God's Mission Of Mercy
“When was the last time you went to confession?” the priest asked me very sincerely. I laughed the condescending way you do when you want the person to know that they should know better than ask such a silly question. “No one does that anymore Father,” I replied, thinking that would end the conversation. But his response surprised me, “I do – every week.”
We were standing outside the chapel of the friary in Comayagua, Honduras. I was a sophomore in college and desperately wanted to give the impression that I had life figured out. But everything within me was crying out for more – there must be more than this profound emptiness in my heart. Nothing satisfies – not my 3.5 GPA, not my tennis scholarship, not the designer clothes I was wearing, not even the young man I was dating. And then this gray-clad, bearded man in a robe had the audacity to challenge me about the comfortable box in which I had locked God for “safe keeping” on Sundays. Go to confession? Say all those things out loud? No way! I couldn’t…or could I? I spent the rest of the week of that mission trip sitting in front of a large crucifix every morning and evening pondering this question. As I looked up at the proof of God’s great love for us, it became personal. Love became personal. And I realized that I was choosing to distance myself from the happiness I was looking for. I was separating myself from the Love I was longing for by holding onto my sins. Love Himself had come in search of me in a dusty town in Central America, and all He wanted from me was that I give Him my sins.
When I returned to Boston College a week later, I resolutely walked into a confessional 15 minutes before the daily noon Mass at the Jesuit residence. I was nervous and unsure, and I think my palms were sweating. As I entered the room, I was immediately reassured by the kind smile of an elderly priest who welcomed me. “Father,” I stammered, “I need to go to confession, but I don’t know how. I think I’ve only been to confession twice in my life…I can’t really remember.” His smile remained, to my surprise. As he motioned for me to come and sit down in the chair across from him, he gently replied, “That’s ok. I’ll help you.” And he proceeded to walk me through a general confession of my whole life.
It’s hard to describe what happened to me in the confessional that day. My life was definitely changed. A tremendous burden lifted, and I experienced a freedom I never thought possible. I experienced mercy – that undeserved love that is totally gratuitous. Love, real love, began to fill the void within me. I was alive – finally – really alive, for what seemed to be the first time. Life began for me that day.
Eighteen years later now I’m the one dressed in gray, not because I’ve earned it, but because God’s mission of mercy continues in my life. As we enter into this holy season of Advent each year, I am reminded of His great mercy to me. When all the world was in darkness, Love Himself came in search of us. Jesus entered our emptiness, our confusion, our pain, our longing for something more – to save us, to give us life to the full. This is the ultimate gift of Christmas. Whether it’s been fifty years since your last confession or only a week, there is always more mercy to experience, more of this gratuitous love of God offered to us. Before opening presents on Christmas day, I encourage you to let Love become personal by availing yourself of the gift of God’s mercy in confession. In doing so, you’ll be giving Him a gift too – the opportunity to welcome you into His loving embrace.
Sr. Maria Teresa, CFR