A Different Mercy

A Different Mercy March 28, 2024

crabapple blossoms


I really did mean to go to confession.

I haven’t been to confession in the longest time, but I thought I could start again. I desperately wanted to start again. It was Holy Week, the day before Triduum began. I’ve been doing so much better about being able to sit through Mass, most of the time, as long as I duck out during the homily. I would like to go back to confession. But as soon as I resolved to go, my stomach shriveled up. My heart pounded in my ears.  I flashed back to every bad thing that happened to me, from the bullies at Our Lady of Peace Elementary School to the cultists in the Charismatic Renewal and at Franciscan University, and then to the rape and its aftermath, to everything that’s gone wrong in this terrible corner of the world since then. Every bad thing that’s ever happened to me fell on me at once. I can’t go to confession. I can’t go to confession. I can’t go in a box with a priest alone. Never, ever, under any circumstances, could I go into a box with a priest alone. I would rather rip my own skin off or jump into a volcano than go into a box with a priest alone. 

That night, I didn’t sleep well.

That morning, when Michael brought me my coffee, I sat up with a scream as if he’d hit me.

I sat up in bed, scrolling on my phone, deliberately staring at the clock, until the time to get ready had come and gone. I’d missed the Holy Week extra confession times. I was safe from going in the box.

If that sequence of panic and hiding in bed doesn’t make sense to you, then I don’t think I can explain it. It’s something that trauma does.

I came downstairs, shuddering as if a big mahogany-wood confessional was hopping after me like the chest of drawers in Beauty and the Beast. I didn’t know who was going to come out of that confessional: my mother chiding me about mortal sin and my aunt calling me names for being scared to talk to the family, perhaps. My grandmother, yelling at me for speaking about the evils the Church has done, terrified that I’d damned myself and Adrienne to hell for being traumatized by that Church. Every sexually abusive priest I’ve ever  bared my soul to in the confessional– there have been at least three. Jesus Himself, rolling up His sleeves to clobber me for breaking the rules.

Adrienne was happily loafing on her Spring Break. The Catholic schools don’t get out until next week, but her public school is out now. She didn’t want to go anywhere, so I got a little drive my myself. I’d meant to go to the thrift store.

I ended up at the little hospital first: the one that used to have dormitories in the back, the place where I’d stayed and taken a shuttle to campus, my very first year in Steubenville.

I snuck into that chapel on the first floor– cautious, peeking around the corner as if I’d find that dark confessional waiting for me, but there was only Jesus in a different box, a gold one.

I sat quiet for awhile, listening. Praying. Imagining what Jesus would say to me. Why did you want to go to confession? Because I want to follow the rules to make sure you don’t hurt me. That’s a bad reason. I will never hurt you. I love you. Why else? Because I want to follow the rules so I’ll be sure I’m right and deserve a reward. That’s no good either. You can never earn my love. I already give it to you. Why else? Because I heard you wanted me to do it and I want to make you happy. That’s a good reason. But you have PTSD right now and that’s a real injury. You can’t go to confession any more than you could run a marathon on a broken leg. Let me keep healing you and try again soon. 

Of course, I knew I was only imagining what a God Who was perfectly good might say, and hoping I was right, and trusting that a perfectly good God would be patient if I was wrong. When I came to Steubenville, I would’ve assumed anything that popped into my head while praying was either a Word from the Lord or a temptation from the devil. I’ve grown up now.

The girl who was so eager to come out to Steubenville and ruin her life for Jesus would be shocked at me.

I went out into the brilliance of a northern Appalachian spring, with the whole world returned to life: the soft snowdrift of a crabapple, the noxious flowering pear, the delicate redbud, the brassy forsythia. Robins hopped just out of reach. Dandelions were bursting open on the lawns and daffodils were trumpeting in the planters. Everywhere the sun shone was gloriously warm, and every time the wind blew it blew like ice. Jimmy’s boy was waiting to garden with me back at home. The mother of the Baker Street Irregulars was messaging to tell me she was bringing Adrienne an Easter basket.

I drove home the long way, downtown to the thrift store and then around those dilapidated buildings, out to Fourth Street which has been fixed up and looks like a real city now, round the back roads to the old mall and back down Route 43.

The big dark confessional didn’t seem to be pursuing me just then.

I don’t know if I went into Triduum justified, but I went into Triduum trusting in a God of Mercy, in a way I hadn’t before.

That has to be enough for now.




Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.





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