Starting Point
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Issue Date:  May 27, 2005

Starting Point


My confessor had the face of a mountain, craggy with deep crevices and lines that reflected he’d been around a long time and would not allow a few sins or even a major scandal to shake his faith in God or in the church. His bloodshot eyes reflected a pool of wisdom and weariness as he welcomed me to his office that soon became a reconciliation room.

We celebrated the sacrament like we were two old friends sipping Irish whiskey and catching up on lost times. Maybe that is what the sacrament is meant to be: a soulful conversation between friends in a safe place, talking about the times we’ve been lost.

I got the sense he’s heard it all before, hundreds of times. Though we believe in original sin most of us are so unoriginal when it comes to sin. He affirmed that God’s grace and mercy is always there. That’s what God’s love is for -- giving. And I felt forgiven.

Fr. Matthew was a minister of reconciliation. He listened and I felt heard. He heard my confession. His counsel may have been generic in nature but because this man has been around the mountain more than a few times it seemed more than genuine. This is who he was as a minister of reconciliation: genuine and generous.

After the sacrament, we looked out the window. Snow was swirling and Fr. Matthew smiled, “A Kentucky blizzard,” he said. “Don’t worry about it. Carry on.” Sure enough by the time I left the abbey on my way to the cemetery, the snow had stopped. I stood at the grave of one of my heroes, Fr. Louis, known to the world as Thomas Merton. “He’s between two Foxes,” my confessor had said. “Tell him Matthew says Hi.” I found his grave between two monks named Fox. There was a wreath on the weatherworn cross but nothing more to designate it as a place where I assume many pilgrims have trod before me.

As I concluded my prayer at the grave of Fr. Louis, a reddish hue hung over the horizon suggesting that God signed off on the deal sealed by Fr. Matthew. “Carry on,” he said. “Go in peace.”

Precious Blood Fr. Joe Nassal is a retreat director and the author of eight books.

National Catholic Reporter, May 27, 2005

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