“Child, your sins are forgiven,” Jesus says to the paralyzed man in today’s gospel. Jesus is not saying that every illness is the result of sin. His words suggest, however, that Jesus saw in this particular man a spiritual burden that needed to be loosed before the man could be healed physically.
“We have never seen anything like this,” the onlookers exclaim in astonishment as they see the formerly paralyzed man pick up his mat and walk. For Luke, the gospel writer, the true miracle, however, is not the man’s physical cure, but the spiritual healing of forgiveness.
Perhaps you’re thinking: “What is so miraculous about forgiveness? Don’t we forgive others every day?” Thank God, we do. Between our forgiveness and God’s, however, there is this great difference. When we forgive, there is always a memory ofclass=Section2>
the injury done, a “skeleton in the closet.” The wrong needs only to be repeated, or one like it, for the memory to be revived. God doesn’t have any closets. And even if he did, there wouldn’t be any skeletons there. God’s forgiveness is total. Jesus brings us this total forgiveness. In the sacrament of penance, Jesus uses his priests to bring us this gift.
Some of the things we priests hear in confession help us to repent. Across the distance of almost sixty years I can still hear a child’s voice saying: “I stamp my foot at my mother and say No.” And I thought: that little one has greater sorrow for that small sin than I do for my sins, which are far worse. Telling you that is no violation of the seal of confession. I haven’t identified that child. I believe the Lord sent that little one into my confessional, to teach me a lesson. I’ve never forgotten it.
“What will the priest think?” people sometimes ask. Let me tell you what one priest thought, a young man newly ordained and in his first parish assignment. In a letter to a friend, still in seminary, the new priest wrote: “I go into the confessional now, Jack; and I experience God in a completely new way.”