Matthew Sewell is the author of the popular “Popes in a Year” daily email series, and hosts The Popecast, a podcast about papal history. Matthew writes about intriguing stories from Church history, the messiness of the Christian life, and (occasionally) insights into Catholicism through Denver Broncos football. By day, he works at Flocknote to help parishes and dioceses build a more connected Church. Matthew, his wife, and their unborn child make their home in Spokane, Washington.
February 15 marks the feast day of a relatively obscure saint: St. Claude de la Colombiere. St. Claude was a 17th-Century Jesuit priest and teacher -- and a solid one at that -- but he’s most notable for being the spiritual director and confessor for St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, the sister to whom Jesus revealed and encouraged the devotion to his Sacred Heart.
St. Claude’s first encounter with the saintly religious came when St. Margaret Mary approached him, insisting that Jesus had appeared to her and indicated that Fr. Claude should give her spiritual direction. More than a little skeptical (I mean, who wouldn’t be…), Fr. Claude replied, “Okay. If Jesus appears to you again, you go back and ask him what the last mortal sin was that I confessed. If you can tell me that, then I’ll be your spiritual director.”
As it turned out, St. Margaret Mary did see Jesus again, and asked him that very question. According to Sr. Bethany Madonna of the Sisters of Life, who recounted this story in a talk just last month, Jesus simply looked at her and said three words:
“I don’t remember.”
Needless to say, St. Claude became her spiritual director. And it’s because he knew one fundamental thing about the Lord’s mercy: Once a sin is forgiven, it’s gone forever, because Jesus doesn’t need to remember what it was.
This same profound truth behind the words Christ spoke to St. Faustina -- “All the sins of humanity are but a drop in the ocean of My mercy.” -- is found all over Scripture, hiding in plain sight.
How many people did Jesus call out of sin, to not just forgive them of their wrongs, but in fact grant them a prominent role in carrying out His mission? St. Mary Magdalene, the former prostitute, was the first to see the Risen Lord at the empty tomb. St. Matthew, a tax collector and one despised by literally every section of society, was tasked with composing one of the four Gospels. And St. Peter? He who committed the worst sin of all -- worse even than Judas -- was given the kingdom’s very keys.
Why should we think we’re any different? Why shouldn’t we expect that Jesus is looking to use us in magnificent ways to build up His kingdom? Even more, why shouldn’t we think that our worst sins are able to be forgiven, and furthermore completely forgotten?
Jesus himself illustrates this no better than in the story of the Prodigal Son. An entitled, greedy son takes an early inheritance from his father, runs away to live large, and inevitably squanders everything, being left to live worse even than swine. In First Century Judaism, when the repentant son returns, the story’s traditional ending saw the father throwing garbage and rotted food at the son’s feet. How striking a contrast that the father in Christ’s parable does precisely the opposite.
In Jesus’ parable, the father is depicted watching the horizon desperately, eagerly hoping that his son would crest the hill and return home. Notice that the father loved his son enough to let his vast estate go untended, simply to be able to rush out as soon as possible and embrace the son who “was lost, and has been found.”
More to it, the son had even rehearsed a speech in his head, trying to convince his father how unworthy he was to be loved. That feeble effort, however, went completely disregarded by the father, replaced instead by the finest cloak, a ring, sandals, the fatted calf, and the most abundant feast possible. The father freely bestows this love on his son, the heir to his entire kingdom.
Do you believe that you’re worthy of such love? You should. Because you are.
All it takes is a swift turning round -- a simple, humble act of asking forgiveness for where we’ve failed to love God, others, and ourselves well.
In the melodic lyrics of Needtobreathe:
Let's start over, don't be afraid, cause I won't keep track
Let's climb to the top
If you won't look down, I won't look back...
May we first have the courage, and then have the wisdom of St. Claude de la Colombiere, that not only will our sins be readily forgiven, but that our lives will be infinitely enriched through the love and the grace of God, our good Father.
St. Claude de la Colombiere, pray for us!