“It wasn’t easy to go to confession that day. I was twenty-two years old, and despite the fact that time has passed since then, I still remember it well.
I was at the Shrine of Loreto. I was drawing near to this sacrament, prepared to receive a scolding and to be humiliated; I would never have thought that I could instead receive a precious gift.
I felt alone, as if I had to appear before a judge.
And yet, as soon as I knelt down, the friar who was waiting for me in the confessional, perhaps sensing my discomfort, placed his hand on mine and didn’t let go for the whole time of the confession.
That gesture helped me to feel closeness and understanding, and it encouraged me to open up. I felt as if the sins I was confessing lost their power over my heart, and in place of sadness, I experienced joy and liberation.
Remembering that step in my spiritual journey, I think back to the hand of that elderly friar, resting on mine, capable of transmitting the tenderness of Jesus who wanted to encounter me, right there in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
A glimmer of light had been shed in my heart and I sensed the desire to live a life that wasn’t turned in on itself. I felt that I should be grateful for my existence, for the future ahead of me, and for the people with whom I shared the journey of life.
The strength of the forgiveness I received was that of feeling that Jesus trusted me and that he rejoiced in me.
Before leaving I remained to pray a bit in the Holy House of Loreto, inside the shrine. There I saw the elderly friar who had listened to my confession, kneeling in prayer. In his prayers I felt that it was Jesus who was praying unceasingly also for me.”…
… and also for those of you who are reading, and for me as I write.
Yes, Jesus prays for us. Unceasingly.
Thank you, Simone, for reminding us. Thank you, because we have often been taught that we have to pray to Jesus, that we have to ask him for good things, such as support, strength, healing, liberation. We are convinced that we just have to look for Him, at times with difficulty, to receive help, or a grace, or a blessing. It is true, yes, that we must look for Him, but there is a truth that comes before our search: Jesus prays for us.
Pope Francis highlighted the Gospel passage from “before the Passion, when Jesus turned to Peter with that warning which echoes the first chapter of the book of Job: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail”.
It “is lovely” to consider how the words which Jesus says to Peter are also said “to you, to me, and to everyone: ‘I prayed for you, I pray for you, I am now praying for you’”. And “when he comes upon the altar, he comes to intercede, to pray for us, just like on the Cross”. This “gives us great confidence: I belong to this community, which is steadfast because it has Jesus as its cornerstone, a Jesus who prays for me, who prays for us”. (from a homily on Oct. 28, 2016).
I think about my day, and how different it would be if, every once in a while, I cultivated the awareness that Jesus is praying for me “when I sit and when I rise” (Psalm 139:2); when I am driving and when I am grocery shopping, when I sin and when I repent. Just as Simone wrote: unceasingly. I am never alone, but always under his protection
Does this seem little to us?
And yet, there is something we must add: not only does Jesus pray for us but Jesus prays to us.
He too asks something of us, or rather: He implores us! For what? Saint Paul tells us heartbrokenly: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20).
Jesus begs us to let ourselves be reconciled to him; He asks us to accept his pardon, his peace, his “joy and liberation.” He implores us because he cares about our life, because he rejoices when he sees us, because he has written our name on the palm of his hand. When our friendship with Him is fractured because we reject him, because we prefer other gods to Him, such as work, affection, our selfishness … He, immediately, desperately begins to seek us. Always, every time, yet again.
He never tires. How can I become aware that Jesus is looking for me? He speaks to our heart: with the nostalgia I have for Him, for all that is good, for peace; through a word that we hear or through a book that we read. When He finally finds us, even in that one instant in which we open our hearts to him, he doesn’t let us go but begs to put his hand on ours, to drive away the weight of sin from our heart, just as that friar did so in such a fatherly way with Simone’s hand. Isn’t He marvelous, a God like this? A God who searches for us to give us His forgiveness, “A God who trusts us and rejoices in us.”?
Why is it then so difficult for us to draw near to Him to bind up again the friendship that was betrayed? Why is it often difficult for us to draw near to the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
I believe that Simone pointed out one of the reasons: “I felt alone, as if I had to appear before a judge.” As a result of original sin, many of us carry inside the image of God as a Judge, severe and merciless. That first sin insinuated in us doubts about God; the lack of trust in his love for us has left us with an image of God as strict and harsh, a God who doesn’t want us to eat from the tree in the garden. A God who wants us to be slaves.
The rediscovery of the true face of God occurs precisely when we draw near to his forgiveness, defying the temptation of seeing as useless the act of “going to tell your sins to another.” I discover that this “other” is in reality myself. I am the one who judges myself ruthlessly, I am the one annoyed when I see my limits. I am the one who doesn’t accept myself like this. The Other, the one with the capital “O” is there, in the voice and in the hands of the priest, to tell me: “You are precious and I love you, I forgive you.”
“Sometimes you hear someone claiming to confess directly to God… Yes, as I said before, God is always listening, but in the Sacrament of Reconciliation he sends a brother to bestow his pardon, the certainty of forgiveness, in the name of the Church.” (Pope Frances, General Audience, Nov. 20, 2013).
For this reason, “The Apostle will give particular attention to do all that is possible to sensitize the people she guides towards those confessions that conclude a journey of conversion, or those that, for their frequency, favor interior growth.” (from the AVI Rule of Life, no. 13).
That is why this month we wanted to reflect on this Sacrament. To sensitize also you who are reading to let yourself be reconciled to God, to allow Him to place His hand our yours. Would that you might hear often these words: “Yours sins are forgiven; go in peace.”
I will delve into the graces I can receive in the Sacrament of Confession, consulting with my spiritual guide and reading some books of spirituality that touch on this topic. To this I add the resolution to go to confession regularly from now on, and not just “when I feel like it.”
Sr. Simona Panico