Tending sheep one by one (2)
Rev José Mario O Mandía
Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger (archbishop of Paris from 1981 until his retirement in 2005) once told a story during his homily about a group of boys in Orleans, France, back in 1939. The boys wanted to have a bit of fun, and dared each other to go inside the church and confess a made-up list of terrible sins to the priest in the confessional. One of them, a Jewish boy named Aaron, took up the challenge.
So he marched into the confessional, but the priest, who was both wise and holy, immediately knew what he was up to. Without showing any sign of annoyance, the confessor gave him a simple penance: to go up the altar, kneel before the large image of Jesus crucified, and say three times, “Jesus, I know you died for me. But I don’t give a damn.”
“Hah! Easier than I thought,” Aaron told himself. So he went up the altar to do his penance. “Jesus, I know you died for me. But I don’t give a damn,” he shouted.
“Jesus, I know you died for me. But I don’t give a damn,” he declared a second time.
“Jesus, I know you died for me. But I don’t give …” He could not go on.
The following year, in August of 1940, Aaron was baptized and took the name “Jean-Marie.”
“And,” Cardinal Lustiger wrapped up the story, “that boy is standing here now, speaking to you.”
During his time as archbishop of Paris, the Jew-turned-cardinal gave a huge boost to the Catholic life of the city. New movements brought fresh vigor to parishes, and vocations to the priesthood grew. Almost every Sunday evening, Cardinal Lustiger would celebrate Mass in Notre Dame for many young people.
Isn’t the power of God’s mercy just awesome? Certainly, the young Aaron’s confession was not valid (one needs to be baptized to do a valid confession). But that did not prevent God from making use of the occasion to bring home a wayward son.
This is why the saints always spoke highly of the sacrament of confession. St John Bosco, for instance, would be frequently seen in the field hearing the confession of boys. He would tell them, “Do you want to become saints? Here is the secret: confession is the lock; confidence in your confessor is the key. This is how you open heaven’s gate.”
Our Lord told Saint Faustina, “Tell souls where they are to look for solace; that is, in the Tribunal of Mercy. There the greatest miracles take place [and] are incessantly repeated. To avail oneself of this miracle, it is not necessary to go on a great pilgrimage or to carry out some external ceremony; it suffices to come with faith to the feet of My representative and to reveal to him one’s misery, and the miracle of Divine Mercy will be fully demonstrated. Were a soul like a decaying corpse so that from a human standpoint, there would be no [hope of ] restoration and everything would already be lost, it is not so with God. The miracle of Divine Mercy restores that soul in full. Oh, how miserable are those who do not take advantage of the miracle of God’s mercy! You will call out in vain, but it will be too late.” (Divine Mercy in My Soul)
When we kneel to confess our sins, we say, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” Well, God our Father takes our word seriously. He not only pardons us, but blesses us with graces far beyond what we deserve. He not only cures us and raises us up again but makes us just a bit more holy each time, a bit more like Himself.