Monday, 11 April 2011


Gospel John 8:1-11
Prayer of Contrition at the Confessional - the Hermitage, Assisi

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At daybreak he appeared in the Temple again; and as all the people came to him, he sat down and began to teach them.

The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman along who had been caught committing adultery; and making her stand there in full view of everybody, they said to Jesus, ‘Master, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery, and Moses has ordered us in the Law to condemn women like this to death by stoning. What have you to say?’ They asked him this as a test, looking for something to use against him. But Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger. As they persisted with their question, he looked up and said, ‘If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Then be bent down and wrote on the ground again. When they heard this they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest, until Jesus was left alone with the woman, who remained standing there. He looked up and said, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir’ she replied. ‘Neither do I condemn you,’ said Jesus ‘go away, and do not sin any more.

It has been suggested that, since the decline in people using the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the incidence of depressive illnesses in Catholics has increased. Ask most Catholics my age and they would probably be surprised at this; most memories of the Confessional are not happy ones; the dark anonimity of the 'box'; the knowledge that the priest knew who I was anyway; the need to provide a list (the list being my greatest sin - as most of it was 'made up'). The 'saving grace' - literally -being the prayer of Absolution which, always, somehow, lifted the weight from my heart and sent me lighter and brighter into the aisles to say the obligatory three Hail Mary's and one Our Father.

As time passed and I got older; the sins became more 'real'  but weighing the 'grace' against the shame of revealing them to a third party was an increasingly difficult choice to make. Easier to imagine that me and God could come to an arrangement, privately, without anyone else needing to know.

I suppose the problem is that we imagine growing up means that we have more control over who we are. And controlling 'who we are' to ourselves and the 'who we are' to other people means overlooking the parts that don't look so good or justifying leaving them out of the picture.

But eventually I found that some issues needed resolution.A bit like ignoring house repairs until a dripping tap becomes a major plumbing disaster there came a time when bits of me were threatening to fall apart.Although I knew the answer would come from God - it seemed that God was very much in favour of inviting a third party into the conversation. So back to Confession, which, over the years I had been away,  had turned into the Sacrament of Reconciliation held, face-to-face, with a priest who knew who I was.

Like the woman standing in disarray in the Temple (except perhaps it was my choice to be there) I spoke; fearing the worse; the judgement and the 'thou shalt not'; prepared to suffer for what I had done.

The suffering was only in the words I spoke and pure grace in the words spoken back to me. And that is how it has been ever since.

The forgiveness, indeed the lack of condemnation, is not implied to the woman - it is spoken out loud, by a man publicly and culturally acknowledged to be her superior, but who sits at her feet and, without knowing her, risks his reputation and even his life for her.

That we can be mediators for each other; that God speak through the mouths of soul friends; that reconciliation goes on all the time, not only with ordained priests but with those who have the courage and wisdom to listen with God's ears, I have no doubt.

Because God is Love and not Law.



Philomena Ewing said...

Whoosh (!)- this is a great post.
We have a service of reconciliation this week. Not looking forward to it but I know I need to do it!
Your post touches on many things that I can relate to.
I don't think every confession brings the sort of peace that today's parable reveals but I do know that one confession I made many years ago was one of the most powerful moments of my life and even if I never experience it again it was enough for me !

Jade said...

Reconciliation is a powerful sacrament. It takes courage to admit our wrongdoings and sins; it is a kind of surrender... a sign of humility.

Hold my hand: a social worker's blog said...

Reconciliation is therapeutic, no doubt.

Your post is so insightful!

Thank for stopping by, and for your kind comment.