The Emperor’s Pardon

(Why go to Confession?)

Confession involves telling the story of our brokenness, of our failures…honestly and simply acknowledging what we are.

The story is told of a prince who was visiting Napoleon, and whom the Emperor wished to honour. Napoleon, it is said, gave the visiting prince permission to pardon a prisoner of his choice. The prince accepted the honour and went to a prison, but with no idea of whom to release. He spoke to very many prisoners, and every one of them said: ‘I, of all people do not deserve to be here.’ Each one had a tale of woe, a justification for their crime, a protestation of innocence, a rationalization, an excuse…

Finally, the prince spoke to a very notorious prisoner, one who had committed terrible crimes. This man, unlike the others, spoke plainly to the prince: ‘I committed evil deeds and I am receiving the punishment I deserve. I abused my freedom, and so my freedom has been taken from me. I, of all people deserve to be here.’ The prince granted that man the Emperor’s pardon.

When word went out that the prince had chosen the most notorious and brutal prisoner in the place, decent people were outraged and demanded to know what he was thinking. The prince explained: ‘The Emperor Napoleon granted me the right to extend his pardon, but nobody can pardon the innocent: I could offer the pardon only to the guilty.’

There is a humorous twist to the story, where the prince, after finally hearing an admission of guilt, says to the jailers: “Throw this man out of here, he is corrupting the innocents.” Legend and embellishment aside, the story underlines one of the main ingredients we need to make a good confession: honesty. Honesty with ourselves and before God.

Confession involves telling the story of our brokenness, of our failures, of our betrayals, of our falling flat on our face – of our need for mercy. It is about naming our need; not denying, not rationalizing, but honestly and simply acknowledging what we are. And the love of God comes pouring into that honesty.

This also sheds light on the old question, why not confess directly to God? There are several reasons, but to consider just one of them, we have a remarkable capacity to be subtle, with ourselves, to explain things away, to distort, downplay or exaggerate. To name things in the presence of a fellow human being, while it can certainly be more demanding, is also far more healing than simply turning things over in our mind. In every single relationship involving healing, be it with a doctor, a therapist, a spouse or a friend, the foundation is open, honest communication on the part of the one who is in need.

So, when the Church asks us to confess our sins honestly to a fellow-sinner entrusted with the Emperor’s pardon, she invites us to be honest with ourselves. It is ironic, not to say rather sad, that while the secular world has come to see the wisdom of ‘naming one’s stuff’ to another, Catholics often disregard this wisdom in the very context where it is liable to bring most healing.

Married people don ‘t expect their spouses to be perfect, but they do expect them to be honest. Love and honesty are closely related: honesty is a response to love and an openness to love. The same applies in our relationship with God.

I’ll conclude with an image I once heard for God’s judgment. Our faith assures us that each one of us will, when the pilgrimage of our life is over, be ‘held to account.’ But to be held to account is nothing other than to be invited to tell our story. And our judgment, this image goes, will be the whispering of our story into the ear of an understanding, loving Father. Confession is not the last judgment, but it is an opportunity to speak something of our story, of our neediness, of our brokenness, into the ear of our loving Father. Let’s not put it off; let’s not hold it back. Let’s not be afraid to approach a priest for the sacrament of reconciliation, and to confess or sins trustfully to a fellow sinner entrusted with the Emperor’s pardon.

Taken from Totus Tuus Edition 15 by Fr Chris Hayden

Totus Tuus website

A Thorn in the Flesh

Yoko was an oyster who had had an easy life. At his birth he had been released from his mother oyster under the form of a small sphere and had swam for five days without ever encountering one of those deadly starfish who could have eaten him up. Then he had had the good fortune of finding a giant rock placed at just the right depth below the surface of the sea. He thereupon had attached himself to that hospitable rock and had settled down to a peaceful existence.

Gradually he had formed the two valves of his shell, feeding himself on the minute organic particles which he filtered from the water passing through his slightly opened valves. After five years Yoko had thus grown to a respectable size, and his valves had become so thick and hard that he no longer feared that a snail would drill a hole through them and devour his soft body. In short, since his birth Yoko had felt quite satisfied with the way things were going.

But one day his life was drastically altered. A grain of sand lodged itself into his shell, causing indescribable irritation to his tender tissues.

Yoko cried out in pain. “Damnation! A foreign body has penetrated my epithelium!”

And thereafter from a contented oyster Yodo became a wretched one. Night and day he fought the intruder, but to no avail. The more he endeavoured to expel the grain of sand, the more it bore into his flesh.

Now Yodo was by no means a pious oyster. He did occasionally think of praising God when a particularly tasty tidbit of organic matter entered his shell, but whatever religion he had ended there. However, faced with the totally new experience of pain, he decided that extreme measures were in order: for the first time in his life he prayed in earnest.

“Lord,” he pleaded, “please deliver me from this grain of sand.”

Naturally, his plea reached the ears of God, for God is just as present in the depths of the sea as in the heights of the sky, and he never lets a sincere prayer go unnoticed. So God spoke up as soon as Yoko had formulated his request.

“Yoko, my beloved oyster,” God said, “rest assured that your prayer has reached me.”

“Then you will grant me my wish?” asked the mollusk, “and rid me of this grain of sand which hurts me so much?”

There was a pause.

Then God answered gently, “I did not say that, Yoko. I only said that I was aware of your distress. Now, as to ridding you of it, that is another matter. You will have to trust my love for you and live with it for a while.”

This did not suit Yoko at all. He wanted action, and he wanted it now. This he told God in no uncertain terms. But God remained unyielding.

“Trust me,” he repeated, “and in the end all will be well.”

Of courses this was not at all to Yoko’s taste, and he was thoroughly disgusted with God. Humph! His talk about trusting him was all very nice, but he didn’t have a foreign body tearing away at his insides… So ran his thoughts. And for quite a while he ranted and raved at the insensitivity of God, at the cruelty of life, at the injustice of his fate, at his fellow oysters, at the sea currents and at everything in sight.

All the same, there came a day when his resentment finally spent itself, and he began to take stock of his situation. Bitterness, he reasoned, would not solve his problem. However much he blamed God for his plight, God had apparently made up his mind that events would run their course. On the other hand, however much Yoko fought the grain of sand, it would not go away. So, in desperation, Yoko opted for the only reasonable course of action left to him: he appealed to God once more, but this time for advice.

“Lord,” he prayed, “what shall I do?”

God answered, “Love your grain of sand.”

“What?” cried the oyster in utter disbelief, “you want me to love the cause of all my troubles?”

“Yes,” God replied, “that is what I would like you to do. But, of course, it is all up to you. You can go on hating your grain of sand and thus continue to be miserable for the rest of your life. Or you can love it and find happiness in the process.”

Yoko mulled this over in his mind for a long time. He was certainly keen on finding happiness, but the means to achieve this seemed to defy common sense. But then, as God had insisted from the start, this whole business was not a question of common sense but of faith in him. After all, he mused, what did he have to lose? He could hardly be more wretched than he was presently. Maybe he should take God at his word and see what would happen.

“All right, Lord,” he said finally, “I’ll do it your way, at least for the time being. I’ll try to love this monster inside of me. But you’ll have to show me how to go about it, because the only feeling I can experience at the moment is hate. I simply loathe that grain of sand.”

“That’s all right, Yoko,” replied God, “I know you can’t change your feelings by an act of the will. I’m merely suggesting that you love your grain of sand through an appropriate action on your part.”

“And what would that be?” asked the oyster.

“It’s really very simple,” said God, “Just make a nest for it in your body and leave it there in peace.”

Well that did not sound too impossible. So Yoko decided to give it a try. He gradually formed a cyst of tissue around the grain of sand. This took a long time, but eventually the work was done. The result was startling, for by now the pain, which had subsided by degrees, had completely disappeared.

“Well, well, well,” thought the oyster in amazement, “at least that part of God’s promise has already been fulfilled. If I can’t say as yet that I’m happy, at least I’m not miserable any more.”

And so time passed.

One day, God awoke Yoke from his afternoon siesta.

“Yoko, Yoko,” he called.

“Yes, Lord,” ansered the oyster.

“Remember, Yoko, I promised that, if you trusted me, things would go well for you? Now the time has come for me to fulfill my promise. Look down into your shell.”

Yoko was greatly surprised by this order. After all, he had learned from his early childhood that the interior of his shell was always plunged in darkness. And because of this, he had long ago given up looking into his shell. But now, prompted by God’s invitation, he looked in.

A strange sight awaited him. His entire body was suffused by a soft, white light. This originated from the part of his organism where he had made a nest for the grain of sand. And there, in the midst of the cistlike tissue which formed the nest, a perfect orb of matter was glowing. The grain of sand had become a matchless pearl.

The voice of God asked gently, “Are you happy now, Yoko?”

The oyster could not answer. His eyes were transfixed in utter fascination, feasting on the pearl. And, in a remote part of his mind, something in him wondered how it was possible that so much pain could produce so much beauty.

A story from Nil Guillemette, S.J. Greater Than Our Hearts – God-Tales for Young and Old.

‘The smallest of all seeds’

by Michael Commane in The Irish Times Saturday July 18th 2020 in Church Notes Thinking Anew

It was brought to my attention some days ago that an acquaintance referred to me as a “thug”. I presume it was about something I had written or a view that I had expressed. It appears we have different opinions on myriad subjects, theologically, politically and socially. It set me thinking and while I jokingly told friends I considered it a badge of honour, it did of course hurt me. Have I never referred to an opponent as a “thug”? Unfortunately, I too have used the word. When someone calls you a name you mull over it and spend some time thinking about it. We spend more time and energy thinking of the negative aspects people see in us than the positive ones. You wonder why someone might think badly of you and no matter who they are, most of us don’t want people to perceive us badly. The corollary is certainly true, when someone speaks well of us, we immediately are inclined to view them in more positive terms. On reflection, it dawned on me that the man who called me that name had never in his life sat down and spoken with me in any serious way. I always felt he was shouting at me.

And isn’t that so often the story of our lives? We form opinions of people, make judgements, yet knowing so little about them. Certainly, I often find myself forming opinions of celebrities and politicians without knowing the first thing about them. We can easily do the same about our neighbours or acquaintances. It might be based on how they look, the way they walk. Yes, it’s as superficial as that. Isn’t that why corporations and political parties spend so much time, money and energy on advertising? If they can manage to get their target audience to see someone in a a favourable light then they have the possibility of winning them over to their side, buying their product or voting for their candidate. Is it all as ephemeral as that? I suspect it may well be. Dogmatists and those with “notions” about themselves may claim that it’s objective standards, the teaching of the difference between right and wrong, that win people over to doing what is right and proper.

Of courses, that approach too has a role to play in the forming of a person and the structuring of good society. But we can never, nor must we ever, forget about the incidental words and acts of kindness that shape us and leave indelible marks on our psyche. Jesus tell us in Matthew 13:24-43 that “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest shrub of all and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and shelter in its branches.”

Isn’t it a remarkable illustration of the effects of the smallest of things and then how significant they can become in our lives? Indeed, they are so influential that we continue to go back to them looking for shelter and protection, just as the birds seek shelter in the branches. And again, in Psalm 86 we are told that the Lord is kind and forgiving and most loving to all who invoke him. Little acts of kindness have the potential to swell into major moments in our lives. When we experience acts of kindness from another person, we will see that person in a positive and warm light. Alas, the reverses too is true, when someone disrespects us, it makes it far easier for us to see them in a negative light.

Maybe we are called to focus on God, who is love and compassion. Instead of looking for the weak and negative aspects in other people, we are encouraged to see them as the handiwork of God, who fashioned them. It’s easy enough to call a person a thug, and I may well deserve it, but it’s more gracious and uplifting to acknowledge another person’s moments of greatness and goodness, a potential of which we are all capable. If we all make greater efforts to be kind to one another. to understand people’s challenges and frailties, surely, we shall see them in a different light and they in turn will reciprocate those acts of kindness. Pie in the sky? No actually it’s the message of Jesus.

Editors remarks – May the Lord give us the grace…….