Touched by God’s mercy

By Rita Buettner
When I was 5, I took a red crayon and wrote my name on the wall next to the bookcase in our upstairs hallway.
My mother discovered my handiwork and came to find me.
“Rita,” she said, “did you do this?”
“No,” I told her. Then I pointed to my little brother, who was 3 and couldn’t read. “He did it.”
My little brother looked at the red marks on the wall – marks an adult could see clearly spelled out “R-I-T-A.”
“Yes,” he said proudly. “I drew that spider.”
Somehow, even then, my lie didn’t work.
Obviously my parents didn’t need to ask me whether I had written my name on the wall. I had incriminated myself before that interrogation. And, even if he wanted to, my younger brother couldn’t get me off the hook.
But I realized later that by asking me to admit what I had done my parents were actually teaching me an important lesson. They wanted me to learn to tell them the truth, take responsibility for my actions, and be prepared to face the repercussions.
As a mother now, I find myself taking a similar approach with my children, asking them to explain what happened – even when I already know. I want to listen and understand their perspectives, but I also see the importance in being able to explain your actions, your motivations, and – at times – your regrets and intentions to do better.
Those conversations are not easy, especially for a child, but they are important. Putting together the words to explain what you did wrong takes courage, whether you are apologizing to a person you have hurt or telling Jesus through a priest in the sacrament of reconciliation.
Going to confession doesn’t come easily to me. I have to take the time to prepare myself and then I have to talk about my sins and failings. It is much simpler to think of reasons why I don’t have time to go this week or next week or the week after. But when I walk out of the confessional, I always feel lighter, loved, forgiven and touched by God’s mercy.
At those moments I remember that this sacrament is not an obligation, but a gift. As Catholics, the church encourages us to receive the sacrament of reconciliation during Lent and Advent, but it is also available to us throughout the year. And I need to keep in mind what a beautiful opportunity it is.
“In failing to confess, Lord, I would only hide you from myself, not myself from you,” said St. Augustine.
The truth is that Our Father in Heaven already knows what we have done. He knows what we will say. But He wants to hear it from us. He wants a deeper, more personal connection to each of us, his beloved children. And, through confession, we receive the gift of his immeasurable grace. What a gift.
“Go to your confessor; open your heart to him; display to him all the recesses of your soul; take the advice that he will give you with the utmost humility and simplicity,” said St. Francis de Sales. “For God, who has an infinite love for obedience, frequently renders profitable the counsels we take from others, but especially from those who are the guides of our souls.”
Isn’t that beautiful, to think of priests as the guides of our souls? And so, of course, are parents for their children, as mine are for me, and my husband and I are for our children.
The story of my lie about writing my name on the wall is part of family lore, and my parents and I laugh about it now. I think of it, however, when I realize one of my children is telling me only part of a story, or a different version. As I help to lead him to the truth and talk with him about what he could have done differently, I try – though I so often fall short – to be the parent our Father is to me, guiding with faith, patience, mercy and love.

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Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.