Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Torn to Shreds

In honor of the Feast Day of St. John Vianney, a story about forgiveness in remembrance of the Saint who spent countless hours in the confessional...

When my son Justin was preparing to make the Sacrament of First Reconciliation, he was quite nervous as most children are the first time they confess their sins, and as some people are every time they confess their sins. Part of Justin’s nerves were due to the fact that he thought he might freeze up in the confessional and forget the sins he needed to confess. His remedy for this fear was to write all of his sins down on a piece of paper, tuck it in his pocket, and pull it out if the need arose.

Sure enough, as nine-year-old Justin sat face to face with the priest, he drew a perfect blank about what he wanted to say. So, he pulled that paper from his pocket and “read” his sins to Father. After he received absolution, the priest asked to see the list of sins. As Justin handed the paper to the priest, Father immediately tore the paper to shreds. He told Justin, “This is what God has now done to your sins. God has torn your sins to shreds; they are gone forever. You should completely forget about them.” What a wonderful symbolic action on the part of this priest! Justin left the confessional just beaming!

I need to frequently remind myself of the lesson Justin learned that day, because although I know that my sins are permanently absolved in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, my good old Catholic guilt won’t let me forget them. I keep trying to pick up those scraps of paper and glue them back together again. I keep trying to tell myself that my sins are so bad I can never be redeemed. How that must hurt Jesus to know that I can’t seem to accept his forgiveness wholeheartedly, that part of me continues to hang on to my sin. I need to remind myself over and over again that God loves me, right here, right now, whether I am sinful or redeemed from the state of sin. He longs to pick up those scraps of paper that have been torn to shreds and burn them in the fire so there will be no way I can try to pick them up again.

Dear, sweet, forgiving Jesus, help me to remember that my sins, once confessed and forgiven with the blessing of absolution, are no longer mine to hold on to, they are now yours to do whatever it is you wish with them. It was a precious gift of love when you took my sins upon yourself through the suffering you endured on the cross. Help me to show my appreciation for that gift by forgiving myself as you forgive me. Amen.


  1. What a beautiful story, and how lucky Justin was to have such a vivid example-I am sure he will never forget that!

  2. Thank you, Anne, for this post. It spoke to me as, I too, have been known to hang on to my sins after they have been wiped away. What a beautiful first confession experience for your son!

  3. Ha! That's wonderful. I also "forgot" my sins (I think I really did forget), and didn't write them down, and I remember staring blankly at Father for several awkward moments. I was barely 7, maybe not even, so that's my excuse. My penance was to say 3 Hail Marys, an Our Father and pray for him.

  4. Something we did on Goofd Friday in our evangelical church was to write down our sins on slips of paper, and then we nailed those papers to a large wooden cross. The ring of the hammers over and over again as a hundred people lined up to nail their sins to the cross made every person in the sanctuary cringe. Our sins did THAT?

    In evangelical circles, the opposite problem exists. Rather than "Catholic guilt" is the problem of justifying our sins, not confessing them. Without the Sacrament of Reconciliation, confession of any kind gets shoved into the background of our minds, justified to ourselves, forgotten BEFORE we are reconciled.

    So the sound of hammer on nail driven into wood was something that, for the first time for most of the people in that room, pointed out how and why Christ died. It's something we all know academically -- but those swinging hammers made it REAL. For once.

    Thanks for posting this and reminding me to once again approach my Anglican priest for Reconciliation. The Anglican Church does not require the Sacrament of Reconciliation: their "rule" about it is: "All May. None Must. Some Should." I personally think "All Should" myself, but at least the Anglicans have corporate confession in their services, something that almost NEVER occurs in evangelical circles. We might be told to "confess our sins to God" silently, but even that is rare. It's sad, really, and explains how so many famous evangelical preachers end up succumbing to sin in one way or another when there is no true confession of sin, or really any confession at all.

    It's sad, really.

    Anyway, I need to get to bed and stop babbling all over your blog, Anne. :)

  5. Wonderful story about your son.

    I think the "value" of confession is underscored by the fact that the religious, who would seem to need it least, do it the most. Take a look at the writings of St. Theresa of Avila -- she was so close to God that she heard God's voice frequently, yet she had a priest that was her constant confessor. We would do well to follow her example.

  6. Thank you all for these great comments!

    Susanne, what a powerful image it is to nail your sins to the cross on scraps of paper! And then leave them there for all to see would be such a strong sign! My favorite priest who I know I've written about quite a bit on this blog, Fr. Don, talks about the procession of people waiting to kiss the cross on Good Friday reminds him of the cross as a magnet drawing all of our sin to itself.

    Good for you for taking advantage of the confession opportunities that are available to you!

    Elizabeth, you are so right about the saints. To me, the fact that they avail(ed) themselves of this sacrament so frequently is part of what made them great saints!

    So glad to hear from all of you!

  7. What a beautiful reminder to us all! I,too, forget that the Lord " wipes the slate clean " as soon as we ask for forgiveness at times. I try to remember to look at Him, but sometimes I catch myself dwelling on my sinfulness instead of His Mercy. The good thing is that He works through us despite our weaknesses. Can you imagine what the world would be like if we all waited till we were " holy " to do His work. Nothing would ever get done! Thank you, Lord for confession, and for loving us in our " imperfectness. "

    Thanks for another great post!

  8. Anne that is such a beautiful story...thank you for sharing it; and how wonderful for Justin...that humble gesture on the priest's part where stay with your son his entire life I'm sure...and what a forgiving man he will be.

    Susanne's description of pounding those sins into the Cross is really something! I know that whenever we walk the Stations of the Cross that we built throughout our woods...I am VERY aware that my sins are what put Him there...there's something about being outside and in a private setting like that that brings it all to the surface.

    Thanks for this great post.

  9. That's a beautiful story, especially since he was so young and innocent! I loved when my son made his Confession, when he came out, he said, "I feel so good inside!" He is always the one to remind us it's time to go to Confession (monthly we go), I hope it stays that way forever!

    My sister is deaf and the priest always rips up her Confession that's she's written down. But somehow it's so much more powerful hearing the story about a 9 year old!

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  12. Sorry about deleting those. What I was trying to say was coming off all too wrong so I feel that it was probably something to keep to myself (my story, that is). So, I will just say that I feel deep compassion for those who feel that they are not forgiven even after confession and absolution. It's terribly sad. When I come across another person who feels that way, I now have your sons story to tell; and tell it I shall. It's compassionate and to the point.

  13. Really a beautiful story, Anne :)
    Talking about confessions, I have an old friend who is from the same town as Padre Pio and she used to go to him for confession when she was young. She always tells us of how Padre Pio used to know her sins - many times he said them for her and many times he scolded her saying 'you've missed out one - the most important'! She says he always ended by saying: 'This is your penance ... when you go home tell your daddy that he's making Our Lady cry (her dad spent all his salary on drinks) but my friend says that after a few times that she told her father what Padre Pio had said, her father started going to church again, stopped drinking and died having received communion from Padre Pio.

  14. Gabriella, that is the most beautiful story I have ever heard! I would just love it if the priest would tell me what my sins are, I think it would be so much easier and would prevent me from having scruples about not confessing everything, he would already know! How blessed you are to know this woman who knew Padre Pio! I wish I could rub your elbows and glean a little of that holiness you have touched through her friendship!

  15. Sarah, I loved all of your comments the first time around. You are honest and sincere and beautiful and compassionate and I am so glad to know you!

  16. How very beautiful!!! It brought tears to my eyes. Can I use this link for my other blog, A Tribute to Our Priests? My, this is indeed a loving tribute to our priests! God be praised for the loving forgiveness He bestows upon us through His priests!