Last weekend, I was able to be in New Orleans for a few days to speak about the 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions and my new book, but I also had a chance to visit with some family members. My wife is from New Orleans, and her family has deep roots in the city. Whenever we come into town we always try to visit as many people as possible, but we put extra effort on this trip into seeing her grandmother, affectionately known as “Cita.”
Cita is in her eighties and, while she still cooks for herself, cleans her house, reads her books, watches the news, says her prayers and generally has a good head on her shoulders, she is prone to a bit of repetition. From time to time she repeats herself, and over the course of a few days, we often wind up hearing the same stories day after day.
Each time we visit, for some reason, she tends to tell me these basic stories:
- A story about how she had an aunt who became a nun, and how she only found out very late in her life about this nun.
- Stories of her upbringing in Curacao, including without fail, mention of the priests and nuns who taught her in school, how she used to hear the nuns singing, and how she got a serious, strict Catholic education from her family and her local monastery school.
Since I’m kind of a natural at story-telling, I often will joke with my wife about these stories, telling the main parts and asking her if Cita has ever told her about that one time when she found out she had a nun in the family. But for some reason on this trip, I was struck by a new thought.
I realized that, in those visits with my wife’s grandmother, I have a chance to try and listen to her stories the way God listens to our prayers and, especially, the way God listens to us when we confess. Any Catholic who has ever made a decent run at trying to go to confession often will typically realize that they are confessing the same thing, more or less, every single time. It can be very frustrating and disheartening.
In the frustration of realizing we are making the same mistakes over and over again, a common reaction is to think “Well, maybe I shouldn’t be going to confession so much. It seems like I’m not making any progress, and I keep doing the same thing every time. God can’t possibly want to keep forgiving me after I keep promising to do better.”
That temptation, no doubt subtly whispered into our ears by the Devil or his minions, is very dangerous. It’s a move to despair, and it’s motivated partly by our own embarrassment and partly by our underestimation of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Too often we imagine God to be bored by hearing the same stories, the same apologies, the same promises. How many times will this guy keep making the same confessions? Why doesn’t he just give up? Why is he here, Again, to confess the same thing!?
Of course, this is not at all how God hears our confessions. Because He loves us, and is closer to us than we are to ourselves, he desires our salvation, and is waiting with baited breath to forgive us. Pope Francis talks about this some in his book, The Name of God is Mercy. What God needs is only the slightest crack, the tiniest opening in our souls for humility and an honest assessment of our sinfulness. He doesn’t need absolute assurance that we’ll never sin again, and in the mystery of His goodness, God does not tire of forgiving us.
One of my parish priests often says that in a strange way, the privileged place of encountering God is in our sins, because it is precisely there that we realize our own insufficiency. We can’t solve our own problems. We have to finally throw ourselves at the mercy of God and beg Him to forgive us. But this is, of course, precisely what God wants to do.
So while I may sometimes tire of hearing Cita’s stories, God never tires of hearing mine. And how different might we be if we even attempted to listen to the mundane and boring stories that elderly folks tell us with just a modicum of the approach that God takes to listening to our sins?
I think this insight can help us to be more sincere in the time we spend with elderly (or with children, who often repeat the same stories over and over). But it can also perhaps help us appreciate the beauty of God’s patience and mercy with us when we’re going to confession.
God Love You!