This is a guest post by Joe Durepos.
My mother came into her adult faith with intense feelings of unworthiness. In her weekly confessions, she was so hard on her herself that her confessor often refused giving her penance—except encouraging her to be gentle with herself.
One Saturday evening, she went to confession at her usual time, only to find a guest priest in the confessional. This was the 1960s, so she didn’t see his face.
When she completed her confession, the priest remained quiet. When he finally did speak, he told my mother that she was absolved of her past sins. Then he added that she was absolved of all her future sins.
My mother told me later that she panicked, wondering if the priest could even do that. Wasn’t it against the rules? Would one of them get in trouble?
Then the priest quietly told her that for the next year, he would take her penance for her. So in place of assigned prayers or other penitential actions, he asked her to experience God’s love and to trust in her worthiness to be loved.
My mother stumbled out of the confessional and into a pew to pray, trying not to cry. As each hour passed that day, she began to feel lighter, happier.
At Sunday Mass the next morning, she went to find the guest priest to thank him. But he had already left to fill in at another parish.
She never learned his name, but she never forgot him.
Joseph Durepos is an editor at Loyola Press and author of A Still More Excellent Way.