May 3, 2019

It’s All Good / Patti Lamb

Gift of reconciliation reminds us of God’s unconditional love

Patti LambA few weeks ago, just before Easter, I attended a parish penance service. But I almost talked myself out of it.

Before the service, I started generating excuses about why I shouldn’t go. The laundry room floor was covered with dirty clothes needing my attention, including my son’s track jersey for the next day’s meet. The grocery store was also on my list because I had no bread or bananas for the kids’ lunches. An important e-mail in my “inbox” warranted a thoughtful response to my son’s guidance counselor about course selections for next year.

I continued coming up with excuses. While it’s one of the greatest sacraments and an amazing opportunity to receive grace and mercy, I don’t go to confession as often as I should.

I think it’s because I don’t want to face the reality of my sinfulness and the accompanying shame. It’s humbling and embarrassing.

It’s easier to fold laundry and stand in line at Kroger than stopping to reflect on the parts of me that are in need of repair and repentance.

But this time, I headed to church.

To my surprise, 11 priests were there. Since we’re currently without a pastor, priests from around the diocese graciously made the trek to Plainfield.

I circled around the church until I found a priest I didn’t recognize. I stood in his line.

My turn came, and I sat in the chair, blathering, avoiding eye contact.

I talked about how I’ve failed (repeatedly) at being a good wife and mother. I gave examples, using words like “momzilla” and “wifezilla.”

I must have paused because he sort of leaned in and said, “Can you do something for me?”

“Yes, Father,” I replied.

In my head, I was thinking this: “Here it comes: Penance with a capital ‘P.’ A thousand rosaries are in my future.”

I braced myself for a punitive penance and a lecture about how I need to make better decisions.

“Go and do something fun with your family,” he advised.

“Enjoy your family because it’s a gift from God,” he continued.

That was my penance. He absolved me, telling me to go in peace and that God loves me.

I keep getting it wrong and thinking God is keeping track of my offenses. I imagine his disappointment when I keep screwing up. I’m learning that God doesn’t keep a tally card of our missteps. But when we come to him with truly contrite hearts, he forgives us and delights in our transformation.

He understands our human frailty, and we please him when we seek him.

I can’t put my finger on the source, but my mom once told me a story about a young girl who claimed to talk to God. Word of her supposed dialogue with God spread and quickly escalated to the bishop.

The clever bishop told the girl, “Go ask God what the worst sin I ever committed was, then come whisper it to me,” he instructed. He knew that if the little girl really talked to God, she would come back with the right answer.

A few weeks later, the girl returned to the bishop. He leaned over and asked for the answer to his question.

She whispered, “He said that he cannot remember.”

The bishop teared up.

“Also, he loves you,” she added.

We’re blessed to be made by a Creator who loves us beyond what we can comprehend. And no sin will separate us from him if we seek his mercy.

(Editor’s note: The story Patti Lamb relayed is in reference to St. Faustina Kowalska.)

(Patti Lamb, a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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