Dispensing Hugs

Hugs are the universal medicine. ~Author Unknown

Something completely unexpected happened this weekend after I finished Confession.

(Now, for those who aren’t aware, “Confession” is more properly known as the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and Catholics are required to participate once a year — more often is generally preferred.)

Anyway, this elderly priest was substituting for our regular one, and I’d never talked one-on-one with him before. After giving me absolution, he said he had one more thing to ask of me.

“Stand up,” he said.

I did, feeling puzzled.

Then he stretched wide his arms and asked me for a hug.

A hug? In this day of clergy abuse?

You’re kidding, right?

No, he was not. He was dead serious.

And what could I do but comply?

It was a quick hug, nothing intimate about it, but I was stunned at the conflicting feelings I had as I took my seat back in church.

When I was a kid, our elderly parish priest used to walk among us as we played outside during recess at school, and he dispensed hugs to one and all. We saw him as a kindly grandfather, giving money to kids who couldn’t afford lunch or had forgotten their cash.

Nobody thought anything bad about the hugs. If truth were known, his hug might have been the only hug some kids received all day.

But now, because of so much scandal in the clergy (both Catholic and Protestant), we hold our religious leaders at arm’s length. We put them on a pedestal and expect them to stay there. We refuse to let our kids be alone with them, and some stop attending church at all.

Sad commentary, isn’t it, when all of us — being human — need the kind touch of others?

[E]very day you should reach out and touch someone.  People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back.  ~Maya Angelou

31 thoughts on “Dispensing Hugs

  1. It’s an interesting situation, and a sad conflict. On the other hand, I remember when the custom called “passing the peace” was introduced in Lutheran congregations. The point was to turn to someone near you in the pew, and exchange a handshake or hug along with the words, “Peace be with you — and also with you.” A lot of people were perplexed, and some were more than a little resistant. I knew a few who would stand with arms crossed, daring anyone to make a move.

    So, yes. One issue is the abuse that’s occurred, but another issue is congregations’ ideas about what is and isn’t appropriate in worship. In most congregations around here, that seond issue’s address with multiple worship services: some more traditional, and some much more informal. It helps.

    • Lutherans give and receive the sign of peace, too? I hadn’t realized that, Linda. I, too, can remember when we initiated that, and you’d have thought the world was ending! Nobody wanted to *touch* somebody else, especially right before receiving Communion! In fact, some priests arbitrarily decided to skip over that section, particularly during cold and flu season. Whatever. I guess you can’t please all the people all the time, but you’re right — different types of services, different times, different kinds of music are designed to round up as many lax worshipers as possible. Wonder if they’re succeeding??

  2. Church is such an interesting place. I love going vicariously. Thanks for taking me along. Did this priest need a hug or did he feel you needed one? Or was it more about closure. He was very brave in this day in age where people don’t even want to shake hands at Church (I know this from another church goer, I feel like I almost go to Church…I hope God feels that way to!).
    I like spontaneous hugs that come from a natural expression of affection–ideally from someone I know. I always appreciated that the teachers at Cole school remained affectionate with the kids even in this day and age. I felt like it added to the education.
    The only thing that is worrisome about the priestly hug, maybe, is that you didn’t feel you could say no. And I agree saying no would have been awkward, at best! You were put on the spot to offer a hug. Does he ask everyone for a hug after confession? I have to admit if my child came home with that story I would be concerned and I am usually very good at offering the benefit of the doubt.

    • You know, Kb, I wondered about that, too, whether he was the one needing a hug or whether he thought I did. Guess I’ll never know!

      Spontaneous hugs, from those I know, are wonderful. It’s more awkward when it’s a stranger. Maybe closure was the aim, I hadn’t thought of that (especially since I’ve never known of any priest offering that sort of closure after Confession!). Maybe I just looked cuddly, ha!

      Cole is blessed to have attended a school where the teachers were affectionate. When Domer was little, so many of his teachers wanted to be affectionate but were afraid to — and I just felt so sorry for the crying kid who had to cry alone. The world must have seemed a cold and empty place to some of those kids.

      I can only give this priest the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think he had any evil intentions. I know I didn’t!! Thanks for your thoughts.

    • You know, Barb, I hadn’t discussed anything particularly unsettling with him, but perhaps he spontaneously felt a hug would say more than mere words. I just don’t know. I’ve never heard of such a thing before, and I’ve been Catholic all my life. And talking with others, no one’s ever said anything about a priest hugging them after Confession. ‘Tis a puzzle, I guess!

  3. Seems odd to me, but then the only church I ever attended was a guid Scots Protestant one, where they were too busy indoctrinating us with the fear of eternal damnation to get around to saying ‘good morning!’ much less giving us a hug…

    Mind you, the minister who visited our school regularly (a different one from the cheery chap who made our Sundays so joyless) was always interested in the kids and spent loads of time talking to us – absolutely never inappropriately, I must add! Don’t remember him hugging us either though.

    • Sometimes I wonder if we too often ignore the eternal damnation aspect of preaching, FF. Seems that maybe once a year, perhaps at Lent, priests should really scare the whosis out of their congregation, just for good measure, you know!!

  4. Hmm, Debbie, not having any experience of Catholic confession, I don’t know what to think!!! In Sicily, where people are very physically demonstrative, usually they ask “Can I hug you?” if they don’t know you well…. xxxxx

    • Jann, my mom comes from a big Sicilian family, and they’re huggers! Growing up with that, I kind of got used to the demonstrativeness (though the reserved English/Irish side often protested!). But being hugged by a stranger seems,,,strange!!

  5. Debbie, what in interesting topic. Like you, I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic school. However back then, (at least where I attended school and church) both priests and nuns were much more reserved and hesitant about touching/hugging. In fact, they were reserved about expressing any form of overly-outward emotion. I remember them as being much more constrained. It’s as if they held off at arm’s length. And to be honest, that’s one of the reasons why I didn’t enjoy going to Catholic school, because the priests and nuns seemed very distant and segregated from the rest of the word. They didn’t seem human.

    However, today, it’s much different. Nuns and priests are more mainstream, and open and relaxed about blending with the rest of the world and being more human – expressing emotions and hugging. And personally, I really like that.

    Yes, there does seem to be a lot of scandal in the clergy; especially in passing years, which I think makes it tough on priests (like the one you encountered) who I’m sure was just being his human himself – a natural-born hugger.

    Have a faaaabulous week, my friend!


    • Ron, I had to chuckle at your comment about the priests and nuns being other-worldly! They did seem like that, didn’t they? I wonder how much of it was because kids tend to view all adults as more than human? You’re right, though, that it’s easier when religious are able to come down off that pedestal and show some humanness. I think Pope Francis exemplifies that so well.

      I’m glad you saw this priest not as a creeper but as just a loving human being. I suspect you’re right. Perhaps he was the one needing the hug?? Regardless, hugs don’t cost anything and, as the saying goes, Hugs are a handshake from the heart.

      Thanks for stopping by, and enjoy the rest of your week! xoxo

  6. That is an interesting event. It is sad that the world has become such that those kinds of thoughts go through our minds, but really, you begin to wonder who you can possibly trust. I probably would’ve felt awkward… I keep my personal space with strangers.

    • Janna, like you, I prefer keeping my personal space with strangers. I’m just NOT the kind of person who goes around hugging strangers! And it was most awkward, being put on the spot like that. If the situation had happened to Domer instead of me, I’d have been tempted to read that priest the riot act, ha!

    • Well, Lucy, the poor old dear probably just needed the human touch. Don’t worry, I was standing between him and the door, and I was pretty sure I could outrun him!!

    • Aw, gee, thanks, Monica. It’s nice that some of us in this often-wicked world still see the good in mankind! As time has passed, I still feel a bit uncomfortable over the whole thing, but I think his intentions were pure (at least, I like to think that, haha!!)

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