12. The Sacrament of Mercy
The Spiritual Father
Angela’s mum Sophia is very happy today. Her two older beloved children; her daughter Christina and her fiancé John are with her. They came to tell her that, both of them together before they get married, want to start a new spiritual life under the wise guidance of Father Chrysostom.
Father Chrysostom is a good priest who lives ascetically in a small monastery near their village. Both John and his beloved Christina want to have the same spiritual Father and confessor, to whom they will trust the spiritual path of their souls.
The whole village respects and appreciates this reverent priest very much. The reputation of his virtue is the reason that so many people from the surrounding villages, even from the capital, come to him in order to consult with him, to confess their sins and so receive the forgiveness of their sins. His words are full of prudence and wisdom. He loves everybody, especially sinners, with such a great love that he gives you the feeling that you are his own child. People rightfully feel that he is a heavenly angel who spreads love, joy and serenity into their souls. When you’re with him you feel that you are close to God. Many times, when he listens to the people’s sins, he suffers so much that tears of compassion and mercy flow from his eyes. Although his fatherly love is so obvious, everybody feels they are covered by a motherly affection that makes them love and trust him.
Christina’s parents respect and love him very much. By his help and holy and wise teachings they have for many years now walked the blessed path of their marriage with love and peace. Both of them owe him their spiritual progress and their great love for God. Father Chrysostom, seeing the simplicity of their souls and also the longing they had to love the King Christ with all the power of their hearts, was leading them more and more on the angelic path of divine love with grace and wisdom. Thanks to him both of them have been living like angels on earth with joy and serenity and they wanted the same thing for their children. So, John and Christina decided to entrust the spiritual guidance of their souls to this holy priest and confessor.
-Mum, I am very happy that we will go today together with my John to confess to father Chrysostom!
-My Christina, I am also very excited that the Holy Spirit enlightened you to have a common spiritual father and especially this man of God. He is an earthly angel whom our God sent us to guide us with wisdom and compassion to the high mountaintops of holy virtues. I have learned so many things from this holy man!
-Mum, could you tell us some of the wonderful words you have heard from him, in order to help us to be better prepared for the confession that we want to do?
- With pleasure my children!
The greatness of the Sacrament of Repentance
Christina was excited because she gave the opportunity to her mum to teach her once again in her wonderful own way all those great things which were hiding in her motherly heart. She loved her mum, not only because she was a good mother and wife, but because she had a feeling in her heart that her mum was a true holy mother. Her spiritual kindness made her look like noble lady. Her simple, honest and sincere attitude towards all people makes you feel that you have a holy woman in front of you. If you want to start a conversation with her, her words full of wisdom and love will help you to realize what daughters of God are like. How much Christina wanted to be like her!
-Mum, I would also like my John to listen to all these nice words you were often telling me about the Sacrament of Repentance which were helping me very much. As the time gets closer to the wedding with my John, we are thinking that it would be much better to start our new life with the decision not to hide anything from each other and to have a common spiritual father and confessor. In that way we will be able to solve the problems better which will occur and we will also have a common direction on our spiritual path.
-My Christina, what you have decided to do with John is very wise. This will help you to fly very quickly, not only on the high mountaintops of virtues, but also to the most beautiful desire of your soul, to love with divine love, both of you as one, our beloved King Jesus. There is no doubt that the first step of the ladder which will lift you up into the arms and then into the heart of our Lord Jesus is the Sacrament of Repentance.
Little Angela, who was following silently her mum’s conversation with her sister Christina until now, asked her mother for permission to sit near them in order to get the benefit of her wise words.
-Mum, I also want to hear what you will say. May I stay with you?
-Of course, my Angela! I also want you to learn about this great mystery of love which is the Sacrament of Repentance, because in that way you will be able to cultivate from now on, with the prudence of a grown up girl, the wonderful gift which is given to all people by our heavenly Father.
-Mum, I know that I might not be able to understand some things as my Christina and John can, but I will beg my beloved Jesus to help me in this.
- My child, all of us have to beg our good God to enlighten us with the power of the Holy Spirit, because without it no man can properly understand His Will and also the ways of the salvation of our souls.
-Mum, you said earlier that the Sacrament of Repentance is the first step of the ladder which will bring us into the heart of our God. Why is it the first step of this ladder?
-Because, my Christina, without the Sacrament of Repentance man's salvation is impossible. Because all humans are sinners and guilty in front of divine justice, there is no other way and means to return to God after Holy Baptism and be released from sin, apart from repentance and confession. If by Holy Baptism we become Christians, by Repentance and Confession we find again the way to the Kingdom of Heaven and eternal life. It is the only way by which the soul is purified from sin and so can live again in the arms of God.
-Mum, when was this wonderful gift of God given to man?
-After our Lord’s resurrection, the Holy Bible says, namely in the gospel of John the Theologian, in the 20th chapter and verses 19 to 23; when all the disciples of Christ were gathered together in a house because of their fear of the Jews, our resurrected Lord appeared among them and gave them strength and consolation. Then He also gave them the divine power for them to be able, and later their successors, bishops and priests, to forgive the sins of those people who will honestly repent for their mistakes, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Those sins for which people will repent and will confess to them and later to their successors, bishops and priests, will be immediately erased from the ledgers of the demons.
-When we commit sins, mum, are they recorded by demons in their ledgers? Asked little Angela.
-Yes, my little girl. The demons in their effort to drive more and more people into the gloomy hell, they first make people commit sins and then they record them in their own ledgers.
-And why do they do it?
-As we have said before, my child, when a man dies and his soul begins to rise to heaven, accompanied by his guardian angel, the toll-houses of the souls appear to prevent the soul from being saved. To achieve their aim in taking that soul from the hands of the angels in order to lead it to hell, they take out their ledgers and start to list all the mistakes and sins that the soul had committed during its life on earth.
-Do they achieve this, mum?
-They easily achieve it with only those people who did not want to go to a spiritual father and confess their sins, so that their guardian angel is able to erase them from the ledgers. For this reason the Sacrament of Repentance is the most crucial mystery for man’s salvation. At the time of confession we must all have deep in our souls the feeling of the importance of this moment. It is the moment that heaven is listening to us and our soul is being judged. It is somehow the representation of the moment when the soul passes by the toll-houses, only that now we have the ability to erase an error or sin that we have committed.
Different kinds of excuses
-Mum, when we confess our mistakes in front of the icon of our Lord doesn’t our good God forgive us? Angela continued.
-He always listens to us whenever we speak to Him through our prayers about our sorrows, problems, anxieties, mistakes and sins and whatever else troubles us. As our Father that He is, He takes cares of everything with His infinite wisdom, however, since our mistakes and sins were the reason for Satan to gain power and force over us, He wants not just to purify us but also to release us from every influence and bond with which Satan managed to deviously chain a soul.
The different kinds of passions and sins which we unfortunately commit are pushing us more and more into the arms of Satan.
-So, mum, every time we commit a sin, is it an opportunity for Satan to bind us tighter with his satanic bondage? Asked Christina.
-Yes, my child, that's why the repentance of man for his mistakes is not a simple case and a simple way to apologise for these. Your desire to confess before God is the first realisation of the mistake that you have committed and offended our good God. But the forgiveness for these mistakes and especially the healing of our soul from the terrible effects of sins requires the existence of a spiritual doctor who will diagnose the causes which led us to this specific mistake and will give us the appropriate treatment to cure it. Without a doctor no sick person can know by himself what the right medicine is for its treatment.
-I understand, mum, what you want to say. Even if we confess our mistakes before the icon of Lord, His icon cannot talk to us in order to forgive us or to advise us what we have to do to heal ourselves from the poison of sin in our soul. We must always go to the spiritual confessors that our church has appointed in order to confess our mistakes, to be forgiven and to help us with spiritual healing.
-That’s exactly right my child. That’s why our Lord, due to the critical damage of sin on our soul, since it has the power to lead us into the gloomy hell, He established the holy sacrament of Repentance, which can also be called the sacrament of His utmost Mercy. It is the most blessed Sacrament since through it God expresses His infinite love and mercy to sinful man.
-But why, mum, do some people refuse to go to the confessor and want to admit their mistakes only in front of the holy icon of our Lord?
-The first excuse is the shame that they feel for their mistakes and the other one is the selfishness that lies in the depths of their soul. They feel shame that their reputation will be ruined in front of the priest, when they reveal the mistakes they have committed and the satanic excuses they use in order to justify their pride and they don’t easily allow them to go to the confessor with humility. That’s why they prefer the easy solution to tell them only to the icon of Christ, as if the icon itself can forgive you or assure you that God forgives you! It is, my little girl, an insidious plot of Satan to keep a sinful soul away from salvation. Our Lord was clear when He was saying that He will forgive our mistakes only when we repent them and confess them with humility and a remorseful heart to the confessors. Only by confession can they be erased from the ledgers of the evil demons!
-Mum, you also mentioned some other satanic excuses which people use in order not to go to the spiritual confessor. What are they?
-Well, some people say: "Why should I tell my sins to the priest, since he is also a sinner?"
-What could we say to them? John queried.
-The Gospel says, my John, that there is no man who does not commit mistakes and sins. That’s why everyone needs the holy sacrament of Repentance whether they are laity or clergy. However, we have to remind those people who by the cunning of demons say these words, of something very simple. It never concerns us when we are sick and go to the hospital, whether the doctor who will make the diagnosis of the disease and give us the necessary medicines for treatment, is a saint or a sinner. What interests us is to be healed from our illness and to be completely well! I'll tell you another example.
When, my child John, we take a trip by any means of transport, we never check the morality of the driver. We are just interested reaching our destination. Does it also increase or decrease the nice smell of a rose when it is offered to us by a saint or a sinner? The same happens with the priests, independent of whether they are saints or sinners, whenever we go honestly to change our life and confess our mistakes and sins; we get the forgiveness of our sins by the grace of the Holy Spirit. We must never forget that, during the sacred moments of confession we don’t say our mistakes to the priest, but to God Himself who is listening to us. It is He who forgives us through the priest and cleanses us from every impurity of our soul. But this doesn’t mean that we will not try to find the best spiritual confessor who, except for the forgiveness which he will give us by the grace of the Holy Spirit, he will also help us spiritually with his enlightened advice! Don’t we do the same thing when we are sick? Don’t we try to find the best doctor?
-What strikes me, however, is that some people claim that they have no sins, so they don’t need to confess, John went on.
-I have also heard them my John. I remember when I encouraged someone to confess so that serenity would come into his troubled heart, he told me: "What sins should I say to the priest, since I neither stole nor committed adultery, nor killed nor harmed anyone."
-And what did you reply to him mum?
-What is written by the beloved disciple of our Lord John the Theologian in one of his epistles: "If we claim that we have no sins then we are deceived by Satan and the truth is not in us (John 1:8). The Apostle James says: "We all commit many mistakes and sins" (James, 3:2). It is true, my child, that many times people do not to commit a great and serious sin but some small ones that while we don’t pay any attention to them, they have the power to destroy a soul. It reminds me of those people who were saved from great diseases and died from a simple cold or flu which became pneumonia. Therefore, all people should be careful with the great as well as with small mistakes and sins.
The heart’s mistakes
-Mum, what are really the most dangerous sins for our soul? Asked Christina.
-Man, my little girl, consists of two parts, the material body and the intangible and immortal soul; and so the mistakes which he makes sometimes concern the one part and sometimes the other. Of course, since our body is visible, its mistakes are more easily perceived, for example, the carnal sins of man. On the contrary, the war of Satan against the soul is not easily understood by man, so as a result of this, the wound which is caused by sin is deeper and more hidden. It's like when you bleed. When the bleeding is external, the wound is visible and the doctor can easily heal it. But when the bleeding is internal the diagnosis is difficult, and then man can even die very quickly. For this reason, the heart’s mistakes are much more dangerous than those of the body. That’s why when we commit a carnal sin we repent faster and more easily, while with insidious mistakes of the heart it is very difficult to repent and often we don’t repent at all.
-Mum, all of us know more or less the mistakes of the body, Christina said. All of us know how great the sins of murder, abortion, drugs, theft, immorality and various other carnal sins are. I would like you now to help us to better understand the mistakes of the heart, but also the way by which we will be protected from them.
-Our soul is expressed, my Christina, through the mind and the heart. However, we can never know what someone has on his mind and in his heart, if God hadn’t given us the great gift of speech. Through words we learn what someone has on his mind and in his heart, but at the same time, we also show to people what we have in our soul. Man’s mouth is somehow the gate to his soul. So someone who wants to keep his soul safe from any influence of Satan, should take care of these three things more than anything else; first his mind, then his heart and then his tongue.
-What should we be careful of with our mind mum? Asked Christina.
-First of all not to be selfish and think that we are better than other people. This creates pride in our soul and makes us have contempt for others. Sometimes this selfishness is obvious, so it can be more easily uprooted. Other times, however, it is hidden and it is more difficult to detect. That's why hidden selfishness is more dangerous because it is quite difficult to uproot.
-How do we know whether we have selfishness?
-First an obvious sign of pride in the soul is when someone always wants his own way with stubbornness and anger even if it is obvious that it is wrong. Secondly a sign of this evil selfishness is jealousy and envy which are created in our soul against our fellowmen. These two things have such a destructive power which is expressed with the third and most terrible sign of our selfishness which is criticism. The first sign grows easily in our mind, the second one in our heart and the third one with our words.
-Mum, why is criticism more terrible than the other two?
-Because the first two may exist in a soul due to weakness, so he is struggling to uproot them, while criticism is the final aggressive movement of a soul against a fellow human being which can destroy him. That’s why our people have a very important saying: "The tongue has no bones but it can break bones." The apostle James says in the first chapter of his epistle that: "Whoever thinks he is a religious man but doesn’t control his tongue, deceives himself and his religion is worthless” and in the third chapter of his epistle he notes the following, equally significant: "If a person does not make mistakes with words, he is a perfect man, able to control his whole being. The salvation of our soul depends on our words, as the Spirit of God says: "By your words I will vindicate you and by your words I will criticise you." Didn’t our Christ also say to us clearly, "do not judge others, so you will not be judged "?
The poison of the excuse
-I can’t imagine, mummy, that the tongue and the thoughtless words we say could be the greatest problem on a correct spiritual path!
-It is an even greater problem, my Christina, when, instead of repenting for the different kinds of mistakes we committed, we use it now to start making excuses. All of us ignore that the excuse we use to vindicate ourselves and so to justify our mistakes and sins is the most effective poison which is used by Satan to punish our soul. Do you know, my child, how many people go to confession and instead of saving themselves they get punished even more?
-How can this be, mum, since the reason we go to confession is to cleanse ourselves from our sins?
-My child, when someone commits a sin Satan makes him believe that it wasn’t his fault but someone else led him to do it. It is the moment that the hidden selfishness of man is activated with the help of the devil, the satanic defense of excuse. So this man, instead of admitting his mistake and taking full responsibility for the sin that he committed by his will, he begins making excuses.
-But, mum, this is not a true repentance, is it?
-Of course not, my little girl. It is not repentance but a cause for man’s soul to be punished even more, because he turned the sacrament of repentance from a mystery of remorse and blessing into a mystery of vindication and conviction of his soul. At this holy sacrament we should not say anything else except for our mistakes and sins. It is the moment when the whole of Heaven is open and ready to accept the remorseful heart of man and not to hear the problems that trouble him. We entrust our various problems into the hands of God through our daily prayers. My children, when we go to confession, we must not lose the sense of how critical it is, because according to the confession that we are going to make we either will be saved or condemned by our Creator. It is the moment that our soul is judged. And to repeat, it is a representation of the moment when the soul passes through the toll-houses, but this time he has the ability to erase the mistake or sin he committed. Who will dare to lie before God and demons or to deal with another soul by judging it? Do you know what is going to happen if we commit this mistake and instead of apologizing from our heart for our mistakes, we start making excuses and judgments?
-What is going to happen, mum? Little Angela asked anxiously.
-My spiritual father told me that at that time two terrible things happen to this soul. First, he forces his own God to turn away from him because instead of crying with a remorseful heart for his mistakes and apologizing, he comes with daring and audacity to offend his brother. He criticizes and condemns him in front of the priest and the whole of Heaven through cheap excuses. Secondly, this soul gives Satan the right to rule over it, due to the excuses and criticism that he made against his brother. So this soul, instead of leaving the confessional vindicated by God, leaves condemned and with more demons than he came with. Therefore, my beloved children, when you go to confession tell only your own mistakes without excuses and criticisms against any one else. Then God will accept your apology and will erase all your sins from the ledgers of the demons. Never forget that God will forgive you accordingly to the repentance that you will show for your mistakes and not just about what you will say to your confessor. That’s why it is necessary to observe the three steps of repentance before going to confession. Each one of them is a blessing from our good God.
-What are these three steps mum? Asked Angela.
-The first step of repentance, my Angela, is the awareness of the mistake we committed. Our conscience which our good God has given us is a great and precious gift to every human soul and also helps us a lot in this. Our conscience is somehow the voice of God in our souls. It shows us our mistakes and encourages us towards virtue. Therefore, we should never ignore its advice and silence it with our indifference. It helps us to move to the second step of repentance which is to stop the mistake we committed. The third step is to correct the mistake we have committed, in case we treated someone unfairly or slandered our brother. The bitterness of injustice and slander does not allow a soul to rest in the arms of God and so to find its lost peace and serenity. That’s why, in this case, a simple apology is not enough for a sinful soul to be forgiven, if he doesn’t previously humble himself and doesn’t specifically confess the slander with which he discredited his brother. By keeping these three steps of repentance, which someone could also call them the three steps of blessing; the repented soul is able to turn to the confessor priest to complete the great sacrament of mercy of our good God, with a remorseful heart for his mistakes. In this fourth step our God Himself through the priest forgives His child's soul and returns it to His divine fatherly embrace.
-All of us would like to thank you, our sweet mummy, for all these beautiful things you have told us and helped us to understand this great gift of God which is the sacrament of Repentance. Tonight my John and I will write down all those mistakes we have committed, so that tomorrow we will go to our good spiritual father Chrysostom and under his holy stole will get rid of all those little thorns from our soul. Allow us, mummy, to give you a kiss of love from the depths of our heart to show you how much we love you and how much we thank our good God for the sweet mummy He gave us!