EASTER is not abstract. Easter is not just a feast. Easter is very personal. Easter is a fact in people’s lives. This I found out years ago in a strange encounter.
The parish secretary told me a man was looking for a priest to talk to. When I appeared, he began to speak but halted, as if unsure of himself. He seemed in some kind of pain. No, he was not ill, if by ill you mean bodily illness. He hesitated once more. But he did not hide. “I’m an addict, Father,” he said tersely. I remembered conjuring images of heroin or other substances of the same kind and bottles of alcohol. I was getting ready to dismiss our meeting with, “I’m sorry, I may not be competent to give you the help you really need.” But it was my turn to hesitate. On the other hand, he seemed like a bird trying to force its way out of a cage. “I’m an addict to porno, Father. I’ve been into porno at the internet…I have collections of porno materials, shows, films, literature. Name a porno show or film, I probably have it. I’m here because, because I’m looking for spiritual help…”
I tried to be encouraging. I commended his courage to face up to his ‘enslavement’, if I may call it that way. I said that I was glad he was specifically looking for spiritual help from a priest and that his problem also has other components that a clinical psychologist or doctor may be better equipped to help him. He promised me to see one after the meeting.
It was almost a whole afternoon chat on prayer, the sacraments and especially the sacrament of Penance, of the Paschal Mystery, of how Moses leading Israel out of Egypt speaks of the living God who abhors people being in the grip of slavery, and that our basic slavery is to sin and its many ugly faces and tentacles, such as his addiction to porno which, I stressed, is basically rooted in the distorted view of the body as an object man can treat at his pleasure instead of temple of the Spirit he ought to reverence. There is only one way out, I said—Jesus Christ whom we can access through the Scriptures, prayer and especially the sacraments. He offered no resistance to what I later feared amounted to a spiritual bombardment I was giving him. But, to be honest, I saw no signs in our conversation that it was getting through. Until he asked me to hear his confession, that is. It took almost four hours for him to decide to go to confession. But the decision didn’t surprise me at all. It seemed of a piece with why the meeting happened in the first place.
Having given the absolution, I recall feeling relieved he will be in somebody else’s hands to help him deal with the other aspects of his ‘addiction’. One blissful aftermath of being a minister of the sacrament of Penance is the sense of being an instrument of someone’s inner liberation. On a personal level, another is forgetfulness. People seem surprised when I say this but whenever I turn away from a confession most of the time I feel my mind is a blank sheet once again. As we used to say in Latin class of a classmate who understood nothing of the day’s lesson, “tamquam tabula rasa”.
Then, several weeks after, I stumbled again into my friend the “addict”, unintentionally and without warning, in church. He asked me if I still remembered him. Of course, I said. “I just want to thank you, Father, for that afternoon meeting. After my confession, I made a decision to get rid of all my porno files and materials. What stuck in my mind was the body as ‘temple of the Spirit’. I never knew how good it feels to be free…” As if his smile didn’t say it all.
While he was still speaking my own mind raced to a privileged visit I had to a place whose specific name I couldn’t recall near Bethany in mid 90s. I was in an organized tour of the Holy Land by priests and a few lay couples. Someone took a picture of me as I was coming out of what tradition says was the tomb of Lazarus. My hands were extended in an unmistakable imitation of the UP oblation. I was trying to catch the feeling of the resurrection, nay, resuscitation of Lazarus (with apologies to the experts).
But here was Lazarus before me. His resurrection was no less real.
And the words of the Liberator poured into my ears seemingly out of nowhere: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me, even if he dies, will live…”