Adrienne von Speyr
Some years ago I had an experience with the sacrament of penance that I will never forget. It was a Saturday morning, and my parish was celebrating the first confessions of our second graders. As the children confessed their sins, their parents waited and prayed in the church. The parents seemed to be staring intently at their son or daughter, and the looks on their faces were unlike ones I had noticed in years past. No doubt, part of the reason for their staring was the shock that their children were that old all of a sudden. There was more, though. There seemed to be a look of longing in the faces of the mothers and fathers. It was as if I could see in parent after parent a desire to be there, in that seat, talking to a priest, having the chance to begin all over again, to start anew. Statistically, after all, scores of adults in the Church, for whatever reason, do not avail themselves of this great gift of mercy and are weighed down with guilt and fear.
One child came and, as is common, had written his confession on a piece of paper. I do not remember what he confessed, but I certainly remember what happened next. When he finished, I asked if I could have the paper upon which he had written his sins. He handed it to me, and I began to tear it up into small pieces. As soon as I began to do this, the boy began to cry, and he said in a tone that was full of relief and joy, “Wow!” He understood what had just happened in this sacrament. God had forgiven him, removed his guilt, given him the chance to begin again. And this was a second grader!
The following Sunday, I shared this story with the parish during Mass. Sure enough, as I had hoped and prayed, a good number of people who had been away from confession found their way into the confessional. One person had not been to confession in quite some time. When I asked her what had moved her to come back after all these years, she said, “I wanted to see my paper torn up.”
The amazing truth, though, is that the Lord God had desired to tear up her sins even more than she had. Over and over again in the Scriptures, God reveals this surprising reality: he loves to forgive, he loves to show mercy. “ ‘Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool’ ” (Is 1:18). “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger for ever because he delights in mercy” (Mic 7:18). The scribes and Pharisees complained about Jesus, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (Lk 15:2).