Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Of Golf Instruction and the Confessional

Halfway through the women's golf clinic, the pro called on one attendee at at time to walk with her from the driving range to the small building where we would get personalized instruction. Anxious for my turn, I looked around me and saw fear on the faces of those about to enter the land of individualized instruction. I had this expression before. Each woman approached the mystical, magical shed replete with its sophisticated technology suited for one's golf swing with trepidation. It was all too familiar. It was precisely the same look as those who approach what some consider a "torture chamber;" it was the look that many men, women and children take to the Sacrament of Confession.
I would so love to go to this...

In "A Big Heart Open to God," Pope Francis said,
In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing. 
“This is also the great benefit of confession as a sacrament: evaluating case by case and discerning what is the best thing to do for a person who seeks God and grace. The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better. 
What an honor it must be to have the Holy Father listening
one's confession
I agree. For many, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is scary and unwelcome. But it's also important to recognize and name we are all in need of God's healing. We can all do better—I'll take whatever motivation I can get. And motivation by way of mercy? God's grace? Sounds beautifully holistic to me. And I don't mean to diminish the beauty and significance of the sacrament by comparing it to a golf clinic. But, it helps to start with what is familiar so we can grow more comfortable with what might be unfamiliar to many Catholics.  

Nothing magnifies the notion that we can all do better than the sport of golf. Careful evaluation of one's swing by a professional is necessary for improvement. Golf asks me not to be so hard on myself; I do better when I relax, take a deep breath and let go. I think human life isn't that much different.

As a teacher, I accompany my own students to confession once a year. During Holy Week, we spend an entire class period in the chapel for a reconciliation service. It includes an examination of conscience, time for journaling, a mediation on forgiveness and students are invited to partake of the sacrament. 

Its humbling for me to witness this grace—from start to finish. It's also important to note, that it's not easy for students to stand up and avail themselves to the priest in front of their peers. They approach the Confessional with that (same) trepidation. Everyone is watching; everyone is looking to see who will go where. And yet everyone emerges with the same expression, the same sense of peace, the same sort of quiet after the storm, the same sense of there is work to be done—but in this moment—all is okay.

I saw that similar relief as every woman returned to the golf range. They were ready, willing and able to give it another go. A task was given, a wrong may have been righted and each was called to swing anew.

And the similarities don't start and stop at the entry and exit. For example, one tactic that helped this crew of newer golfers was the reminder from Jess, the pro, to secure contact with the ball with G.A.S.P. in mind. Four fundamentals for the golf swing include:
G = grip
A = alignment
S = stance
P = posture
Golfers already have enough to think about, but framed in this way, we could proceed with the "Full Swing Clinic" with a better sense of direction. She demonstrated how to execute each one properly.

I like golf because we can learn and seek improvement at every age.
At a reconciliation service on our faculty retreat this week, the presider informed us of the three B's for a good confession.
1. Be Brief
2. Be Bold
3. Be Gone

These were welcome words to many. It's hard enough to get many to participate in the sacrament in front of our own adult peers, but invitation to brevity made it that much more manageable for many.

This year, I hope to get to Confession more than twice a year—Lent and Advent. I am in need of God's mercy, forgiveness and grace. It is the primary path to becoming more loving, holy and fully human. I don't know how any of those attributes will lower my golf handicap, but I also know I need to get lessons and personalized instruction time and again. The bad habits I develop affect my score, my lower back and how much I enjoy the round. I suppose in that way, life isn't all that much different.  

Here's to what is to be learned from the confessional and the course. Cheers.

Photo Credits
Pope Francis at Confession

Women's Golf Clinic
Young and Old

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