I believe in a second chance. I remember how my mother used to read
stories about the lives of the saints of the Catholic Church. There were martyrs, priests and nuns, but the story I liked the most was the story about St. Francis. One scene particularly moved me every time I heard it. It was the scene of the saint’s conversion. I imagined him – the young knight sitting on his horse, in the middle of the road, in his shining armor, the thunder coming from the grey sky, and the voice of God announcing His will.
On Sunday we used to go to the church and there I heard the words of a priest calling to repent our sins. He repeated that we would go to hell if we don’t change our lives. Poland was still a very traditional country twenty years ago and the sermons you would hear in the church were full of God’s wrath and hell’s flames. I didn’t like going to confession. Standing in the line in the darkness of the old temple, I could feel the cool air and wetness of the walls and thought how angry God must be because of all the sins I had committed. Then I believed that only saints can shine on the altars like Saint Francis in my imagination. Saints were a different race of people, chosen by God, and my life couldn’t ever be something so bright and miraculous.
When I grew up, I realized that real conversion is something different, and it doesn’t need splendid speeches or loud announcements. After the communism collapsed, everything changed around me, and people had to change also. I was only in high school when all
this transformation started and saw how many people who before supported the communist government suddenly became liberal democrats. The people who had never been to church unexpectedly became very religious showing up on Sunday mass. They were policemen who yesterday arrested the demonstrators or officials who gave the orders to shoot at the crowd. They were secret agents cooperating with the communist authorities and spying on their neighbors. The society was divided; some claimed that the people who failed should not be allowed to participate in public life.
One of my mother’s close relatives was a policeman and an atheist. He was what we used to call a ‘black sheep’ in our family. After 1989 he left the police and ran a small business. He started going to church. Many people envied him and thought that it wasn’t
fair. Some of our neighbors even said that he should have been in jail. But he didn’t listen to the unpleasant remarks and did what he believed he should; he went to church, developed his company, and supported our family. He gave much money for charity and lived very simply after his wife’s death. He has changed into a completely different person – generous, kind, modest. I believe that he used the second chance God gave him and became a saint.
Nelson Mandela said that ‘the greatest glory in living lies not in never falling but in rising up every time we fall’. I believe that as long as we try to make up for what we have done and keep improving our lives, there is still hope for us. We can be saints.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.