[This column appeared in the Catholic Standard & Times on 11 September 2008]
Then some men appeared, carrying on a bed a paralyzed man whom they were trying to bring in and lay down in front of him. But as the crowd made it impossible to find a way of getting him in, they went up on to the flat roof and lowered him and his stretcher down through the tile into the middle of the gathering, in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith he said, “My friend, your sins are forgiven you.”
The house rules are posted on our refrigerator, ready for those not infrequent moments when someone needs reminding that if you take it out, you should put it away. The one rule my sons never forget is, “What happens in Mom’s Mini, stays in Mom’s Mini.” The seal on conversations in my car is nearly as sacrosanct as that of the confessional.
The questions the boys let fly as we traverse the Main Line are at times silly, and at times poignant: “Were you sad when Tom died?” Chris asked one day after a visit from my late husband’s father. Then, there are the questions for which I have no answers, as when stopped at a light on Montgomery Avenue last spring, Michael asked me why God let evil things happen.
The “ask anything” atmosphere in my car extends to their friends as well. Last spring, I was hauling home a load of young men from school when the conversation turned to confirmation. “I have to go to a penance service tonight!” grumbled one, unworried that I might report his reluctance to his mother. Sympathetic sighs emanated from his buddies, except for Mike. “Don’t go,” he urged.
To the astonishment of his friends (and me, I must confess), he regaled the car with the tale of how I had made him go to confession, rather than a communal penance service, before his own confirmation the previous year. And how much better it was — or at least shorter and less boring. “Just go to confession” was the moral of his story.
The men in the account of the paralytic in Luke’s Gospel remind me of Mike and his friends. I can imagine them scheming to find the best way to get their buddy in front of Jesus, chortling when they discover they can get around the crowd by taking off the roof. Their ingenuity on behalf of a friend knows no bounds.
St. Augustine’s teacher, Ambrose, reflecting on this passage in his exposition on Luke’s Gospel, reminds us “to call intercessors, call the church” even when we ourselves cannot see the way clear to find Christ. “Because of His regard for the church, the Lord forgives what He may refuse you.”
Watching Mike work to get his friends before Christ in the sacrament of Penance, delighted to have found a way “around” the crowd, I realized anew how much we depend on each other for our access to God’s forgiveness of our sins. Even in this most private of sacraments, we need each other.
Almighty, ever-living God,
Whose love surpasses all that we ask or deserve, open up for us the treasures of Your mercy.
Forgive us all that weighs on our conscience, and grant us more even than we dare to ask.
We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Photo credit to two stout monks.