While working as a Chaplain Associate a few years ago, I visited “Joe” in his hospital room. He stopped drinking about ten days before but was getting very sick. “Drinking is stupid,” he said, “I never used to drink. One day I had a little bit, and then a little more and then I was drinking a lot, every day. Now, they’re doing tests and something might be wrong with my pancreas. I have a wife and little girl. I’m not going to drink anymore because of my little girl. I want to see her grow up. I don’t want her to know me like this. I want her to have a good example. I could have died and she would have grown up without a father. A child needs a father. This world is full of bad examples. Kids smoking and drinking and girls selling their bodies for $10 on the street; I don’t want that for my little girl.”
“So, it’s good you stopped drinking,” I said.
“I stopped but then I felt sick. If I hadn’t come in, I could have died. But, God saved me. God is with me. If not for God, I wouldn’t have stopped and I could be dead. God is everything. I don’t know how people who don’t have God do it. God says to be patient. I’m sad I wasted so much time and health on drinking. I just want to get out of here and have a good life.” Up until now, his words were similar to many other patients who had “stopped” drinking. Then, he added something very interesting, “The other night, I was seeing two people, one was a girlfriend that was in love with me, the other a friend. They got close to me saying, ‘Come with us.’ They scratched my face and shouted at me. It felt like someone was burning up my legs. After that, a pastor came in. He extended his hand and said, ‘In the name of God, get out!’ And, they left. It was Satan. They were trying to win me for Satan. Ever since then, everything changed. Things are calm. God saved me.”
I told him that “these are like temptations that sometimes come when people are dying. When we pray the Our Father, the last part is about this–lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. It applies to deliverance from all temptation and especially temptations that come when we are dying.”
“Yes, that’s it exactly. And, if you do something bad, God doesn’t reject you. He says–come to me and he enfolds you and protects you.”
It was a very blessed visit for both of us. As Chaplain Associate, I visited Joe as God’s instrument, putting my trust in His power to bring good out of any situation. I discovered Joe was also God’s instrument for me. When Joe described his experiences, he witnessed to God’s goodness, resolving to abstain from drinking and expressing his trust in the Lord’s forgiveness and mercy, all of which reminded me of sacramental confession. I got goose bumps learning of his encounter with demons and felt humbled to hear something I’d only read about, something which underscored the very real presence of evil in the world. Psalm 119:113: “Depart from me, you wicked, that I may observe the commands of my God,” and, of course, Psalm 23:4: “Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side” came to mind. All this clearly reflected Jesus’ teaching on repentance and the forgiveness of sins (cf Lk 15:7 and Ps 51:19b). The Catechism of the Catholic Church (para. 1451) says, “Among the penitent’s acts contrition occupies first place.” Joe had taken the first step toward reconciliation. When we are drawing nearer to God, it’s important to remember that the next step to pardon and peace, and the absolution of our sins which returns us to full communion with the Body of Christ, is to be found in the Sacrament of Penance. Let us not fail to approach God through this graced instrument of His love and mercy.
Art for this post on reconciling with God: Beichte aus einer Serie der sieben Sakramente: hergestellt im Auftrag von Padre Ghedini (Confession from a series of seven sacraments: made on behalf of Padre Ghedini), Pietro Antonio Novelli, 1779, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.