Yesterday, a group of children whom I hadn’t seen for several weeks came by my house to pay me a visit. They were pretty amazed by my new electric wheelchair and the new sidewalk in front of the house. Unlike many adults who saw this sidewalk and thought, “it’s too bad about Fr. Moses, but quite convenient for him to get to the road, so he can easily drive his wheelchair to church,” one little boy said, “that looks like fun! Can I drive the chair down there?” This little boy was excited – how different a child’s perspective can be!
This reminded me of many times when my mother lamented over the fact that we were poor, but I never thought of us that way. We always had everything we needed, and more. It wasn’t until I entered high school and started comparing our situation with some of my contemporaries’, that I realized we were, indeed, poor.
Back to the children. After each one had told me about all their adventures, from capturing fireflies in a jar to making hideouts in the nearby woods, we got down to more serious business. One asked if he could make Confession, and they all joined in. “Have you prepared yourself to make Confession?” I asked, suspecting that they’d likely been prompted by their parents to make the request. Than I gave them a little instruction, as is fitting for children. I went through the Commandments: “Have you lied?” Have you stolen? Have you been covetous? Have you forgiven everyone that has offended you, hurt your feelings or even done you wrong?” One of the older children asked what I meant. Then I changed my tone, from being the jovial grandfather to the more serious spiritual father, and said, “Let me tell you a story.”
“Do you remember the nursing home we went to last year to sing Christmas carols to the elderly and infirm?” The children remembered. “Well,” I continued, “I used to go there every other week to visit. There was one lady I always paid special attention to because she was my mother’s friend and I grew up around her and her family. Her children were my classmates. She was always so happy to see me, and to reminisce about the times she and my mother, both expert bakers, used to make cakes and pies to order and sell them for special occasions to the wealthier people in our town. This lady and I always had a pleasant time, and she’d fill in many gaps and awaken sweet memories of days gone by. One night, I got a call from the nursing home that the lady was dying and I rushed over to her bedside. She was near to death and I could hear the death rattle. She gently squeezed my hand and said, ‘I don’t have long.’ I asked, ‘Do you have anything against anyone.’ ‘No.’ ‘Have you forgiven everyone?’ ‘Everyone but my sister, and I will not forgive her for what she did to me.’ Her sister was executor of the their family estate. and it had always been known in the family that when the parents died, the farm, property and cattle would go to all three sisters. However, the oldest sister, the executor, kept it all to herself and didn’t share one bit with her siblings.”
By this point in my story, the listening children were still as statues. I continued. “The lady said, ‘I refuse to let her off the hook for all the pain she’s caused us. My family would have been much better off had she had done the right thing.’ I reminded her that she’d done a good job raising her children. They never lacked for much and turned out to be upstanding people in the community. She said, as she was about to die, ‘I will not forgive her.”‘
I told the children that the lady had died with a grimace on her face, and her mouth wide open in pain and woe. “You must forgive everyone who trespasses against you,” I said, “so that your reward in Heaven may be great. It’s just like the new sidewalk. When the concrete is newly poured, you can easily straighten out the flaws and make it smooth. But once it starts to harden, that’s more difficult, and you can get stuck in your sin. So prepare yourself for your Confession.”
Like hardened concrete, our deeply held resentments become part of how we are constructed, and breaking them up could destroy the false reality we’ve built. We hold fast, like my old friend, to what we’re used to, what could become part of our core belief. May God grant that we are given the strength to forgive, to be straightened and smoothed, to enter Eternal Life.
photo: Fr. Moses and a couple of young parish members, years ago.