the baptism, the pastor, Father Raymond Cleaveland, handed out a flyer for inquiry classes about the Catholic faith.

Kruger had received the sacraments of initiation as a Byzantine Catholic baby, but she didn’t know much about the faith. The class topics intrigued her, and she started attending. Early the next year, she went on a silent retreat led by Father Cleaveland at the Palisades retreat center in Federal Way.

“It was really the first time in my life I think I’ve really prayed in depth, and I loved it,” she said. “I was in prayer and study from Friday night to Sunday afternoon just about solid, and I just loved it.”

Kruger hadn’t been to the sacrament of reconciliation since high school, but when Father Cleaveland asked if she’d like to make a confession, she jumped at the chance.

For 20 years, she’d lived a very self-centered life, she said. She’d committed nearly every sin in the book, and “I had carried the burden for years — sorrow, regret, embarrassment.”

She confessed it all, and cried. “But it wasn’t a sorrowful cry,” she said. “It was relief and joy and purity and a second chance.”

When she got home from the retreat, Kruger didn’t know quite how to tell her husband that he now had a new wife.

“When you come out of the confessional, you’re not the same person that went in, because the burdens in the heart, the sorrow, the guilt are absolved,” she said. “And that is the greatest gift from the church: that a person can be purified or cleansed or relieved — made joyous.”

Drawn out of darkness

Cristofer Barajas

As a teenager, Cristofer Barajas was shy, and he tried to make up for it by imitating the “popular kids” at school. He rebelled against his strong Catholic parents and started “down the path into darkness,” he said.

“I kept getting deeper into that type of persona of like being a rapper/gangster,” he said. He was drinking, smoking marijuana, sneaking out late and skipping enough classes that he ended up not graduating high school on schedule. But when he saw his younger brother starting down the same path, he realized he had to change.

“Father Jay [Defolco, then-pastor of St. Michael Parish in Snohomish,] was the priest that was there with me when I was getting out of that dark stage in my life,” he said. “The sacrament of reconciliation helped me to take myself out of that darkness, heal me from all those bad things that I exposed myself to.”

Barajas finished high school and is now a senior at the University of Washington-Bothell, majoring in business. He goes to confession every week or two.

“Once I go to confession, I feel like I’m free to choose,” he said. “There’s that choice I have, to choose God or to continue on the path I was on before, where if I didn’t have that sacrament, I know that I wouldn’t have that choice. I still would be chained down to those vices.”

‘Weight gone from my shoulders’

Linda Steinberg

It was Good Friday 2009, and Linda Steinberg was just one day away from realizing a dream of more than 50 years. She’d wanted to become a Catholic since she was 8, and at the Easter Vigil she would finally receive the sacraments of confirmation and first Communion.

“It was a long journey,” she said, one that involved obtaining annulments for her and her husband. The final step was to meet with her pastor, Father Derek Lappe of Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Bremerton, for a first confession covering decades.

She wasn’t especially apprehensive — she knew Father Lappe well enough not to be intimidated by him — but she didn’t know exactly what to expect as she sat down across from him in the reconciliation room.

As she recounted her sins, she began to weep. Father Lappe just listened, asking only a few questions. “He was so understanding and nonjudgmental … and it was very easy for me to open up,” Steinberg said. “He was compassionate — there was no tsking or head-shaking.”

After receiving absolution, she said, she felt “drained … but very uplifted.”

“I remember going to the car and just sobbing,” she said — tears of gratitude for “the healing feeling, the relief, the weight gone from my shoulders.”

Since that first face-to-face confession five years ago, Steinberg has always opted for the anonymity of the confessional. But two things remain the same: “I always cry and always come away feeling healed.”

Read and watch another couple's story about the power of confession in their life in this April 2014 Northwest Catholic magazine story.