22 July 2009

A confession story

I just saw a story of Fulton Sheen leading, rather forcefully, a woman into confessional, and it reminded of another story of confession told to me by a priest long ago.

There was a certain sainted priest of long ago who was well known for his ability at giving confession. (I believe it may have been St Philip Neri.) One day a rich man from the city came to confess to him. It was the first confession the wealthy man had in years, nor had he been to church in that time either. The priest began to give him his penance. "I want you to go to church once a week, and confession once a month..." the priest began.

"No no no," said the man. "I am an important man, and far too busy. I don't have time for that. Give me a penance that doesn't take up so much of my time."

"Then I want you to say the rosary every day and..." the priest began again.

"No no no. I don't have time for that. Give me something that takes up less of my time," said the man again. He repeated it the next time the priest began to suggest a confession, and the time after that.

"In that case," said the priest. "I have something very simple and easy for you to do."

"What is it?" asked the man.

The priest asked to see the man's hands. He took the man's hands in his own and showed the man how the lines on each palm can form the letter 'M'. "Every morning when you wake up, want you to look into your hands and see the two M's, and when you see them, understand them to mean 'momento mori': 'remember death.'"

The man agreed that this was a brief enough penance, and off he went.

A year passed, and the priest and the man met again. The man rushed to the priest and thanked him for that penance. "I now go to church and say the rosary every day, and to confession every week. I have given half my money to the church and I no longer swear as I once did, all thanks to you." He proceeded to thank the priest over and over for helping lead him to his new life, all because he forced him in confession to remember his end.

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