I know a sweet little girl who is brave and spunky and kind, and terrified of new people. It doesn’t usually take her long to get over it, but the first 20 or so minutes with someone unfamiliar leaves Cecilia cowering behind her mother. As soon as someone mentions climbing trees or Narnia, she’s out and chattering a mile a minute, so we haven’t worried much about it.
Until it was time for her to make her first confession. She was ready, she thought, and so she bit her lip hard and walked into the confessional. Then ran out sobbing. It was too scary.
So her parents practiced with her and talked with her and she got up the courage again. And again she broke down and ran away.
They decided she’d just wait another year, but I wasn’t sure that would be enough. So I started bringing priest friends over to the house. Cecilia would warm up, start chatting, play and laugh and interrupt them to share something very important she’d just thought of. Then we’d suggest confession and she’d start crying and run away.
After this happened a few times, I was at a loss. We couldn’t get through to her. Would she ever get over her fear and go to confession? I was beginning to doubt it.
At this, I finally stopped trying to fix things and started to pray. St. John Nepomucene was my go-to, a Bohemian priest who had refused to divulge the queen’s sins even when the king threatened to have him killed. St. John wouldn’t violate the seal of the confessional, cost what it might, and was beaten and killed.
So St. John Nepomucene became my intercessor for sweet Cecilia. And when I found myself a mere four hours from Prague, I arranged a trip there just so I could pray for her. We had to climb an enormous hill and then pay 15 dollars to gain entry for 15 minutes before the cathedral closed for the day, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
The seal of confession: What it is and why it should be protected
Finally, I was there before the remains of St. John Nepomucene, kneeling on the floor praying for a teary-eyed little girl who didn’t think she’d ever have the courage to go to confession.
A few weeks later, I was back in the States with that same little girl. I had taken Cecilia and her brother on a day trip and we were stopping to have dinner with a priest friend who they’d met a few times before. I’d mentioned confession earlier in the day and she’d shouted that she wasn’t going to go to confession. When her brother and I were doing an examination of conscience together, she folded her arms and pouted. And still I prayed.
Then we walked over to the church with Father, who was scheduled to be in the confessional anyway. I asked Cecilia if she wanted just to go in and see the confessional and she was game, so I walked in with her. Fr. Chris opened up the screen and talked to her about the pictures on the wall and the holy card he sometimes gives out.
Then, out of nowhere, I asked if she wanted to go to confession. And praise the Lord, she gave the tiniest of nods. So I left the confessional and fell on my knees, begging St. John Nepomucene to intercede for this brave, brave girl. Her brother saw what was happening and knelt, too, a grin of fraternal pride covering his face.
And when she came out she was positively glowing. She couldn’t stop jumping up and down. She wasn’t just forgiven, she was elated. She wanted to call everyone she knew, to tell the whole world what an incredible thing it is to go to confession. “It wasn’t even scary!” she shouted, “It was just so great!!”
So we hugged and danced and ate candy. And I went home and checked to see whose feast day it was, if there was any interesting saint who had been interceding for us.
St. John Nepomucene.
I started to cry when I saw it: the anniversary of his death, sometimes observed as his feast day. The one saint I had asked to pray, the only saint I’d ever really begged that consistently and exclusively, and he’d come through in a big way, on his feast day.
For years, I’ve been enamored of the witness of the saints. I’ve started to develop real friendships with them. But this was the first time I’d ever begged a particular saint’s intercession so fervently, and I’m utterly convinced that it was his intercession that accomplished this tiny miracle.
If you’ve got a big intention in your life, an enormous obstacle you don’t seem to be able to move, maybe it’s time to enlist the help of the saints, men and women who learned to pray on earth and are spending their eternity before the throne of God. You may find your prayers answered in delightful and dramatic ways.
I had forgotten about St. Therese, but she hadn’t forgotten about me