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home : opinion : perspectives

9/1/2016 9:00:00 AM
A different experience of reconciliation
‘I NEED MERCY’ SERIES: This occasional series in The Evangelist for the Year of Mercy highlights personal experiences of mercy by people from across the Diocese. Read previous installments in the series under “Specials” (click on “Year of Mercy”) at www.evangelist.org.
‘I NEED MERCY’ SERIES: This occasional series in The Evangelist for the Year of Mercy highlights personal experiences of mercy by people from across the Diocese. Read previous installments in the series under “Specials” (click on “Year of Mercy”) at www.evangelist.org.

(Editor's note: The author is a Sister of Mercy from the Albany Diocese who serves as a spiritual director, and as pastoral associate for senior ministry and pastoral outreach at St. Vincent de Paul parish in Albany.)

Each year, at the Sisters of Mercy motherhouse in Albany, there is a retreat for sisters who would prefer not to travel to make their annual retreat. I have an office at the motherhouse for spiritual direction and, even though I'm not making the retreat, I sometimes come in early for an appointment, sit outside the chapel and listen to the retreat presentation.

About five years ago, there was a retreat director who was a priest and master storyteller. All of his stories were about God's love, compassion and unconditional mercy, and how God invites us to be that merciful presence to each other.

As I listened to these beautiful stories, I felt drawn to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation. I wanted to surrender my burdens to Jesus so that He could heal my heart. After liturgy one morning, I asked the priest. He said, "Now or later?" I replied, "Now would be fine."

This encounter was one of those extraordinary experiences of God's healing mercy and love. We went to a quiet place to talk. This man embodied the compassion that his stories were all about. He was very gentle and kind. The conversation flowed effortlessly. It was relaxed and vibrant.

He was interested in how my life was going, and that gave me an opportunity to share the good things as well as the more painful parts of my life. We laughed about the funny things that were happening, and he listened with great compassion to the things that were burdening me.

After sharing some sage advice and asking me if I was sorry for my sins, he prayed the prayer of absolution. I left that encounter feeling alive and free. It was one of those unexpected moments of grace. I have celebrated the sacrament of reconciliation with many wonderful and compassionate friends, but somehow this was different.

As I reflected on this experience, I began to wonder if this is what the final judgment will be like. I sense that I will meet Jesus, who is full of compassion and care -- the one who loves me even when I mess up and don't get it right. I can imagine us sitting and talking about how things have been going and Jesus receiving what I say with attention, understanding and love. It will be sharing my life story with a non-judging friend, just as I had done with this retreat director.

This image is quite different from what I learned as a child. That picture was quite frightening: the immense heavenly court, the big book being tallied, the embarrassment of having failed and the sternness of God.

No, I sense that the last judgment will be all about accepting or rejecting the love of Jesus as we transition from death to new life. It will be our opportunity to be forgiven for all that we have done that has fallen short of incarnating the love of God in our everyday lives.

There is a beautiful DVD from the Taizé community in France titled, "Praying the Songs of Taizé." The founder of this community, Brother Roger, talks about God and says that God is love. God cannot be anything but love, because that is who God is. God is not harsh or punishing. God is love.

When I think of my experience of God's healing mercy, I think of St. Julian of Norwich, who said, "All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well." How could we ever resist God's healing love and mercy?

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