Very often people come to confession and repeat sins which they have confessed time and again.
The priest does not know what to do with it, neither does the one who comes to confession; it seems that he simply is in the power of these sins. I would like to remind you — not to remind you, because for most of you it is not a reminder, it is as warning — that when old age comes upon us, a moment comes when we cannot repulse, reject the thoughts that arise in us, and then we are confronted with memories that are for us a terror and a horror.
I remember an old woman who came to me and said: “I don’t know what to do. I can’t sleep any more, when the night comes memories of the past surge up in me, it is always memories of evil, memories of sin, memories of ugliness, and I don’t know what to do. I asked for help from the doctor; he gave me sleeping pills, but instead of curing me, they transformed the memories into delirium against which I can do nothing”.
I said to her: “Thank God for this”. God grants us to re-live our lives time and again, not in the sense that we come back to life after death in re-incarnation, but time and again memories of the past surge up in us and claim our attention. As though God was saying to us: “This has happened in your life; this sin you have committed; these words, cruel, harsh, you have spoken to someone; you have wounded the soul of so and so. What is your attitude now? When you sinned twenty, thirty, forty years ago, you probably did not understand about life most of what you understand now. But now, enriched by years of experience, what would you do if you were transported again to that moment which comes like a delirious dream to you? What would you do? Would you say the same words? Would you do the same thing? Would you sin again in the same manner? Instead of trying to escape the memory, go back to that moment and ask yourself: “Now, enriched by the experience of many years, would I do the same? Would I speak the same words? Would I wound a person the way I did?” And if you can say with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, all your determination “No, this would be impossible now” then the sin which has come to your memory, will drop into non-existence.
But until you can confess it to God and to yourself, until you can recognise it as evil and reject it with all your being, it is not a sin of the past, it has remained a sin of your present, your present day sinfulness, nothing else.
Another example comes to my mind, that of an old woman who was dying; she made a confession and I felt there was something lacking in it and I said to her: “Before I give you absolution, tell me, are you at peace with everyone?” And she said: “With every one but one person, and that person I shall never forgive” “In that case,” I said, “I cannot give you absolution and I refuse to give you Communion”. “But I cannot die into eternal death”. “You shall, until you put right your life now, before death has come to you. I give you an hour; in an hour I will come back and you have to answer my question”.
I came back an hour later; she received me with shining eyes and said: “Thank you for not being merciful to me. I rang this person whom I hated for years and we have made our peace; he is coming presently, and now I can say I have forgiven him from the bottom of my heart, with all my being”. Then I gave her absolution and Communion, and having met this person, she died in peace.
I give you these thoughts and these examples because I think we ought not to wait for the hour of death, we ought not to wait until old age makes us victims of these atrocious memories, of this delirium of sin which we thought belonged to the past and which has remained to the present.
Let us reflect on this, and when we think that we will come to confession and say: “Father, I have done this and that”, let us stop before we come to the confession and ask ourselves: “How is it that I have not repented? How is it that this sin is still my present condition?”, ask ourselves: “Why, how has it become so powerful over me?” And then act; act passionately; act daringly to free ourselves from things small or big.
If we do not do that every time, sin emerges from the depths of our memory, of our soul, and a day will come when we are confronted with it in old age in the way in which this woman was. She got rid of it all, because she understood, but how many do not.
Let us, therefore, with all our energy, all our courage, face our past, everything in it, and cleanse it, because as long as this past is not cleansed it is our present.
May God’s mercy be on us; may His light shine upon us, may His grace lead us into true repentance and into newness of life. Amen.
Published: Newsletter № 288, 1995 September