In April of 1534, Sir Thomas More refused to take the oath of supremacy, as required by the Act of Succession, which was passed by Parliament a month earlier. The Act of Succession followed King Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and his subsequent marriage to Queen Anne Boleyn. The act essentially disinherited Henry’s daughter by Catherine (later Queen Mary I) and named his daughter with Queen Anne (later Elizabeth I) as his heir apparent. The act also required all subjects to swear an oath recognizing the king as the supreme head of the Church of England. King Henry decreed this in 1531 after Pope Clement VII refused to annul his marriage to Catherine.
I would arrive at the Office of Campus Ministry around 4 p.m. every Thursday, barring finals week. Despite the formal title, the office is actually a beautiful Victorian home right at the edge of the campus of Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic. The house is Gothic revival in style, but with a welcoming color palate of earth tones and an inviting wrap-around veranda. College students, including one of my best buddies, could rent apartments on the top two floors of the lovely house. The first floor is home to the director of campus ministry, a wonderful library of religious and secular classics, a kitchen and dining and sitting areas.
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. While it technically has been more than a year since my last confession, in violation of Code of Canon Law (Codex Iuris Canonici, hereinafter CIC) § 989, there are a number of mitigating factors related to this delay, which will be detailed in a separate confession at a mutually convenient time and date. What is to follow is a non-exhaustive list of mortal and venial sins that I may have committed since my last confession. As a significant period of time has passed since my last confession, this list is offered in the spirit of reconciliation and as a representation of the character and nature of some of my recollected sins within the applicable timeframe aforementioned. Moreover, nothing contained in the list to follow is intended to be an admission of guilt, except for the sole and limited purpose of admitting guilt as the “penitent” seeking “salvific remedy,” as referenced in CIC § 987. Moreover, by accepting this confession, you are hereby agreeing and acknowledging that you are a legitimately approved confessor, per CIC § 991, and are acting in good faith and in the spirit of fair dealing throughout the course of this confession.
Confession is hard for everyone, but it can be really hard for a criminal defense lawyer. My natural inclination, perhaps like yours, is to minimize, rationalize and explain “bad” behavior. After three years of learning to “think like a lawyer” in law school and years of practicing law in downtown Hartford, it is simply how I’m wired. I will tell my client privately, where circumstances merit, that they need to use their arrest and prosecution to internalize and address some underlying issue they’re experiencing. They need to take ownership of their own frailties and failings to find a way to a better tomorrow and, in the process, a favorable resolution of their court case. At the same time, I am at work justifying their conduct, developing a seemingly reasonable explanation for it and minimizing their responsibility for it as much possible, in light of his or her life circumstances.
It’s hard to shut off that part of myself when it is time to call in my own chickens to roost, so to say. It is hard to not seek to defend myself. It’s hard to not rationalize and explain my own failings, spiritual and otherwise. It’s hard to make a good and sincere examination of my own conscience, and to humbly, sincerely and contritely bring my failings and misdeeds to my confessor. Often, in preparing for confession, I find myself doing a (less exaggerated) form of the legalese nonsense in the sidebar at left. My mind races to find a way to say as little as possible without sacrificing the meaning, so that I can squeak through with a technically sufficient and encompassing report to my priest. I seek to make it as impersonal, removed and bland as possible.
However, as we all know and feel, these justifications and avoidance tactics miss the point of actual repentance. The practice of confession, the penitential rite, comes from Jesus’ teaching to his apostles on the evening of Easter. “Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.’” (Jn 20:21-23) Like the apostles of old, their spiritual descendants, the priests, of this and every diocese, are not mind readers. They must be told what you wish to confess before God and for what you seek forgiveness.
There are many ways to examine your conscience and discern what to confess. My preference is not to think of every conceivable way I may have broken God’s rules, to the most excruciatingly small and immaterial detail. That method is more prone to the self-rationalization process. Instead, I ask myself a much broader question: God has given me a purpose through my vocations (husband, father, lawyer, new evangelist) and directs me go out into the world, each day, to play my part in the unfolding drama of the world. At the same time, God asks that I love him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and love my neighbor as myself. (Mk 12:30-31) How am I doing? How can I do better?
Cody Guarnieri is a criminal defense lawyer with a Hartford law firm and is a member of St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish in Hartford.
I remember the first time I saw her. I was a 15-year-old high school sophomore. She was a junior, but I didn’t know that at the time. We apparently had grown up on opposite sides of the same city. I was in the audience and she was on stage that early fall afternoon. I don’t remember getting to the theater, why I was there or where I was going afterward. All I remember is being absolutely captivated by her.
I spend a lot of time loitering in the halls and pathways of the criminal courts in Connecticut. When I say “a lot of time,” I mean hours each week. I usually have other work with me, trade magazines to skim (I’m that type of lawyer) or, quite often, some phone calls and emails to return. I don’t stand out as an attorney when I’m sitting around those hallways. Sure, I have a suit on, but so do many conscientious criminal defendants in different courthouses for different reasons. I am admittedly on the younger side of the bar and do have a healthy beard and mustache for most of the year. So most other people in the area just ignore me and carry on conversations or other activities around me.