So I went to one of the most beautiful churches in St. Louis, St. Francis de Sales, home of the Institute of Christ the King, whose priests offer Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Confession is offered throughout the day on Sunday, from 7:30 am to 11:30 am, even while Mass is being celebrated - more or less.
Being a good Catholic, I showed up just in the nick of time for the 10:00 am Mass. (That's what Good Catholics do. Really Good Catholics show up late). There are two confessionals in this massive church, on either side of the nave, and I picked the one on the right. But the priest darted out of the confessional as the procession passed us, and the line for confession quickly disbanded. "He'll come back after the homily," a young penitent informed me.
So I picked a pew while the organ played and the invisible choir sang (from the loft) and the church was filled with splendor. But after a while I noticed that the line for the confessional on the left was still in tact. Figuring that the priest on the left must still be hearing confessions, I made my way to that line.
But the line never moved. I was third in line and three or four others were behind me. Finally I asked the guy in front of me if there was a priest in the confessional. "I have no idea," he replied.
Then, after the homily, a bunch of the folks from our line - in fact everyone who was behind us - moved over to the confessional on the right and cued up. A priest was busy over there hearing confessions! Suddenly there were about 15 or 25 people in that line, while the three of us who had been in front on the left were stranded.
I turned to the two sinners ahead of me. "The last will be first, and the first last! You've heard that!" I exclaimed, assuming they were familiar with the words of Our Lord from Mat. 20:16 and elsewhere, and we made our way to the end of the line on the right - going from first on the left to last on the right.
I made it over there before the guys who had been ahead of me did. So when they got there, I let them move in front of me. At first they demurred, but I insisted.
And it occurred to me.
If you can't be kind to your fellow sinners in line at the confessional, you're not doing it right. And we're all in that same boat. We're all in line, existentially speaking. We're all steeped in sin, eager for forgiveness. We're all devoted to death and darkness and hungry for life and light. And the line sometimes shifts and falters, and sometimes the last will be first and the first last, and that's a great joke, a divine comedy. Be nice to those in line. That's got to be the bare minimum for Christian behavior. Be nice to those in line. Yes, I hate the "Church of the Nice" too, but the gentle self-sacrifices of everyday courtesy are central to the Christian Spirit.
Mass was followed by the Corpus Christi procession around the church, through the streets of old South St. Louis.