Monday, December 14, 2009

Readying ourselves for the Sacrament of Reconciliation

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.


  1. I am pricked by the story of Sally. I have so much welled up inside me and find it very difficult to open up and let go.

  2. This ain't exactly my favourite Sacrament. I can see the beauty and wonder of encountering God in a sensorial way, but I struggle with my pride of having to confess to a priest. I know I encounter God in all Sacraments, but I am especially and acutely aware of my limitation when it comes to confession. But that does not mean I do not believe in God's mercy, compassion, goodness and generosity. So with all the anxieties, pride and worries, I wonder how can one possibly make a good confession? The saddest thing is I inevitably adopt this "just get it over and done with attitude". And I suspect many share the same sentiments.

  3. Thks Fr. Very good analogy - but it may not be just a case of relinquishing a "pet" sin. What about the discolouration that stains the skin on which it rests ? - leaves indelible mark - brokenness, bitterness, regrets - too ?

  4. Actually, Tessa, we all have an indelible mark. It is our baptismal dignity - the fact that we are claimed and loved sons and daughters of God. That is the one indelible mark that must mark us out as special and blessed. Far more important and powerful than the so-called indelible marks of brokenness, bitterness and yes, even regrets.

    Fr Luke

  5. Hi all I'll like to share this youtube link which really inspired me about the beauty of confession and the patience of God's love for each of us as His sons and daughters:

    Pls check it out!

  6. My experience with confession is to treat it really seriously. Whenever I do that and make a good confesssion, somehow an outpouring of blessings and graces follows in the weeks ahead.

    The less serious I am about the doing it ("I'm doing it just because that's the rule), the less blessings and graces follow. Anyone with the same experience?

  7. I don't think that Sally was reluctant to let her father have her bracelet. Rather she doesn't see the point in her father wanting an old dirty bracelet. Being kind and loving, she offered to give her father 'better' things like the horsey and dolly.

  8. But isn't that the irony of the way that most of us look at sins, Ros? We think (erroneously, of course) that the horsies and the dollies of our lives are the 'better' things when in fact, they are not. We just need new eyes all the time. Thank you for your comment.

    Fr Luke

  9. Dear Fr
    I often wonder what it takes for a catholic to make an appointment to see you for a face-to-face confession IN your office. I cannot see myself doing likewise or confessing to those priests that I “know"..."aiyoh so malu!” (that’s the first thing that comes to my mind). So I presume those who do make an appointment for a confession are not only matured in their faith but have also adopted a positive mindset/attitude towards this important Sacrament. I wish I had their courage and mindset, and not so focused on my shame and what I have to confess, but rather on the freedom and other graces that I will receive. I’m aware that this something that I have to deal with..
    Thank you for sharing the story of Sally and the Pearls – you know how some stories stick with you forever? This is one of them :)

  10. Hi Fr Luke,Yes,"the greatest goodness of God is that He does not remember our sins,once forgiven.But,in my human weakness,I tend to remind myself,now and then,of the past and become dejected.Yes, once again,I encountered God in the Confessional and He is helping me grow.It's so 'Beautiful'!!!:)