Mercy Made Easy

This post ran as a column in the Sunday, April 11, bulletin for St. Michael Catholic Church.

A friend frequently reminds me to “keep my armor polished.” By this he means if I stumble into a significant sin—or even if it’s just been a while, and the daily imperfections have smudged and tarnished the sheen on my soul—don’t wait; get to Confession.

I was pressed for time in the run-up to Holy Week. I wasn’t struggling with anything grave or intentional, and with my schedule packed and my energy ebbing, something had to give. So I postponed Confession.

Then, as usual, the fog descended.

I don’t know about you, but even the accumulation of venial sins obscures my spiritual sight. I think less clearly, feel more anxious, see challenges in a worse light, and feel temptations more keenly. On Monday of Holy Week, I sat down to examine my conscience and six weeks of debris tumbled from my heart and onto the paper. Suddenly the weight was apparent, so that even the long lines at the penance service could not deter me unburdening myself.

When my turn came at last, I stepped past the screen to look Father in the eye. I was surprised not to recognize the priest: a stocky man with a fringe of clipped hair around a bald dome, and calm but serious eyes. He began without greeting: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…”

I had in my hand a list of sins to confess, but felt self-conscious unfolding and reading from it, so I lowered my gaze and began reciting from my heart. Occasionally I raised my eyes to look at his silent, serious face—and it may have been my imagination, but it seemed to soften as I shared sin after sin.

I reached the end of my memory and took a breath. There was more, I was sure, so I unfolded my slip of paper, glanced at the first side, and flipped to the second. There it was: I share one more sin, then closed with, “For these and any sins I may forgotten, I ask God’s pardon.”

Again I looked up. He appeared to look kindly on me, a slight smile creasing his cheeks and eyes, as if to say, “Oh, is that all?” I was so taken with the lightness of his demeanor that I nearly missed my penance. I prayed an Act of Contrition, and the words of Absolution washed over me like a sudden wave.

“Go in peace,” he said.

“Thanks be to God!” I sputtered, rising to my feet.

“Have a happy Easter,” he said, smiling.

“You, too, Father!” I said, and meant it.

Kneeling next to my bride before the blessed Sacrament, I prayed with deep gratitude for God’s mercy, my sincere repentance, the grace of the sacrament and my confessor’s fruitful priesthood.

The next morning it struck me how hard we make God’s mercy, imagining first that our need isn’t urgent, then that our sins are more than we want to drag into the light. We struggle to get to confession, struggle to admit our failings, struggle to let go—and in the end, Jesus smiles and says, “Oh, is that all?”

And He washes us clean, just like that.

Jesus did the hard work already. Our sins He carried up the hill, our pain He suffered in His Passion, our penalty He endured in the tomb, our lives He redeemed by His resurrection.

It is finished. His mercy is easy, if we let it be.

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