“I don’t know.”
Under a dim kitchen light, John stood before his mother, with his eyes fixated on the tips of his feet. Puzzled, his mother, Mary, continued to probe him about the empty cookie jar. The cookies were supposed to be her contribution to the parish potluck tomorrow.
“I don’t know. I don’t know.”
Strange. She could’ve sworn she heard him run into the kitchen a while ago.
With little success, Mary let him go. She brushed his hair with her fingers and watched her boy run along with his little brother upstairs.
“Who else could’ve taken the cookies?” Mary thought. Her train of thought was quickly shattered by an unstoppable wailing. Her feet took off, up the flight of stairs, only to find John’s little brother drenched in his tears. John huddled in a corner, with a brown teddy bear in his hand.
“John… took Wilfred mummy!”
The smaller boy ran into his mother’s arms, weeping and weeping. As Mary wiped his tears, she gestured John to come over to the light where she could see him. But John just stood in the shadows. He shook his head repeatedly as his eyes began to glisten with fresh tears.
“John, did you take Wilfred from your brother?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know.”
“Just like the cookies?”
John froze. Mary looked at him, as he tried to look at her. Silence. John could only hear the beating of his heart rising steadily. With tears on the brink of his eyes, John ran. He ran as fast as he could down the stairs, far away from his mother. The last she heard was the sound of his footsteps and a loud shutting of a door. Then, silence. Her heart sank.
This is a story about all of us. A story about how the consequences of our sin stifle us from reconciliation. Like John, we just want to stay in the “shadows”. My bet is because John was ashamed of what he had done. Like John, I would think it’s much easier to pretend that I didn’t know anything. John could not even look at her in the eye. Imagine the fear he must have felt. The fear of punishment; the fear of judgment; the fear of being exposed for even more wrongdoings. We get so consumed by the fears that we think that we’re unworthy to be forgiven. It is the same with God. The guilt from our sins sometimes prevents us from turning to Him through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Sometimes we tell ourselves some of these lines:
“Ah, the same sin again! I think I’m hopeless; there’s no point going back to confession.”
“I’ll just tell the priest some of my sins. I’m too ashamed of the rest of them.”
“The priest will just scold me if I tell him this… Better not say.”
Do any of these sound familiar? I used to say a lot of these (and more) every time. I was afraid to go for reconciliation because I was ashamed by what I had done. I didn’t want anyone to find out; not my closest friends, not the priest, let alone God. So, I had stayed hidden from the light and from the confessional. I felt unsaveable.
That, however, is a lie.
It is a lie we tell ourselves in the midst of our brokenness. Sin makes us broken, and the consequences of our sin – the guilt, the shame – makes us even more so. Like John, it is only a matter of time until the guilt catches up to us. But, it is precisely these times that we need saving. Just as St Peter cried out, “Lord, save me!” as he was drowning (Matthew 14:30), we must first want to be saved. A drowning man cannot save himself. Likewise, a man in sin cannot save himself from sin.
St Paul tells us that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,” (Romans 5:20). The Catholic Church has the Sacrament of Reconciliation for this reason – to allow us to receive the grace of our Lord in order to mend our brokenness and to restore our identity in Christ. It is a Sacrament of Healing.
According to Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 1424, there are three parts to this healing.
This is the first step to healing. When we confess our sins to a priest, we are actually crying out to the Lord to save us. We begin to recognise that even in our sinfulness, there is the Lord’s abundant mercy.
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of your possession? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in showing clemency. (Micah 7:18)
In the Lord’s mercy, there is love. Perfect love. We know this perfect love through the passion of Christ as He carried His cross and died for us. He died for sinners in order to show us the heart of God. When I had my first confession after a long time, I wept. I wept partly because of the guilt I felt from the sins I had committed. But, I also wept tears of joy at the gentleness and compassion of God through the consolation of the priest. There was no condemnation, only mercy. That is the love of God.
The next step to healing is the absolution from the priest. Everytime I hear the absolution, this passage comes to mind:
And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” Then some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.” And he stood up and went to his home. When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings. (Matthew 9:2-8)
Christ healed the paralytic man by forgiving his sins. It is our sins that paralyses us in many ways. For me, I had been too afraid to go to the confessional because I didn’t want to be judged for what I had done. However, the absolution made me realise that God truly has forgiven whatever I had done before and had set me free from my guilt. There was nothing but an indescribable peace in me. I had nothing to fear anymore.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:18-19)
This is the truth.
Lastly, after reconciling with God, the Lord calls us to “first be reconciled to your brother” (Matthew 5:24). This one of the last few stages of our healing. If God has been so merciful in His love for us, then shouldn’t we merciful to others? Mercy begets mercy; kindness begets kindness; love begets love. I struggle with this the most because I have to forgive people that had hurt me. I have to die to my pride. Many times, it ends with an apology to the other person. Though it hasn’t been easy to do, the liberation from reconciling with others had released any grudges I had held in my heart. So if it is true that “if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36), by making others free from the grudges we bear against them we will also set them free from their own sin. This helps heal others as much as ourselves. After all, the healing Christ brings is for all.
Like John in our story, facing our sin makes us want to run and hide. The pain of having to look inward into ourselves whilst having to name those hurts cast onto others and unto ourselves is not easy. In my own journey, my pride has always gotten in the way of an honest examination of my conscience. Sometimes I can’t even bear to face my own sin. However, I know now that I’m not perfect and I don’t need to be. My weakness forces me to rely on the unmerited grace of God. So blessed are the weak who depend on Him. At the Sacrament of Reconciliation, our Lord is waiting to give you His healing grace. Like the mother in the story, our Lord’s heart breaks every time we run away because he loves us too much. He wants us to come out of hiding and into the light.
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:11-14)
As St Paul appeals to us, let us remain in the light in this very moment. Our Lord wants to heal our hardened hearts and dishonorable desires. However, we must make a choice to accept His grace. Will you?
‘Mary searched and searched for her boy, John. She checked the guest room downstairs. He wasn’t there. She checked the laundry room too. But he wasn’t there either. From the depths of her heart, Mary cried out to him, hoping that her boy would run back into her arms. Silence. Disappointed, she was about to return upstairs when she heard a soft sobbing right behind the closet door. Gently, she opened the door and there he was – lying, curled up in the corner of the closet. John sobbed hard, as he clutched the teddy bear in his hand.
“John, come here. It’s okay.”
Mary stretched her hands out for an embrace and wrapped her arms around her boy. John dropped the bear, and sobbed as he held her arms tightly.
“It’s okay. I still love you. You shouldn’t have run away. It’s okay.”
John held onto her as tightly as he could, as he released a flood of tears. She knew that her beloved son had come home. In that moment, Mary loved John, and John received. Love is truly greater than our faults.’