Twenty-four hours for the Lord
I recall waiting outside the room where the priest was hearing my classmate’s confession back in third grade. It was the day of my first confession and I was a little nervous. I kept repeating over and over again in my head the one sin that was on my “list.” When the door finally opened, I walked in and sat in front of the priest, who welcomed me with a reassuring and fatherly smile. Encouraged by his demeanor, I blurted out my sins as fast as I could and raised my eyes to see his reaction. He looked at me with kindness and asked, “Is that everything? Don’t you have anything else to confess?” “Is that everything?” I can’t recall exactly how I felt in that moment; maybe I felt some fear for having done “a bad job” in preparing, as if I had received a failing grade on an assignment. I remember that he began to ask a few questions to help me add something to my list, but this sent me into further confusion, because I didn’t know how to answer his questions…”maybe yes, but maybe no”… What brought consolation though was that, at the end, I received absolution and walked out feeling peaceful and restored.
More than 30 years have gone by, but I smile at the thought that after all not much has changed; for some reason I still perceive the Sacrament of Reconciliation more as an exam or an assignment, rather than an encounter with God’s mercy. After many years of practice, and especially after many years spent in helping people to see the beauty of this Sacrament, where we can encounter our Father who embraces us in His forgiveness, I still have the same knot in my stomach, the same fear of having failed at my homework – almost an unconscious fear that I will be rebuked because I don’t have enough sins on my list.
Yet what makes me go back over and over again to the confessional is the hope of being welcomed as I am, and the joy of hearing once again that the words of absolution are spoken for me, personally. It is also the certainty that I am giving my Spouse a reason to rejoice. He desires to give me, once again, a sign of His love: the blood that He spilled on the Cross so that I can get up again and continue my journey with more energy and confidence. It is also the joy of having another chance, of knowing that the limitations I experience interiorly do not have the last words on my life and that God has an infinite amount of trust in me. Lastly, it is the joy of somehow making up for the hurt that my sins provoke on the mystical body of Christ which is the community of believers, like blows that hit the trunk of a century-old tree.
Pope Francis has invited each of us to participate in the 24-hour prayer vigil that is being organized across the world on March 4th and 5th, in which we will be given the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I cannot think of a better opportunity to gather with the universal Church, guided by our Pope, and to make an experience of a God who has been, is and always will be a Father who wants to draw close to us and touch us with His caress. The Father whom Jesus revealed to us in the Gospels is not one with a hand raised to hit the sinner; rather, He is a Father who, as Pope Francis says, “embraces the repentant son who comes back home and expresses the joy of having him back again.” He is a God who “never tires of going out to the other son who stands outside, incapable of rejoicing, in order to explain to him that his judgment is severe and unjust and meaningless in light of the father’s boundless mercy”.
If we ask how it is possible that God makes Himself close, or how can He speak, welcome, listen to us and forgive us, we must be reminded that it is the priest who is called to do this for us. The Pope invites each priest to be a “real sign of the Father’s Mercy.” Therefore, our Pope says, “Confessors may not ask useless questions, but like the father in the parable, interrupt the speech prepared ahead of time by the prodigal son, so that they will learn to accept the plea for help and mercy pouring from the heart of every penitent.”
As we do for any important event in our life, let us mark March 4, 2016 on our calendar so it can become a memorable day, a day in which we can write history, a day that we will remember in the years to come as our “personal pilgrimage” – a pilgrimage to the special Shrine of the Merciful Heart of Christ that has been open for us from Calvary onward. It is a Shrine that has been open for 2,000 years and that, unfortunately, is not too often visited.
If we lost the directions on how to reach this special Shrine, let us follow the Pope’s suggestions for this Lent: to stop every day and to read the Word of God. This is the surest path that will lead us back to His Heart. We will not be disappointed. If we happen to doubt whether we should start out on this journey or not, we will be comforted in knowing that if, despite the difficulties, we truly desire the Father’s embrace, it will not be denied to us.
“Is that everything?,” I heard that first time in the confessional. I now smile and think that, after many years, I can now answer, “Yes, it is everything. Because EVERYTHING is here.”
(Quotes are taken from Misericordiae Vultus #17)