At the cathedral exit, Jacques paused and looked at his friend. "Wait here. I'm going back to shock the priest out of his cassock!" Turning back to the aisle, he made his way towards the confessional.
Jacques and Mario were touring the world and having a blast. Cathedral tours were not usually included with the beaches, night clubs and extreme sports, but this one was supposed to be famous. Jacques found it ornate, cold and otherworldly. He needed to inject some fun.
Drawing back the curtain of the confessional, he sat down. "Father, I have sinned." He said in a contrite voice.
"Nothing is beyond God's forgiveness, my son. Please confess your sins."
Jacques, using his imagination recited, in lurid detail, stories of every abominable sin he could think of. He had murdered, he said, fornicated, cheated, lied, blasphemed and betrayed. Finally he stopped, waiting for a response.
After a silence the priest spoke up in deep, clear tones. Was there a slight mocking? Had he seen the prank?
"My son, you have much to repent of. This is the penance: At the life-size crucifix overlooking the chapel to your right, look into the face of the statue of Jesus hanging on the cross and repeat ten times, "Jesus, you are hanging there for all that I've done and I don't care." Then, with almost a smile in his voice, he said, "Do not let the game end here. Carry it through to the end."
So he DID know. Oh well, Jacques would accept the dare.
He found the crucifix easily. He never understood this Jesus thing. Why did people make so much fuss about a man on a cross improbably taking our sins? Was the story true? It seemed unlikely. Uncertainly, he started. "Jesus, you are hanging there for all I've done and I don't care. Jesus, you are hanging there for all I've done and I don't care." Gaining confidence, he made it part of the fun. Beating his breast in mock despair, in a cracked voice he called, "Jesus, you're hanging there for all I've done," then he straightened himself, looked defiantly at the statue's face and spat out the words, "and I don't care." He tried looking him in the eye, daring him to flinch, "Jesus, you're hanging there for all I've done and I don't care." There, that was four times. Six to go.
On the seventh time, as he looked into that face, he noticed, for the first time, how the thorns of the crown pierced the skin of his forehead, causing blood to trickle down into his eye. Inexplicably, he felt an urge to wipe it away. "This is silly. It's only a statue!"
The next time, his eyes wandered to the hands fiercely impaled with large, rough nails. Again he noticed the blood trickling, this time, from the palms to halfway along his arms before forming drops that hung, about to fall. "Jesus, you're ... you're hanging there ... for all I've done, and ..... and I don't care." He forced the words out. "I am just talking to a statue." Why, then was he feeling so emotional about it? He looked back at the face. Those eyes; they seemed to know what he was saying and yet remained with that same compassionate look. Of course they would. They were the eyes of a statue. And yet.... what if it depicted a real person?
Two to go. He started, "Jesus, you're hanging there for all I've done and.... and... " He felt his knees shaking, then giving way. On his knees he started sobbing, "and I DO care, Jesus. I'm not that callous. Or maybe I am. I am sorry. I am so sorry that you had to do this for us. Why do you love us so much? How could I not care, Jesus, when YOU care so much? Forgive me, please. I don't ever want to willingly do anything that makes me more responsible for your suffering."
As he knelt before the cross, a tangible peace flooded his soul. Through his tear-filled eyes he half-imagined Jesus coming off that cross, laying a forgiving hand on his shoulder. And he felt clean; for the first time he could remember, he felt washed from the inside out. He looked up and saw the man-God behind the statue. He also saw, in every repeat of his own mocking another reason for those brutal nails. And, born again, he wept.
---------------- o -------------------
May we, like Jacques realise that when we deliberately sin, we consciously provide yet another reason for the cross, another jarring thud on the cruel nails.
Keep before us, Lord, a vision of your love-torn wounds, that we would shrink from deepening them with intentional sin.
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