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I compose and post these articles with only one desire in my heart: to praise God and to offer modest help on your spiritual journey.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Confession: A Liberating Act

         It had been only two weeks since my ordination. I had a little bit of vacation time before taking up my assignment in a parish. My uncle, a pastor himself in a fairly large city, invited me to spend some time in his parish. One Sunday when I was alone in the parish, the phone rang and I was told that I am expected to administer the sacraments to a dying man. When I arrived, the apartment door was open and in one of the rooms there was an old man lying in bed. He must have been over eighty years old. His face was pale, his eyes were glossy, his hands were long, skinny, and lifeless. He introduced himself with a weak voice, as Gino. I must say my head was spinning with thoughts about how I was to apply my moral theology, that I had learned so well, yet remained for me so far a theoretical reality. This was the first confession I was to hear. I asked for God's help and I proceeded. After I finished administering him the "last rites", he asked me to sit down and said to me "Father, I want you to do me a favor. At my burial please read this letter." And he pulled out from under his mattress a sealed envelope and gave it to me.
After two days, I was called again at the parish and told that Gino had passed. He had left word to be buried by me. At the cemetery, I opened the letter in front of all those present and I read:
"My name is Gino Fraschati and this is my 'testament' to you all. I hope that by listening to it, some of you, may find some help in the intricacies of your life.
I was a lieutenant in the Second World War. I had befriended a sergeant of mine by the name of Albert. We were close. He was a very jovial man, always having nice stories, always ready to help, always kind. He was very funny when imitating the enemy. One night, we were sitting in our camp, preparing for the next day's assault. Out of nowhere a German Luftwaffe emerged from the sky, dropping bombs over our camp. The attack was quick, lasting only a few minutes. Unprepared, we all, ran for cover. As I was ready to run myself, I heard the voice of Albert, 'Gino!' I turned around and I saw that he had been hit. He was lying on the ground and his right arm was extended towards me. I hesitated for a second, thinking of helping him. But as the attack intensified, I decided to run for cover. After the attack I came back and I saw Albert's abdominal was torn by shrapnel. He was holding it with his hands and it was bleeding heavily. His right leg had been wounded as well and was heavily profusely. I realized that Albert was dying and there was nothing that anyone could do for him. He called my name again and said with a weak voice "Erji, Erji!" and put his hand to his left pocket. I responded "Yes, yes Albert" as a tear rolled down my cheek. Then he expired. I opened his jacket and in his pocket I found a picture of his wife and two children. Somehow, I don't know how, I survived the war.
I came back and as I had promised him, I began to take care of his wife and children. I must say that after Albert's death the guilt I felt for not helping him, for my cowardliness, never left me. Night after night, the scene revisited me in my dreams. After two years, Erji and I were married. She was a beautiful woman, not only physically but also spiritually. She was a devout Catholic, always praying her rosary and going to daily mass before going to work. We didn't have any children because of a "gift" the war had given me. She saw my inner trouble and asked me to go to Church to confess. I said I could not. After the horrors I had seen in the war, I just could not believe anymore in God. She said that she would pray for me, that the good lord may give me the peace of heart. She passed, as many of you already know, last year. I went to the Church for her funeral. Afterwards, I sank into a profound mourning. One day I returned to the church, not as much to encounter God, as to feel again her presence there. Things turned out to be different though. Almost unwillingly, I went and confessed. I asked the priest if God can forgive such a horrible crime, like mine. He told me that there is no such crime on Earth God cannot forgive if there is genuine, genuine repentance. 'Remember son, he said, God is the father of the prodigal son.' I left the church with a light heart now, with a peaceful, joyful conscience. That night I had a dream. I saw Albert coming to me as a luminous being and smiling. Then after he retired, Erji appeared in my dream, offering me a white lily.
Now I wonder why I have not confessed my sin, my wrongdoing earlier. I hope my pain and sorrow and my peace after the confession will help you too. Signed, Gino, an imperfect human being who found peace by God."
For many days after the burial I reflected upon Gino's letter. I realized myself the importance of repentance, of confession in human and Christian life. They say that the moral conscience is the voice of God to the human heart, the human consciousness. Now as an older priest, I know very well that guilt, sin, and wrongdoing do not go away without repentance, confession, and expiation. The voice of the conscience cannot be silenced. It can be suffocated for a while, but it will always return in some way to us and speak to us when least expected.  God will not stop returning to us, although He will always treat us as free will agents. Raskolnikov, a nihilist, can see the light of his inner resurrection, only after he confesses his crime and accepts to do punishment for it. Repenting, confessing, and doing repair for our sins is always the starting point for us to be better human beings, better Christians, helping us reenter the path towards salvation. Without them, we fool ourselves into believing in an easy "forgiveness" by God. The death of Christ on the cross shows us the serious reality of sin. Forgiveness is a gift from God. But it doesn't happen without the repentant tremor of the human soul.

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