Monday, 2 July 2012

Chocolate Sin

Father Ignatius was at the supermarket pushing his trolley slowly from one aisle to the next and reading his shopping list as he went along. He rarely visited the confectionery counters but this time he made a special detour to buy a box of chocolates for Mrs Davenport, his housekeeper, whose birthday was the following day.

Just as he entered the aisle he saw one of his parishioners there standing a few feet away. He was a successful local business man and a regular in church every Sunday and at confession every Saturday morning.

The priest was about to greet him when what he saw next made him suddenly stop in his tracks and freeze on the spot.

The business man took a chocolate bar from the shelf and put it in his pocket. He then moved away nonchalantly as if nothing happened.

Father Ignatius faced a sudden dilemma. Should he confront the man and tell him what he did is wrong. This may well cause a scene at the store as the man may well deny any wrongdoing.

Or should he inform a member of staff about what he had just witnessed and leave the matter to them.

Or should he just do nothing. Look the other way. Condone stealing through his lack of actions.

As the man casually walked out of the store Father Ignatius decided to let matters rest. He walked up the aisle and bought an identical chocolate bar as the man had just stolen.

Two days later Father Ignatius was hearing confessions as he normally does on Saturday mornings.

He sat at his confessional, which was one of those old fashioned wooden cubicles where he sat in the middle, and on either side people would kneel and speak to him through a small aperture covered by a thick curtain so that he would not see who is kneeling there.

He often smiled to himself at the intricacies of these old contraptions.

“What is the point of all this secrecy” he asked himself, “when I can usually tell who is on the other side of the curtain by their voice?”

Father Ignatius had a good memory for faces and voices and more often than not he knew who was confessing their sins to him. He had his regulars turning up Saturday after Saturday seeking absolution and listening to his wise words before leaving with a much lighter heart to pray their penance.

“Even their sins are always the same …” smiled Father Ignatius to himself as he waited for his first parishioner to kneel by his side, “sometimes I could recite their sins for them … but then, they’d think I can read minds …” he chuckled silently.

“Well at least they’re a good lot generally … not terrible sinners most of them …”

About half-an-hour later the business man he saw at the store came for his usual Saturday confession. Father Ignatius listened attentively to him and noted that he had not mentioned the incident at the store.

After the man had finished talking Father Ignatius whispered quietly through the heavy curtain, “for your penance I want you to take this …”

And he handed him the chocolate bar he’d bought from the store through the heavy curtain dividing both men.

The man took the chocolate bar and mumbled quietly, “I don’t understand.”

“It is your favorite chocolate is it not?” asked the priest.

“Er … yes it is.”

“Two days ago I saw you pocket a similar bar in the supermarket … am I right?”

“Yes … Father …” mumbled the man after a short pause.

“You see my son,” continued Father Ignatius, “I wasn’t the only one who saw you steal that chocolate bar … God saw it too … I spoke to Him about it … and He asked me to buy you a similar chocolate bar …”

The man said nothing, feeling both ashamed and totally repentant in his heart.

“For your penance I want you to enjoy this chocolate bar,” continued the priest quietly, “but I also want you to promise that you will never steal anything ever again … is that a deal?”

“Yes Father,” mumbled the man behind the curtain.

“And remember … next time you do something wrong, I may not be there to witness it … and God alone may be the one seeing your wrongdoing …”

“Yes Father!” repeated the repentant man as the priest absolved his sins and sent him in peace to fulfill his penance.


  1. I can only imagine the man's surprise...Oh my!!! Wonderful tale as always!! Cathy

    1. You're right Cathy. But what else could the priest do? He couldn't confront him in the shop.

      Thank you Cathy for visiting me and for your great support.

      God bless.

  2. I wonder if Satan's way of discouraging Confession is to convince us that we're confessing the same old sins and not making any progress? I can see that someone who confesses infrequently might not receive the necessary graces to overcome their sins and may be imprisoned with the same vices.

    Perhaps, it only seems that we're making no progress because, when we go to Confession weekly, we're reflecting at shorter intervals and sanctification usually takes a lifetime of little changes. It takes faith to trust that the graces we receive each week are making a difference, doesn't it?

    I have been plagued with the Devil's attempts to give up on Confession, over the years, but luckily, I'm stubborn! And, I couldn't imagine a world where Jesus doesn't work through the Sacraments.

    This is another great Fr. Ignatius story, Victor - I do love Fr. Ignatius:-)

    God bless, Victor:-)
    PS. I've had such trouble posting this comment - page freezing, being logged out, etc - not surprised:-[

    1. Vicky you make some very good points.

      I'm not sure what is the "ideal" intervals between confessions. Some go weekly, and others monthly or longer even. But you are right. If confessions become a routine task just like brushing our teeth then they lose their true value; perhaps. We do them as a matter of course without thinking. This can happen if we're not careful.

      One thing I certainly agree with you on is the devil. He exists all right and makes it his task to tempt and pester those close to the Lord. There's no point in tempting non-believers, is there?

      The closer we are to God the harder the devil works to de-rail us. I know that from experience. And we humans are so easy to tempt, are we not?

      He knows our weakness. A feeble Faith perhaps on which he can work and make us doubt our very beliefs. Or a weakness for something or other. Whatever it is, the devil can find it and use it to good effect to tempt us away from the Lord.

      I too am having great problems with the computer today. Perhaps the devil doesn't like what you and I are writing!

      God bless.

  3. Victor, don't you think that even a routine confession shows some degree of faith, even if it's only like an insurance policy? It may not lead a soul to the heights of sanctity but as long as the sacrament is valid and the penance is performed, it would seem to have value, wouldn't you think? And, God can work on the most stubborn hearts, as long as they stay open to His graces. How can any of us know our approach to Confession is adequate? And, would we make the effort to routinely show up, every week, if we didn't have some degree of faith?

    I feel this with the Rosary, too. It may feel like routine but God works with our goodwill.

    Our debate is becoming as long as the post, Victor;-) I hope you enjoy a good debate - otherwise I've just become your blog's biggest nuisance!
    God bless:-)

  4. Vicky, you're not a nuisance.

    I believe that some people do have Faith as an insurance policy. God knows that very well. But I don't think He minds. Because that very belief, however small and however fickle, is in itself a sign of respect and a sign of recognition of a Divine Master and Creator.

    God forgives a feeble heart. He made us and knows our weakness. "I believe Lord; help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24).

    Rather a weak Faith than an insolent disbelief and disobedience. Or worse still; not believing and leading others not to believe too.

    So, whether we go to the Sacraments often or less so, at least it's a start and it shows an element of belief and a willingness to dare to believe without any proof or evidence. God loves and rewards a small Faith just as much as a stronger steadfast Faith of the Saints.

    Thank you for joining in this discussion Vicky.

    God bless you.

  5. I love this ironic penance! Very thought provoking. You know, God has never given me a chocolate bar for my penance.

  6. I think Sarah that sometimes God can be ironic when He answers our prayers. But in a good way though.

    God bless.

  7. Victor,

    I know this is a story and a good one too! In real life however, would the priest be able to do such a thing? Even if a priest recognises a parishioner by his voice he can't use that information. If the person wants to remain anonymous by using a traditional confessional, rather than sit face to face, that is his privilege. In order to hand over the chocolate bar Father Ignatius would have to intrude upon that privacy we are all entitled to.

    Father Ignatius could have approached the thief in the street at the time the chocolate bar was stolen because he wouldn't be in the confidential setting of the confessional.

    Father Ignatius was smiling over the reoccurring sins of his parishioners. I know it is very difficult not to remember such things, but as a priest, shouldn't he try and put such things out of his mind and not think of them? A priest I know says he always tries to forget immediately what he has heard in the confessional. He leaves it there and does not let confessed sins influence his opinion of his parishioners.

    These are not criticisms of your story which I enjoyed very much. I am just musing over what is possible in real life.

    God bless!

  8. Good points Sue.

    Yes, the priest could not use the information (i.e. identity of the parishioner) if the person uses the old style Confession booth. Even though in practice he would recognise his voice. Nowadays, many churches have dispensed with these booths and the priest and parishioner sit together in a room; which makes one wonder about the privacy. Say for instance the confession was in a modern room face to face, and the priest saw the stealing of the chocolate bar earlier on in the week, and the sin was NOT confessed. Does he raise the matter or not?

    If he doesn't; then has the priest condoned stealing? Can he give absolution knowing full well that a sin has not been confessed? Where does he stand with God in doing so?

    In my story, the priest could not raise the matter in the street because the man had quickly gone.

    This raises another question. What does a priest do when he sees a sin in public but not in the Confesion booth? Say for instance, the priest knows that a married parishioner is having an affair with another woman. The sin is not confessed at Confession. Does the priest keep quiet about it as if nothing happened?

    If he does so, how does God view such an ommission by the priest? Is the priest now sinning for turning a blind eye to a serious sin by a parishioner? Is he sinning against the innocent party (the wife) by allowing the cheating to continue by his silence?

    As for remembering peoples' sins; the priest is human and no matter how much he tries he WILL remember some sins and some sinners. Try as he may to forget the sins, it is not humanly possible to do so, especially if the sins are un-forgetable. Of course, he shouldn't let sins influence his decisions and opinions of the parishioner; but here's another scenario:

    Man confesses to regular stealing from his work. Nothing big, the odd bit of stationery, stealing from shops, and so on. The man loses his job and applies for a job advertised in the church - say church secretary or something similar.

    Is the priest, who is the employer here, influenced or not by the Confession? Does he turn the candidate down? Does he offer him the job? If he offers him the job, and the man steals from the church (Sunday collection), and it is found out that the priest knew of the man's previous behavior; where does the priest stand now.

    Try as he may, a priest IS influenced by the sins he hears at Confession.

    Real life is sometimes too real, I fear. And some priests have got into real trouble through what they heard at Confession.

    Thank you for this discussion Sue. You raise great points which challenge the Catholic Church these days.

    God bless.

  9. Father Ignatius always seems to have a creative way about calling sinners to repentance. I would never have thought of doing what he did.

  10. It was a difficult situation Barb. Often priests see sins in public life and they are at a dilemma as to whether to raise them in the Confessional or not.

    Like in the example I mentioned in my reply to Sue. What does a priest do when he knows his parishioner is cheating on his marriage? Keep quiet and let the sin go on?

    God bless.



God bless you.

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