The greatest struggles in our lives are often cause for deep personal reflection and the opportunity to grow closer to our Heavenly Father. God, in His infinite mercy, offers each of us a new start each time we fall. Forgiveness, one of our Father’s beautiful gifts, allows the flow of sanctifying grace and revives hope in the depths of our soul. His mercy also brings forth our ability to forgive ourselves for our own personal failings.
Repent, therefore, and be converted that your sins may be wiped away, and that the Lord may grant you times of refreshment and send you the Messiah already appointed for you, Jesus (Acts 3:19-20).
Playing soccer with his two young sons in their backyard, the man can see that his family has begun the slow recovery from the massive effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita upon their lives. With more family time and a downturn in his business, the man has been offered an opportunity to reflect deeply on his life. As he stands in their backyard, breathing in a newly found sense of hope, the cool breeze of springtime flows through the chain link fence of the small house the family has rented from their new church parish. The underlying sense of hope, however, is hindered by a heaviness on his soul. Now is the time, the man knows, that he must begin a soul-cleansing process.
Distracted by his thoughts, the man is brought back to reality by the joyful shout of “Score!” from his older boy, as the latter shoots the soccer ball past his dad for a point and the glory of scoring on his old man.
“Great shot, son! I doubt you can do that again.”
“Oh, yeah; I bet we can!” responds the younger of his two sons as he sprints past his dad to grab the ball with his feet, continuing the game of friendly father/sons competition.
Life is good, the man thinks.
Knowing that he must remove this weight from his soul, the man begins a search in an effort to release the great virtue of hope and fill his life once again with joy. A search that, over time, will draw him closer to Jesus Christ and to the sacraments.
At the suggestion of his pastor, the man begins to meditate on the writings of Saint Francis de Sales in the book Introduction to a Devout Life. But as soon as he commences, right there, in the very first chapter, he is hit with the obvious. Years of half-hearted repentance must end. The man knows full well that there is some deep cleansing to be done and that the time has come for him to remove the stains of a lifetime from the inner sanctum of his soul. He knows that the time has come for a general confession, but even just the thought of reliving his many sins out loud causes the man’s stomach to turn and tighten. He knows that if he is to become the man God wants him to be, it must be done for the good of his family and for his own sanctity. God is answering his prayer, Lord, help me to become the man You want me to be.
On Sunday, while looking through the church bulletin, the man sees that the following Wednesday evening, an opportunity presents itself for a general cleansing of his soul. Lent has arrived with the cool spring breeze and the family’s new diocese of Lafayette offers increased opportunities for reconciliation. There is a night of Reflection and Reconciliation offered at a nearby parish in the town of Broussard, Louisiana. The man, therefore, resolves to make it a point to be there.
On Wednesday, after one of his wife’s home-cooked meals of white beans, rice and fried ham chunks, the man kisses his wife on the cheek.
Then he tells her, “I’m going to the evening of Reconciliation I saw in the parish bulletin. Is that okay?”
Smiling, his wife replies, “I think that’s a good idea.”
She knows him so well, he thinks, after 16 years of marriage!
Then she continues, “What time will you be home?”
Hugging her tight, the man replies, “I should be home in time for the kids’ baths and bedtime.”
After a 15 minute drive, the man pulls up his bright red SUV into the overflowing parking lot of the large Catholic parish. The church, easily the largest structure around, stands as a monument to the faith in the nearby small town. Inside the church, the lights are lowered to the level of candlelight, creating a calming atmosphere, as the pianist plays a peaceful religious melody in the background. The church is packed to the brim with people traveling from nearby parishes of the diocese.
As the music winds down, the pastor enters the sanctuary. In a low baritone voice, he begins a short reflection on the goodness of God and how He sent His only-begotten Son to redeem the world. In his reflection, the pastor makes a statement that helps to ease the anxiety of the man.
“For us confessors, God gives us the gift of forgetfulness in the confessional. When you come in repentance, Jesus wipes your slate clean.”
Going on, the pastor proceeds to speak about the power of making a good confession and how to best examine one’s conscience.
Wrapping up, he declares, “There are 10 different stations for hearing confessions. At each station you will have the opportunity to go face-to-face or behind the screen.”
And continuing, he names the location of each confessor.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them and whose sins you retain are retained (Jn 20:23).
Proceeding to a long line forming at the entrance of the church, the man chooses to go to confession with an experienced priest who has a reputation for holiness. Each of the 10 lines, however, has 40+ people waiting, with more flowing in from all the outer doors. The man thinks impatiently, This could take all night! Ugh!
Slowly, but surely, he moves forward in line. Praying, he fidgets with nervousness. Please, Lord. Help me make a good confession, he asks God within the silence of his own heart. From his position at the entrance of the church, the man has a perfect view of the crucified Christ hanging to the right of the altar. Christ, his Redeemer, appears to be looking out over the people He loves with forgiving eyes. To the left of the altar, a statue of the Blessed Mother reaches out to her children in love. In the man’s heart resonates the call to calm down and trust – the call to trust God and His loving mercy bring the man both peace and much-needed patience.
After waiting for about an hour, the man’s time has arrived for confession. With a certain degree of nervousness, he pushes back the curtain and kneels behind the screen. The confessional is lit with a soft yellow light that can be seen through the screen veil. Taking a deep breath in the warm surroundings, the man starts.
“Father, I’d like to do a general confession. Is that okay? It may take awhile and know the line is long.”
The elderly priest responds in a deep, warm, gentle tone.
“That would be good. I’m honored to hear your confession. Don’t worry about the line, son. I’ll stay tonight as long as it takes to hear everyone’s confession. Would you like help walking through it?”
The man says, “Thank you, Father. I’d appreciate that!” And he proceeds, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.”
In a time that feels like an eternity, the man recounts his sins of a lifetime going back to his earliest memories as a child. All the while, the gentle priest prompts him from behind the screen. By the end of the confession, the man can feel the Holy Spirit lifting the darkness from his soul, sanctifying it, and as the Spirit courses through his body, every inch of his skin begins to tingle. An overwhelming feeling of joy fills the confessional and tears flow down the man’s face.
Ending confession, he states, “Father, I’m sorry for these sins and all of my sins.”
After granting him absolution through the power of the Church, the priest thanks the man.
“Thank you for giving me the honor of hearing your confession. Please pray for me and I’ll pray for you.”
“Thank you, Father. I’ll do that,” the man replies.
And while saying the Act of Contrition, he pulls back the deep red curtain of the confessional and re-enters the world filled with grace. Outside the monumental church, the man encounters the cool breeze of springtime with renewed vigor – the vigor of sanctifying grace finally acting freely within his soul, making it overflow it with joy.
God is really good, thinks the man.
You who hear our prayers. To you all flesh must come, with its burden of wicked deeds. We are overcome by our sins; only you can pardon them (Ps 65:3-4).