A number of years ago I approached a confessional in the crypt church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. It was there that something somewhat miraculous happened, or at least that is how it struck me.
I was a regular visitor at the crypt church for confession and to attend Mass. On this particular day, however, I was also there to pray for a close friend from my childhood days who had recently and unexpectedly passed away.
My friend had become an avid mountain climber, and had gone on an adventure to climb one of the tallest mountains in the world in Pakistan. Some time later, I received a phone call that he had gone missing after an avalanche. Soon after, our worst fears were confirmed.
His death was causing me anguish not only because of my grief, but also because I knew he’d died separated from the Church.
After praying before the Blessed Sacrament, I went to confession. Once I had confessed my sins, I spoke to the priest about concerns for my friend. I never once mentioned to Father who he was or what had happened. I told him only that he had died outside the Church, and I asked if I should pray for him. His answer amazed me.
In part, he said, “Sometimes I will pick up the paper and read, for example, about people who’ve died while mountain climbing in Pakistan, and yes, I would pray for them.”
I took this as a miraculous intervention of Christ in the sacrament, and as a direct response regarding my friend. The unknown priest, I am sure, had no idea of the prophetic words he had just spoken to me.
As believers, we know that God always hears our prayers, even if sometimes it may not feel like it. As Catholics, we also know that God is present to us in a special way in the sacraments. The priest works in persona Christi Capitis, in the person of Christ the head, or as the Church teaches, “it is Christ Himself who is present.” (CCC 1548).
This is of great consolation in confession — the sacrament of divine mercy — when we are blessed to hear those most comforting of Jesus’ words, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” (CCC 1484)
The priest’s words that day had a number of effects on me. First and foremost, they powerfully reconfirmed the efficaciousness of the sacrament. Christ is truly present and truly forgives.
They also affirmed to me that we are called to be intercessors, for our family and our friends, and in fact, for all those entrusted to us. This is our privilege and important responsibility as Christians.
Lastly, I was reminded that we should not judge, but rather, entrust everyone by prayer and sacrifice to the divine mercy of God. Even today, years later, I pray for my friend’s eternal rest.