Saturday, 17 April 2010
Confessions were normally heard on Saturday morning at St Vincent Church by either Father Ignatius or Father Donald; or sometimes both priests when it was near a Feast Day such as Easter or Christmas.
One Wednesday evening, as Father Ignatius was all alone in the Parish House, the door bell rang and there stood Ben Moon.
“Father … may I ask you to hear my confession please?” he asked politely.
“Would you like to go to church?” asked the priest hesitantly.
“No …, this isn’t a quick ‘Bless me Father for I have sinned’ type of confession.”
The priest did not react to the attempted joke.
“You’d better come to my office,” he replied, “but first let’s go to the kitchen and prepare some coffee.”
Minutes later the priest walked up the stairs with a tray of coffee and biscuits followed by Ben Moon.
Ben was a local businessman. He wasn’t too involved in church, apart from attending Mass every now and then. But he was a very generous donor. Many a time he left Father Ignatius a very handsome check in support of some event or project which the church was supporting. His wife though was always in church, attending various meetings and organizing several events and activities.
“What’s on your mind Ben?” asked Father Ignatius as he sat at his desk.
“Father … I no longer love my wife!” came the direct reply.
The priest did not readily react, but almost instinctively he said a silent prayer. He asked the Holy Spirit to guide him in what to say, and he prayed for this couple whom he knew for some years.
The short silence was interrupted by Ben, who continued, “for some time now we have been drifting apart. We argue constantly. I let things pass to avoid further arguments and I’ve reached the point where I can take it no longer …
“Any advice you care to throw my way?” he concluded with a weak smile.
“It depends whether you want me to speak as a priest or as a man …” replied Father Ignatius.
“Hey … what the heck … either would do … I’m at the end of the road anyway …” laughed Ben.
“The end of the road?”
“Yes … I can take it no longer … I want out of here, as they say.”
“In that case, it seems to me you’ve reached a decision already,” replied the priest, “and perhaps all you need is my re-assurance …”
Ben didn’t reply. Father Ignatius continued.
“Many people believe that just because we are priests we don’t understand the pressures and difficulties in a marriage. We don’t understand that sometimes people do drift apart. And the love and caring that was there at the beginning is now a little faded and tattered round the edges.
“I know that marriage is a hard-working lifetime commitment which involves both people working together everyday, despite all the difficulties, despite all the pitfalls, and despite all the problems that life might bring. I realize that sometimes this proves too much for some couples, just like in your case. But that’s no reason to stop trying Ben.
“I don’t need to know the details that led to this, but I urge both of you to try harder to reach out to each other and, with God’s help, renew that commitment …
“Have you considered speaking with a counselor; or if you think I can help in any way …”
“Father …” interrupted Ben, “I’m afraid it’s gone beyond the help of a counselor … I’ve been seeing someone else … and I spoke to my solicitor about divorce …”
“I see …” said Father Ignatius. He stopped for a few seconds to underline the severity of what he had just heard. Then he continued calmly.
“So what do you want to confess exactly? The fact that you don’t love your wife, or that you have been unfaithful, or that you want a divorce?”
Ben shook his head pensively as he put down his cup.
“I’m sorry to have troubled you Father,” he said standing up.
“Don’t go just yet … sit down,” asked the priest gently, “you see Ben, you put me, and Jesus too, in a difficult situation.
“When we come to confession it is with the intention that we will not commit that particular sin again, or at least try not to.
“You seem to have decided that you wish to leave your wife, forget your marital vows, and move on to a new life.
“It’s a confession all right … but it doesn’t show remorse, nor does it seek forgiveness.”
“As I said …” replied Ben abruptly, “I am sorry to have troubled you. Perhaps I shouldn’t have come here at all. I haven’t told Josie yet … but I will tonight, after a stiff drink or two …”
“I shall pray for both of you …” said Father Ignatius standing up, “please Ben, give it some time … don’t act too rashly … you don’t have to tell her straightaway … think about this some more.
“If there’s anything I can do please let me know … ask Josie to come to see me if she wishes …”
Father Ignatius was struggling in an already decided situation. Ben was determined and he knew what he wanted to do.
The priest stood in the car park as he watched Ben drive away. He prayed silently for a few moments as he imagined how Josie would take the news. She was a lively, jovial person always willing to help in church. He could hardly imagine that such a couple who’d been married for some years looked now destined for a break-up.
He did what he always did in seemingly helpless situations; he placed it in the hands of God and repeated “Thy will be done oh Lord.”
That evening Ben arrived home and found his wife crying.
“Oh God …” he thought, “she’s found out … perhaps that priest has been talking on the phone …”
He poured himself a large whiskey and asked grumpily what’s been going on.
Eventually, amongst the tears Josie confessed that she’d been seeing the doctor for some tests and they had diagnosed cancer.
That night life stood still.
Ben did not tell her his intentions. He arranged for other tests to be carried out privately at a hospital where he had business connections. When the diagnosis was confirmed he stood by his wife throughout the prolonged treatment which lasted several months.
He stopped seeing his other friend.
Eventually, as he nursed his wife to full health, slowly but surely he learnt to love her once again.
And now … two years later, he is still with her, never having told her of that fateful evening when he visited Father Ignatius; and when the kindly priest knew that he was out of his depth and handed the whole matter to Higher Authority.