Forgiven in Love:
Is there not a limit beyond which the Lord’s patience and mercy are exhausted, when we’ve used up our “one last chance”? Does He not get exasperated? Is it not reasonable to think that, at some point, the scales of Divine Justice reach a tipping point that cannot be rectified? Yes, that is reasonable! But that also isn’t how the Lord deals with us. It just isn’t, and thank God! As a priest who has been given the privilege of sitting on the other side of the confessional screen week after week, I am constantly amazed and humbled at how vast is the ocean of Mercy; for we priests have been given no other options or formulas, no other words with which we may say in response to sins confessed, regardless of how venial or egregious those sins may have been. The response is always the same, “I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Why? Because the Bridegroom tirelessly adores the Bride, and his love calls beauty out of her. This Lent, we are invited to rediscover the fidelity of the Bridegroom and his steadfast avowal of love: “I’m not going anywhere!” We are invited to experience anew that the one who waits for us is Mercy. In this rehab, Jesus’ grace precedes our own first steps – his Mercy is the aisle runner that has been laid out before us, upon which we are guided to encounter him eye to eye. This Lent, every confessional is meant to be the desert in the prophet Hosea, where God proclaims, “I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her” (Hosea 2:14). The Bridegroom doesn’t analyze but adores the Bride, and in the eyes of Truth, we the bride, rediscover that we are “very good” (Gn 1:31).
However, for many, confession is simply the means by which the Almighty applies his spiritual “Tide-to-Go” pen to our sin-stained souls. But, when seen through the lens of St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, we see that reconciliation is the privileged space where all of us, the Bride, hidden behind the masks of shame, are invited to spiritually undress our hearts and expose our wounds to the Bridegroom. Just as in marriage, because of vowed love, couples can begin to experience a “nakedness without shame”, so too in the confessional, through Mercy’s vowed love, can we safely respond to God’s loving call, “Where are you?” (Gn 3:9). “Father I’ve done this, and this, and I’ve gone back to this, and I said this again, and fell into that, and can’t stop doing this….” And after we’ve said everything and shown him all the places where we’ve hidden ourselves, Jesus responds through the priest, “Ah, there you are my lovely one, my beautiful one, my sister, my bride, my dove…there you are!” Just as there are some intimacies between a husband and wife that are so sacred, so personal, and so private that they’re shared with nobody else, so too in the confessional, protected by the seal, are the profoundest of intimacies exchanged between the bridal-souls and the Bridegroom. Then, the priest raises his hand, not to strike or reprove, but to absolve and convey: You are not the sum of your faults and failures; you may be suffering from sin, but you are not sin, you are the sum of the Father’s love for you and your real capacity to be in union with Jesus.
The Bridegroom is eagerly awaiting each of us in the confessional this Lent, whether it’s been five days or fifty years, he is eager to see you. However, the nakedness of confession is only a prelude to an even deeper intimacy – the adoration of the Bridegroom for the Bride is meant to culminate in communion – nuptial union. “The Body of Christ,” he says as he gives himself. “Amen” she says as she receives and gives herself. And the two become one flesh.
Father Patrick Schultz is a priest of the Diocese of Cleveland and he currently serves as the Parochial Vicar of Communion of Saints Parish in Cleveland Heights, OH. He attended Theology of the Body I course in the fall of 2017, and hopes to attend other courses in the future.