Greetings to dearest Sisters in Christ! Taking a nature hike “off the beaten path” might lead to wandering into the domain of perilous critters, poisonous plants, or even a waterway with a swift current and no bridge in sight. Moses at the Red Sea and later his successor, Joshua, at the Jordan River, experienced such predicaments. How is it possible to lead the Israelites across? In both cases, God’s provision summoned cooperation: Moses to lift his arm and staff, and Joshua to dip his foot in the water. God made a way where there seemed to be no way.
How often we stand at a place in life, befuddled as to how to get to the other side. Our Lord is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He provides for His people – personally and with our collaboration. The Sacraments are personal encounters with Christ where all things are made new (II Cor 5:17, Rev 21:5). They serve to move a person from one place to another. The Sacrament of Confession is archetypal. When one wanders from the plan of God in the flurry of life and the fog of sin, God’s wisdom and love assigns His priests to assist. They are bridges of sorts, empowered and sent for the work. ‘As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’ (John 20:21-23).
God’s plan through sacramental Confession is a marvelous trifecta: a penitent, Jesus, a priest. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, to highlight this, a penitent kneels before an icon of Christ and offers the confession. The priest stands or sits to the side, listening, guiding as needed and poised to offer absolution. Our Lord underscored this for St Faustina (Diary, 1725): “My daughter… make your confession before Me. The person of the priest is, for Me, only a screen. Never analyze what sort of a priest it is that I am making use of; open your soul in confession as you would to Me, and I will fill it with My light.”
If a Seven Sister were to make her way to a front pew near the exquisite baldachin and tabernacle of the Cathedral of St Paul (St Paul, Minnesota), she would first pass the north and south transepts which house three double confessionals on each side. Here thousands have been brought by God out of a dimness of life to ‘begin again’ in new light. Aloft the confessionals are two colossal sets of three stained glass figures that together speak a thousand words about the sacrament of reconciliation. Christ is the central figure in each. A Penitent is on the left, a priest on the right.
On the north side, Jesus is depicted as Shepherd, pressing a lamb against His breast and another lamb shown attentive at His hem. In sacred Scripture Jesus often described Himself as a Shepherd in search of the lost sheep, imaged as a sinner. Approaching this confessional, the penitent is reminded of the unfaltering response of the Good Shepherd: seeking, finding, welcoming and rejoicing in the return. St Dismas (the good thief) is the window to Christ’s left. At Calvary Dismas expressed his guilt and sorrow, recognized Christ’s deity, and received forgiveness and the promise of paradise. St John Nepomuccene is the priest to Christ’s right. In 14th century Bohemia, he was confessor to the queen. The king demanded that the queen’s confession be disclosed to him. St John adamantly refused and the king bade for him to be bound, gagged and heaved into the river. This martyr is characterized with his index finger pressed to his lips, emphasizing the unwavering “seal of confession”, even unto death.
A Seven Sister would likely be especially fond of the windows on the south side. Jesus is centrally shown as the resurrected Christ at the time of the institution of the sacrament of reconciliation. The aforementioned Scripture from the gospel of St John is etched in this window. To His left is our companion, St Mary Magdalene, hair unbound and reverently balancing the flask of fragrant ointment. In contrast with St Dismas, her confession is not a deathbed event, but more typical of the confession that seeks holiness throughout a lifetime, compelled by love, step by step. To the right of Christ is our beloved patron, St John Vianney, donning a purple confessional stole which he holds up in a seeming gesture of both an invitation and as a promise of Christ’s sure power and love.
Gazing at the panorama of the six windows, one grasps the full influence of their instruction, taken as a whole. Jesus instituted the sacrament of Confession out of wisdom and merciful love. He beckons a personal encounter with Him through the ordained assistance of His brother priests. The shower of graces transforms a penitent’s life – grace upon grace, promised even unto the last breath.
May we know the privilege to pray for God’s chosen confessors and the privilege of availing ourselves of this great gift that stands to move both the priest and the penitent to new and full life in Christ! And consider this: our tri-patrons mirror the same trifecta– the Christ Child in the embrace of Madonna of the Grapes (Protectress of the Eucharistic life) in contemplation of the violent winepress ahead effecting forgiveness of sins. Alongside are our other two patrons – penitent and priest. St John Vianney rightly reflects, “We cannot comprehend the goodness of God towards us in instituting this great Sacrament of Penance…. He foresaw our frailty and our inconstancy in well-doing, and His love induced Him to do what we should not have dared to ask. If one said to those poor lost souls that have been so long in Hell, “We are going to place a priest at the gate of Hell: all those who wish to confess have only to go out” … Oh, how soon Hell would be a desert.”
United in prayer and mission…that our prayers may find the heart of every bishop and priest…
… eternal gratitude continues as you each remember to offer a wee Hail Mary for me every day…. “One Ave Maria makes hell tremble” (St John Vianney). Pray that I will not ‘spoil the beautiful work that God has entrusted…’ (St Teresa of Calcutta)
… your kind emails and notes and phone calls and generous support always arrive to my heart door at the right moment! Your financial sacrifices are for 100% furtherance of Apostolate. THANK YOU! The letters of testimony are so beautiful and edifying! What glory is given to God through your writing!
Eternal gratitude is mine for YOU! Be assured of my continued daily prayers for you at the altar.