Posted by: Peadar Ban | March 12, 2010

Sorry, Dad!

Some friends and I were sitting around  talking a few nights ago.  One of the topics of discussion that popped up was in the form of a question someone put:  “Does the awareness that you are a sinful person frighten you?”  That’s not exactly the way the question was framed.  I think the adjective “great” modified sinner, but I may be wrong.  Anyway, modesty, humility, might prevent you, Gentle Reader, from thinking of yourself in those terms.  I understand, believe me.  I am myself reluctant to accept the accolade.

There were some interesting reflections on the question, and on its implications for individuals in their relationships with themselves and, emm, You Know Who.

I can remember the day when I came face to face with the fact that I was a person capable of sin.  Alright, I’ll say it, “A Sinner.”  My friend Danny McGrath informed me of that fact one summer day outside St. John’s Church where we were headed for Confession.  I had only made my First Communion a month or so before.  I was eight and he was ten; much more experienced in the worldly life than me.  He bluntly told me that I should include thus and so in my confession since it was a sin.

I heard the Gates of Paradise clang closed behind me; I stood, the Gates of Hell swinging wide and welcome, and made efforts to
recall the times and circumstances during the past, what could it have been, a week?, that occasioned new found violations of God’s law.  I went into the little, closed and hot box a few minutes later and got it all off my chest, so to speak.  But, the lingering feeling of fright and horror (was THAT guilt?) I could not get away from.

Of course, as time went on, I became quite used to living outside paradise, and hell was far over the horizon and growing further away every minute; a different kind of red shift.  Things got real comfortable.  Years passed, decades passed.  And trips to the “Box” dwindled down to a precious few, eventually stopping completely.

I don’t know what made me pick up the habit again.  Maybe it was my wife’s cancer, and her approaching death that carried home to me the appreciation once more of my own mortality.  Maybe it was simply a look in the mirror one morning at the white hair once flame red and the wattle under my chin.

There have been many trips since, some good, some not so.  I remember one I made about thirty years ago when I confessed to having had an argument with Sheila, may she rest in peace.  “Did you apologize?” “Yes, Father.”  “That’s good.  You should have.”  And, then, the penance.  Had he told me to walk to Rome on my knees I would have considered that a mere “bag o’ shells”.  As it was I got the usual, “three and three”.   I walked away from that little encounter feeling as
light and fresh as a Spring breeze and full of love for the whole wide world.

I also remember a lot of them which were exercises in self-defense.  Who was I kidding?

But the point of the question asked the other night among friends was about our awareness of our own sinfulness and whether or not that frightens us.  It’s a strange thing, don’t you know, to be frightened of your mere existence.  It can’t be sustained.  You can’t run anywhere. There is no place to hide.  The words of a song based on one of the Psalms (139?) come to my head, “Where can I run from your love…”

And, funnily enough, that was the thought that occurred, while thinking about the question and remembering all of those times when I have been frightened.  There really is no hiding place.  I remembered the first time, sixty years ago in a few months, and the times since when my sense of being on the very edge of doom was real and terrible.  What happened next was rather strange.  I pictured Adam and Eve looking for a place to hide.  That’s when I discovered that it wasn’t fear of punishment!  It was fear of discovery that was my primary fear.  I remembered all of those childish wrongs I’d tried so unsuccessfully to hide from my parents.  So often discovered, what I remembered now was the look of disappointment on my father’s face, the words of weary discouragement from my mother;  all of the times I heard “I wish you hadn’t done that.”

For the first time I thought of God looking at me, watching me, and saying the same thing.  I thought of Him saying, “Well, now you know, don’t you, and I wish you never had had to know.”  I thought of Him saying, “I would give everything to have had you avoid this.”

I thought of myself, a father, and could hear those same words coming from me.  “Why didn’t you listen, Son/Daughter?  Now you know what I wish you’d never had to know.”

So, the other night, I tried to pay attention, maybe for the first time, to what was going on inside me — all of this very…bewilderingly… fast revelation of the way things are, and the reasons for them being that way; all of
these sudden discoveries.  In the middle of it all I thought of the Gospel story about the woman caught in adultery.

All that was said to her was, “Neither will I condemn you.  Go and sin no more.”  There was one of those moments of sudden clarity.  He knew! God knew, and she knew he knew the truth about her.  And, as much as it mattered, it didn’t matter.  The greater part of the damage was what she had done to herself, as the greater part of the damage always is done to ourselves.  What He was concerned about was telling her, “Don’t do it again.  I hate to see you doing this to yourself.”

Just like a father or mother might say to a child.  “I know what happened, and I know how you feel.  Don’t do this anymore.  It’s just going to be the same misery for you.  Believe me, I know.”

There’s a part early on in the novel Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy which captures the sense of what I am talking about perfectly.  It’s when Anna and Vronsky are intimate for the first time.  She is repelled by what has just happened to her spiritually, and thinks that nothing, simply nothing in her life will ever be the same again.

Well, she;s right, but she gets over it…sadly.  And you know what?   I hated to read that part, to read about how she felt.  All I could think of was, “Why?  What good has it done you?”  (That’s really funny because she’s a character in a book.  Imagine how God feels about all of us?)  I thought that if I had her in front of me I’d say what God says to us all in confession, “Go and sin no more.  It ain’t worth it.  Believe me.  I know.”

The priest told me after my argument with Sheila that it was a good thing to apologize.  It is, because apologies come after I recognize the truth of the matter, after I’ve recognized that as much as anything I might have done requiring an apology to someone else, even more I need to know how much I hurt myself in doing it.

Those gates I heard clang shut sixty years ago?  I pulled them closed. And the others, the ones that opened in front of me?  I was pushing on them.

“I’m sorry, Dad, that I was playing on the cellar steps.”  “That’s all right.  Now you know that you can get hurt down there.  Please don’t do it again.  Go wash up for Supper.”


  1. I thought this one was about me calling to apologize for being so fresh with you. Me, at 43, saying sorry to my father.

    OH, yeah, guess it was about me…

    • Dear Child, Everything is about you! Besides, I wasn’t aware and have no memory of your being, as you called it, fresh with me. Love, Dad

  2. This is so chillingly close to my own understanding of sin and remorse that I am typing this through the tears. What I don’t get is why you don’t gather all these (blogs) up, go down to “the City”, find a publisher / editor, and have a go. Hope that you’re not one of those types that think “print is dead”. Now I’m going to copy your blog and save it. Bye

    • Thank you, Mike. Some day we have to have a long conversation. It might even include what going down to The City means to a fellow like me. Why I don’t gather things up is, to be blunt, because I just don’t feel like it. That doesn’t mean that I’d prevent anyone else who would like to do the heavy lifting from doing it.

      If you think that anything I put here should reach a wider audience, send them the link to the blog and encourage them to drop by and read it. Everyone is welcome.

      And, thank you, Mike for reading and commenting.

  3. Well done, Pietro! I remember the dark, hot, and stifling box of the confessional and the feeling of lightness after walking out on a sunny, Saturday afternoon. I may visit again, one of these days.

    • There will be much joy in heaven on that happy day, oh Great Straying Sheep!

  4. I do wish someone would “gather things up” and take them some place for all to read someday……perhaps one of the younger ones could do the lifting???

    • That’s very kind of you, Mary Lou. I keep telling folks that they are welcome to the effort…and effort it is. Convincing editors and publishers to look at something is real hard work, I’m told. Me? I was born with an aversion to hard work. My theme song is “Lazy Bones”.


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