Most of you reading this blog will be preparing for Christmas by going to either a penitential service or confession. Many seem to have the idea that this sacrament is something to be dreaded or feared, when in reality, it is a joyful celebration, bringing wholeness and healing. It could be the result of insufficient or forgotten catechesis or even a negative encounter with a confessor in the past, but holding onto such views of a sacrament just falsely promotes the belief in a wrathful and vengeful God who is more bent on inflicting pain and punishment rather than offering the soothing and healing hand of divine love and compassion.
This week, I’d like to help many out there who may have a ‘problem’ with this wonderful sacrament of love and healing, where we truly encounter God’s forgiveness in a sensorial way. The story that I am going to relate here in this blog is something that I have used at penitential services before, to prepare the penitents for a meaningful encounter. After all, aren’t the best teachings often those that come from within a story? It is not an original story of mine, but I can’t seem to find the source of it. Well, whoever wrote it, I trust that it is far more important THAT this story is shared with this purpose, than WHO wrote it. I shall call it “Sally and the pearls”.
Little Sally went to the corner store with her mum and saw a glittering string of fake pearls that caught her eye. She really wanted that bracelet and asked her mum for it. Her mum said that since she had some savings, Sally could use her money to buy it. She searched in her little purse and took out the $1.25 that she had been saving for several weeks now. She was so happy be the owner of a piece of jewelery.
Sally wore this everywhere she went. She would sleep with it, bathe with it, and she’d also swim with it. Soon, it began to lose its shine, and even began to leave green marks on her wrist. One night, her father came up to her and after reading her bedtime story, asked her if she would give him the bracelet. She looked at her father strangely and said “You don’t want my bracelet. You can have my toy horsey. It’s very pretty.” Her father smiled at her and said “it’s ok, honey – you can keep horsey.”
The next day, after reading the story at bedtime, he said “Darling, can daddy have your bracelet?” Sally looked puzzled again, and said “You can have my dolly. She can talk and she closes her eyes when she lies down.” Her father softly said “it’s ok dear, you can keep dolly.”
On the third day, at the same time, her father asked once more “Dearie, can daddy have the bracelet?” This time, Sally was quiet. She looked down, and was so sad, and a tear was beginning to roll down her soft cheek. She reluctantly removed the bracelet from her wrist, and handed it to her father silently. “Here daddy, you can have the bracelet.”
At this, her father took out of his pocket a little pouch and handed it to Sally. Inside was a string of cultured pearls that gleamed in the soft light of the room. Daddy helped Sally put it on, and said “I had this with me all along and wanted to give it to you, but only after you were willing to give me your fake and discoloured pearls which you were so attached to.” Sally couldn’t believe her father’s generosity.
At penitential services and confessions, we face without any pretentions and excuses the reality of sin in our lives which we may be holding on to stubbornly – a bit like Sally’s string of fake and discoloured pearls. There are sins that we are not willing to let go, habits that we fear to identify and give up. Perhaps we are looking at it from the wrong angle. Don’t see what you are giving up, but see what you stand to gain – a right relationship with God your maker who loves you in a way that is beyond your understanding. In the light of the Tiger Woods saga that is unfolding before our eyes, I suppose it is akin to Tiger's realization that if it is his family that he wants to save, it is golf that he has to give up. It's not that golf is a sin here (we all know what is), but that the family and his marriage are far more important. Tiger isn’t just giving up golf. He’s gaining back his life and his family, and his sanity. It could well be that he has reached that proverbial ‘rock bottom’ that all those in Alcoholics Anonymous programmes are so familiar with.
I usually do try to remind penitents to be less concerned with what they are going to say, and instead, focus on what they are going to receive and encounter – the God of love and compassion. God wants to free us from any kind of slavery that we may be in now. And some of us are heavily shackled without even realizing it.
The great thing is that when we ask for forgiveness from God, He not only forgives you, but He doesn’t store much in his memory with unnecessary things. It may be a tad simplistic to say this, but God much prefers to remember things worth remembering, and our sins are not one of them. Perhaps, when we truly realise this, we too, will be like little Sally, unable to believe in our Father's utter generosity.
May you have a most meaningful encounter with a forgiving and merciful God. God love you.