I believe in the power of redemption. By this I’m not speaking about a reward in the afterlife, though I believe in the afterlife. Here redemption has to do with what becomes of people after a fall. As a Catholic priest for over thirty years, the reality of human frailty was a constant. Hearing confessions, doing counseling, and visiting hospitals and prisons exposed me to people at their worst. Nevertheless, I also saw the joy of people moving beyond the divorce, the illness, or the crime. Though scars remained, redemption came as life continued in ways often fuller than before.
I first became aware of this meaning of redemption when I encounter a man I’ll call Tom. Tom started taking drugs when in high school. By twenty, he had disappeared from his family, except for midnight calls from bars and police stations. When he was arrested and jailed, he found himself surrounded by addicts like himself, and criminals who were far worse. Yet, what he also found was redemption. In prison he embraced a new life, one which focused on the needs of others and what he could do for them.
After his release, Tom dedicated himself to keeping young people away from drugs, and helping addicts to reform. As part of this effort, he asked me to come and talk to a group of inmates. Despite all my knowledge of scripture and theology, my words fell flat. Years of parish work as a counselor and preacher did not prepare me for this congregation. The experiences which engendered anger and resentment in these respectful listeners were beyond anything I had known.
After my weak words were allowed to pass over their polite smiles, Tom stepped up to give a few closing remarks. In two minutes, he spoke more eloquently, more powerfully, and more effectively to them, than all my words in the previous half hour. The restless wandering of his past fifteen years, the dark corners of the world he had seen, and the human degradation he had experienced touched their hearts. They nodded. They cried. They shouted “amen.” The redemption which had came to him was alive in that room.
Since then, the presence of the presence of redemption I saw in Tom has appeared in other situations. I saw it when people showed themselves capable of love in the most trying of circumstances. I saw it when people had hope so powerful that they pressed on in the face of setbacks. I saw it when people looked deeply into their hearts and declared before skeptics what they believed. I believe in redemption. I saw it in Tom. And I believe it is a possibility for us all.
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