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.