An Open Door on the Darkest of Nights
by Deacon Thomas Frankenfield
Continuing Our Lenten Journey
In this third reflection of the Lenten journey I will look at the reality of truly being reconciled with our loving God. Thus far we have offered an understanding the journey; became aware of the inner promptings and where our call to deal with the obstacles to our Lenten journey. Finally, we recommended an encounter with our obstacles and ultimately to release them through the Sacrament of Reconciliation--bringing us closer to God.
Today we will look at how we become empowered by the grace of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and are more fully able to embrace a more intimate and closer relationship with God. This idea is supported by the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). It says in the CCC that, "The whole power of the sacrament of Penance consists in restoring us to God's grace and joining us with him in an intimate friendship." (CCC 1468) Of course, this friendship is first, with God and later with our neighbor. So, to reflect on these changes, we come to the story.
The weather was cold and damp one winter evening in Philadelphia. It was the kind of night that is best spent around a warm fireplace. Unfortunately, that is rarely possible for the poor and clearly impossible for the homeless. So, quite often these underprivileged are left to deal with the ravages the worst in weather offers.
It is in this desperate environment that we encounter the story of Henry. Henry had been jobless and living on the streets for over five years. This particular night forced Henry to his darkest point of desperation. For tonight Henry made a decision to end his life by jumping off the Franklin Bridge in downtown Philadelphia. Henry had given up all hope and as a result of his miserable failure in life, Henry felt totally abandoned.
On his way to the Franklin Bridge, he walked by a Catholic Church whose front door was ajar, even though it was late at night. Henry felt an attraction to a ray of light that poured into the night from the large brass doors. When he entered the grey stone Church that served a wealthy young community of the business district of Philadelphia, Henry noticed the Church was empty--as empty as his own life seemed.
This night Henry was alone, so he sat in the last pew. The emptiness and separation of all the years of derelict behavior that resulted in a life on the streets particularly impacted Henry. He missed the family that he had not seen for years. This pain caused, Henry begin examining his past. Many thoughts rained throughout Henry's mind. In particular, he thought of his days as an altar boy; his times sitting in Church with his family and the times he talked to God in prayer. He felt that he was lucky to be able to spend a few minutes in the mirror of his past before he ended his life. Finally, the guilt became so heavy that he began to cry.
Suddenly, Henry was startled. A man dressed in black walked next to him. Henry noticed it was a priest. Father Mark asked Henry why he was crying. Henry told Father Mark his story and explained that he was lost in life and that his burdens were too heavy. He told Father Mark that it was his last night on earth. Because he listened compassionately, Father Mark recognized that Henry was, in fact, a fallen away Catholic. So Father Mark asked Henry if he would consider making a good Confession and take a chance on beginning a new life. Henry dropped his head and quietly stated that he actually had no reason to live. He politely declined.
Over the next few minutes, Father Mark's did not abandon Henry in his troubles. It was the Spirit of God that touched Father's heart. In the end, it was the understanding ways of Father that helped melt Henry's coldness. Father Mark embraced Henry to reassure him that all could be okay. Well, after a few minutes, Henry agreed to release his troubles to God via the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Father Mark then joined Henry in the confessional and Henry poured out to God what had been bottled up in his life for over ten years. After Absolution and Penance, Henry felt a "real peace" for the first time in years. Henry was invited to rejoin his Catholic family. Father Mark found Henry a place at the local Catholic Charities shelter and also he invited Henry to join his parish by attending Mass. Finally, real hope could be possible in Henry's life.
The next night Henry finally did his walk to the Ben Franklin Bridge. However, this walk was easier. With the baggage of his sin lifted, Henry sat at the bridge and enjoyed the lights of the city. He began to realize that the moon and stars were gifts from a God. Seeing his existence as gift began to replace the pain of sin from Henry. Henry was now ready to start a new life. The grace of the Sacrament of Penance gave Henry the strength to start again.
Thoughts for Our Journey
In spite of different circumstances, we are all Henry in some parts of our lives. The Lenten Journey lets us encounter those areas of broken relationships with God, with our Church, with our families and with all others. My brothers and sister, if you learn nothing at all from this reflection, please understand this concept. Regardless of how we have failed in our lives, hope is always available through the love of God. In one of my favorite sections from the Catechism, our church proclaims to the rich and poor alike that, "… the sacrament of Reconciliation with God brings about a true "spiritual resurrection," restoration of the dignity and blessings of the life of the children of God, of which the most precious is friendship with God.(CCC 1468) How appropriate for us to have a spiritual resurrection in our lives that will lead us to celebrate with complete joy, the real Resurrection of the Lord on Easter Sunday.
This process of letting go sets the basis for a continued conversion and for our journey to be made easier. Sometimes, walking a journey that is discouraging and bleak is like walking through deep woods in the middle of a cloudy night. Reconciliation with God blows away the clouds in our lives and gives us a bright moon light for our paths.
Know that there are thousands of Father Marks in our world and God is always calling us to a spiritual resurrection. God is waiting and His door is always open.
For your reflection:
From a Ministry Perspective:
From a Family Perspective
- What struggles would you have if you were in Father Mark's situation? How you can apply these challenges to your ministry and encourage the people you serve?
Finally, I would like to thank everyone for the nice comments about my other columns. Your words were all flattering and inspiring. Thank you! As usual, I would love your feedback, thoughts, stories and ideas.
Please email me.
- What areas of my life contain hurts that have severed my relations with God and my family? How can we open that door to mending these relationships?
E-mail this article to a friend