“This is my Child, the Beloved, my favour rests on you.”


Pope Francis Meme

So, how are the New Year’s resolutions getting on?

Well, maybe better we just don’t go into that.
As it happens, the Church has a new year’s resolution given us by our Holy Father. It is one of Mercy – to bring reconciliation into the life of every single person we can.

Of all things that I ever do in my life, I believe that the most useful to humanity, is hearing confessions. I think there is no suffering, no pain, no anguish in life that is greater than guilt – the knowledge deeply felt of all the ways that I have failed to live up to the life that I had hoped for, all the ways that I have failed the promises of my baptism that my parents prayed for,  all the ways that I have brought sorrow into the eyes of the people who love me best, all the ways that I have failed the love that I have been shown, all the ways that I have failed the trust I have been given, all the ways that I have failed the examples that I have been set.

Sadly, it is usual that by the time the person comes to me in confession, so many of the things that she or he has done or failed to do cannot be taken back, cannot easily be healed, made good and restituted. And that may be so; there are some things – many things – which once done cannot easily be undone. But there is nothing; there is not one thing; there is nothing at all that cannot be forgiven. Even the code of Canon Law says so.

Well, I have to say, it might easily have been different. The sacrament of reconciliation is the only one for which, even as a priest, you have to pass a special examination. It is called ‘ex auds’. The pass mark was 50 out of 100 and I got that exact 50 out of a hundred. Even then, I knew that one or two of the examiners were being generous. Some time later, I heard that the examining board had to have a special meeting about me to decide whether I should actually pass or fail. Rightly, or wrongly (and I gather some of the examiners then present still wonder about this) the more generous spirits won out and I got through. Of all the examinations I have ever sat, it is the one for that made me most nervous. Of all the examinations I have ever passed, it is the one for which I am thankful. Had I failed, I would not have had the chance to do some of the most valuable things I’ve ever done for another human being. 

So, take just last Sunday, in the prison I had someone make one of those confessions that make even someone as lazy as me really glad they got out of bed that morning. Obviously, what was said remain the secrets of her heart; between her and her maker and they go no further than my ear. What she said was and is the secret of the Confessional. But there was no secret to how she looked. Because even as she came towards me I could see the bend in her spine that showed the weight of the burden that she carried. And how desperately she needed to lay it down before the Lord. The words went through my mind “come to me, all you who labour and are heavy burdened and I will give you rest, says the Lord.”

For a long time she simply knelt and wept. And after what seemed an age, finally she spoke. She did not speak long, but every word was like a gush of blood from her heart. And at the end I had the privilege of giving her the absolution of the Church - the full forgiveness that God came to bring to her and to every single individual for whom he gave his life.

She knelt again in front of the statue of the Blessed Virgin to say her penance. And then she walked out of the Chapel. As she walked out the door, I could see her back straighten and – well I know that in all civilised cultures, the unprovoked quotation of Val Doonican is rightly regarded as an act of war – but she walked tall, walked straight and looked the world right in the eye.

She is His Child, the Beloved. His favour rests on her.

Paul O'Reilly SJ