The confessional is a strange place, filled at times with remorseful tears and in the next breath unutterable joys. Hidden, dark, and enlightening, it is a revealing place — of my sins to Our Lord, and me to myself.
Often we are too hard on ourselves for mistakes we’ve made. At my last confession, Father made it very clear the Jesus NEVER condemns. Father mentioned a couple of things from behind the screen; that St. Francis de Sales wrote, when we err, to acknowledge what has happened, pick ourselves up and move on. Father connected that to what Jesus had said to the adulterous woman: to go and try to sin no more.
The Friday after reconciliation was a beautiful spring day, so I went into the yard to do some light work. A garden is “that thin place,” where the “membrane between us and God is slight.” It is where, outdoors and alone with the Creator in his creation, I heal best the divisions of the spiritual life.
The following Sunday, eager for Mass, I still felt shame for my already forgiven sins. The Gospel reading for the day was about the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8:1-11), an overly familiar passage.
A beloved priest, Fr. Brian Lenz, celebrated the Mass. His homily would open me to the Bible passage as never before, and leave me wondering about the steps forward after a lack of condemnation.
All of us try to keep our sins hidden, and for the most part we’re successful. Public humiliation is hard to bear! In this passage, the woman is caught in the very act, possibly dragged half naked into the crowd. She was fully exposed and publicly shamed, though I doubt her status was unfamiliar to the community.
Father brought out in his homily that the woman was left alone with Jesus. She was weak, vulnerable, and her sins clearly known. When everyone had abandoned her in her shame, she stayed — alone — seeking something from Jesus. In our weakness, in our shame and sin, we too stand in solitude to seek Our Lord, knowing we are helpless alone.
I thought back to working in the garden, and reflected on Father’s words from reconciliation that Jesus never condemns. And it came to me: If the adulteress was alone with Jesus, then no one heard the words he spoke except her. She was shown mercy, and instructed, privately.
So how do we know that this verbal exchange took place? That amazing courageous woman, within a community who knew her sins well, evangelized! She spoke of Christ’s mercy to the people who wanted her dead.
We don’t know if her conversion was complete, if when temptation came knocking at her door she was able to “sin no more.” What we do know is that we are human, we are going to sin, and that is exactly why Jesus went through the Passion.
We too, in our own struggle with sin, are called to speak of His mercy. We are not condemned.
Copyright 2019 Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB