This story I am about to tell you took place during the second war in Iraq. The U.S. soldiers who were involved in this conflict were under great strain. They had to be careful of land mines along the roads, snipers, and all kinds of set ups and traps. There was one particular group of soldiers that had grown close through this experience. They learned to depend on one another and have one another’s back.
One time, two soldiers, Phil and Rich, were going into Iraqi homes trying to filter out Al Qaeda men who were hiding there. Unfortunately, the Americans never knew if any of those who lived in the house were also trying to attack them. In these circumstances anyone could armed and dangerous.
So, what happened next happened very quickly. Someone appears out of nowhere, pulls a trigger, and in the next instant Richard jumps in front of Phil and takes the bullets. It all took about five seconds.
Rich had saved the life of Phil and another soldier who had appeared on the scene. In saving his comrades’ lives he had sacrificed his own. Phil stood there frozen. His life would never be the same.
Phil couldn’t stop thinking about what Rich had done. It really hit Phil very hard. He thought to himself, “Why should Rich have to die? He had everything going for him—-everything to live for”. Rich had not only been a great soldier, but had become a young man who learned to think about what effect his actions would have on other people.
This was the exact opposite of the kind of person Phil was developing into. For Phil it was all about “me”. He had been very foolish, having affairs, taking advantage of his parents’ generosity to the point of actually stealing money from them.
Phil survived his tour of duty, came home, and decided that there was something wrong with him inside. He thought about Rich and the kind of person he was—-that he had given his life so Phil could continue his.
One night Phil was driving around with nowhere to go. At one point he got out of his car and started walking down the street. He saw a Catholic Church and went in. He saw that Confessions were being heard that night. He went into a pew and knelt down. There was an examination of conscience sheet in that pew. He looked at it and saw that one of the sins listed was selfishness. He put down the paper and broke down. He wept.
And in that, the moment of grace had happened.
He looked up and saw a statue of Christ on the cross and thought about his friend Rich and how by his death Phil’s life was saved. Now all the teaching of the faith that he had learned as a kid came flooding back to him. Christ had died for Phil. Now Christ was taking away his sins if Phil would consent.
He picked up the paper again and saw that he had committed most of the sins that were listed there. So, he went to confession. He said, “I’ve done most of the sins you have on this paper.” “Well”, said the no nonsense priest, “say out loud every one of those sins.”
Phil froze. His back was against the wall. Either make a confession of all of them or walk out. At that moment Phil grew up. He admitted everything in his past life—-no excuses were given. The priest congratulated him for having the character to tell the truth about himself and his past. And when the absolution was given, Phil realized that Christ had been the one to free him. As Phil was getting up to leave, the priest said to him, “all your sins have been taken away from you. You walk out of here a new person. That’s what it says in Scripture and God is certainly no liar. Congratulations!”
The following weekend Phil looked up on the Internet the times of the Masses at that church. He went to Mass and that afternoon visited his parents. He apologized for going against everything they had taught him. In the days ahead, when he saw people in his life that he had hurt in some way, he asked their forgiveness too. Phil never let God down again. Rich’s act of giving his life for Phil had changed Phil for the rest of his life.
And that is the story of our lives too! Christ has died on the cross, he has taken away our sins so that we can become new persons.