He approached the man and said, “I have been to see the Pope, and he said he would pray for you. But there’s more. He has invited us to his private residence for dinner.” “Impossible.” The man said, “Look at me I am a mess. I haven’t showered in a long time…. And my clothes… Realising that this beggar was his admission ticket to have dinner with the Pope, the priest said, “I have a hotel room where you can shower and shave, and I have clothes that will fit you.” Again, by God’s grace, the beggar priest agreed. Later, they were off to have dinner with the Pope. The hospitality at the Pope’s apartment was as wonderful as the meal. At the close of dinner, just before dessert, the Holy Father motioned to his secretary and the priest to leave him alone with the beggar Priest. After quite some time, the beggar came out from the room in tears. So, the priest asked him, ‘What happened in there?” The beggar priest answered: “The Pope asked me to hear his confession.
” The beggar choked. After regaining my composure, the man continued: I told him, Your Holiness, look at me, I am a beggar, I am not a priest. “The Pope looked at me and said, “My son, once a priest always a priest, and who among us is not a beggar. I too come before the Lord as a beggar asking for forgiveness for my sins. “I told him I was not in good standing with the Church, and he assured me that as the Bishop of Rome he could reinstate me right then and there.” The man said that it has been 50 years long since he heard confession last that the Pope had to help through the words of absolution. The priest friend asked, “But you were in there for some time. Surely the Pope’s confession did not last long.” “No,” his friend said, “…after I heard his confession, I asked him to hear mine.” The final words Pope John Paul II spoke to this prodigal son came in the form of a commission. The Holy Father gave the newly-reconciled priest his first assignment: to go and minister to the homeless and the beggars on the steps of the very Church from where he just came.
That is a typical way that God deals with us. Like the heavenly Father, the Pope reached out to this lost priest and brought him back home, restoring the dignity of the priesthood that he had lost and making him a son again. Some of us have been wounded by sin and consigned to a state similar to that of the beggar-priest, like Bartimaeus. Pope John Paul II went to confession every week. Would that we follow this example as one of the fruits that we take away from the Jubilee Year of Mercy that is coming to an end. If we did this, if we received the sacrament of penance often, how many of us would be saints? The encounter between the Pope John Paul II and the beggar-priest shows us how the Father is merciful and how we can be merciful like the Father.
We must learn to forgive others, just as God forgives us in Christ. Remember the words of the Scripture: “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt 5:7); “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matt 6:12; “As the Lord has, forgiven you, so also you must forgive” (Col. 3: 13); “Judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13). This should not lead us to believe that God’s mercy is directly proportionate to our mercy towards others. God’s mercy is always gratuitous and unconditional but we are encouraged to be merciful to others. How can we show mercy to others? In what ways can we show mercy to others from today and begin a journey into the future?
• Most Rev. (Dr.) Alfred Adewale Martins, Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Lagos.