“Father, it’s been ten years since my last confession.” “Father, it’s the first time I’ve come to confession since my baptism.” “Father, I’ve never been to confession because I don’t know how to do it and I was ashamed to ask.” In Taipei, it is not uncommon to hear these kinds of phrases during the time I spend in the confessional, before or during the Mass. In front of these people, who, for the first, or almost the first, time, are accosted by the great mystery of the forgiveness of sins, I can do nothing but begin to pray. I am moved to pray that they and myself might take these encounters for what they really are: unmerited occasions for beginning again and for deepening our awareness of God’s mercy.
There are days in which no one comes. Other days, instead, there are various parishioners who decide to come to ask forgiveness for the sins they have committed. In the end, however, for me, putting on the purple stole is already an act of remembrance, which reminds me that I have been welcomed, forgiven, and chosen, and made into an instrument of this grace. The last time I heard confession was this past Sunday. I sat in the confessional while Emanuele was celebrating the Mass. After a good period of time quietly gone by, it had almost reached the time to get up and help distribute the Eucharist. I was consumed by the thought that maybe I had spent that there time uselessly, or, rather, that I had failed to share the enormous grace that I had “in my hands.” All of a sudden, EnYun entered the confessional. Rita is her baptismal name, a woman toward whom I nurture a certain reverential fear. She frequents the daily Mass, often accompanying her mother, and passes almost all of her mornings taking care of the church’s gardens and the church itself, the flowers, etc. Her presence is so frequent that it has earned her the nickname “associate pastor” from the other parishioners. When she was still in the womb of her mother, due to certain abortive medicines that the woman had taken, EnYun suffered cerebral damages, which are now manifest in certain motor dysfunctions. I remember the recoil I experienced when, soon after my arrival in Taiwan, I learned of her story. Her history certainly is dramatic, but what really strikes me, to this day, is the amount of love with which she takes care of her mother, now over eighty years old.
As soon as I saw her enter the confessional, I was immediately preoccupied by two things: for one, that I would not be able to understand what she would say. However, the greater preoccupation was with what I could possibly say to her, a woman with such a big heart. After the Mass, she came looking for me and said, “Thank you, shénfù, (which means father), for having heard my confession. I’m doing much better now.” This is truly the heart of being a priest, I thought to myself. In the darkness of sin and human misery, the light of sanctity becomes all the more evident. For this reason, there is not really a difference between being the instrument of mercy and being its’ object. In the confessional, and in the same way during the anointing of the sick or during the consecration of the Body and Blood of Christ, I take part in this enormous mystery, which, every time I am even minimally aware of it, moves me to tears.