Having a parent in a nursing home means meeting new people. And so it was during a recent visit with my elderly parents in Michigan. My dad, at 88, does well living on his own. My mom, 82, has been in a nursing home for two years. She has a new roommate since my last visit. Betty (not real name) has a wonderful personality and loves conversation. It is typical to hear her singing along with the Perry Como and Neil Diamond cd’s we often play for my mom.
One evening, I met Betty’s son and grandson. When they heard I had ten kids, the usual surprise reaction ensued and on this occasion, small talk turned into a religious discussion. (Being a Catholic open to life often lends itself to such things.)
“It does not really matter whixh church you belong to as long as you pray, right?” her son asked me. It was clear from many things he said earlier, that he was a kind-hearted soul. I could not agree, but where would I begin? I began with the fact that Jesus taught the truth.
“The thousands of Christian denominations all teach different things, so they cannot all have the truth,” I said. “To find the truth, you must find which of today’s Christian teachings are the same ones taught by the early Christians.”
I focused on the basic teachings of the Eucharist and the Blessed Mother to show the beauty and the power of both and also to clear up common misunderstandings. “I pray five rosaries every day,” Betty volunteered. It was only then that I noticed she was wore a rosary around her neck, over her robe. She held up her wrist, “And I have a rosary bracelet.”
“Are you Catholic?” I asked, surprised given her son’s initial question. It turns out that she was baptized and confirmed Catholic but married a Lutheran. Even though she and her husband had promised to raise their children Catholic, they did not.
“What were we?” Betty’s son asked his mom. “Weren’t we sort of raised as Methodists? But we used to say that prayer before meals…the Bless us O Lord, one.”
Betty ignored the question but asked me one. “A lot of the Catholic churches don’t have confession any more right?”
“All Catholic churches have confession,” I told her. “The Church is one, holy, Catholic and apostolic. By being one, the teachings are the same around the world.” She looked thoughtful but said nothing.
It was getting late so I closed the conversation by suggesting they look into the Catholic Church more. I learned later that evening from my Dad that Betty is afraid to go back to confession. It has been a very long time since she had gone.
The next day, I returned with a gift for Betty: 7 Secrets of Confession by Vinny Flynn. Having met him several times, I knew that we shared the custom of praying for those who read our books. That meant that he and I would both be praying for Betty, and by association, her son and grandson. I hope this book will call her home to the Church. The way back for her is through confession.
Flynn begins in his introduction by admitting that for a long time, he too was reluctant to go to confession. As a matter of fact, his regret for sin often hinged more on his dread of needing to confess it than on true contrition. But Flynn loved receiving Jesus in Communion so he always returned to the confessional. There, he brought in his grocery list of sins in to the priest and recited an Act of Contrition in exchange for forgiveness of his sins. “I’d leave the confessional with a sense of relief,” Flynn writes. But he admits that his motivation and thinking was certainly was limited.
As an author and speaker, Flynn became aware that there are still any Catholics with such a limited understanding of confession. It became the inspiration to write the 7 Secrets of Confession.
Flynn quotes Pope John Paul as saying: “Now more than ever, the people of God must be helped to rediscover… the sacrament of mercy.” It is Flynn’s hope that people will begin to experience confession as a personal encounter with God. For through confession, he states that people can change their lives.
The first secret Flynn shares is that sin does not change God. “Duh,” you may think and yet, how many of us have felt shame for our sins and distanced ourselves from God afterwards? Sin results when we refuse to respond to God’s love and guidance and do not live in a personal, loving relationship with him. At such times, Flynn says that we treat God as if our sin changed him. “Our behavior, no matter how bad it may be, can never undo the reality of our relationship to God as His children, and nothing can ever change His love for us.”
Flynn quotes the Diary of St. Faustina, “Everything may change, but love, never, never; it is always the same.” He explains that sin is our turning away from God not the opposite. It is we that changes, not God.
A big problem with people’s reluctance to go back to the sacrament of confession is that they focus on the sin and not on the healing, according to Flynn. He explains that during absolution, the Holy Spirit becomes present and we are restored to innocence.
Through the 7 Secrets of Confession, Flynn shares the vibrant beauty of God’s gift of mercy and healing. He invites all to embrace the journey to joy through the confessional, a place of divine healing. By sharing his book with my mother’s roommate, I too am extending God’s invitation to her to partake in the divine healing. Stay tuned and pray for a part II to this story.