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The Agony of the Cross: The Ecstasy of the Confessional

“Our Lord…did not show us how to avoid defeat or failure, but rather he showed us how to transcend it,” says Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. ìHis cross suggests that there is nothing we can do to prevent certain defeats but that we can control every single reaction to those defeats. He left us the law of salvation: Unless there is a Good Friday in our lives, there will never be an Easter Sunday; unless there is a crown of thorns, there will never be the halo of light; unless there is the cross, there will never be the empty tomb.î

“If everything we did in this world met with success,” the archbishop says, “then where would be the eternal rewards of faith? Our Lord said that when life is most successful in a very worldly way, then we must fear him telling us on the last day, ëYou already have your reward.í If our Lord had been a worldly success, he would have been forgotten. But having lost the battle and won the war, having allowed evil its hour and yet winning the day, then who shall be without hope? For by rising from the dead, he has taught us to dig where we fall and find the pearl of eternal life.”

“Pleasure comes from without, but joy comes from within,” wrote Archbishop Sheen. Inner joy, therefore, is not contingent upon sources outside of us. But how many times have we allowed our disposition to be affected by others, by our possessions, and by forces beyond our control? Conversely, there are times when we’ve burdened and depressed others by dwelling on our own minor disappointments, ailments, and challenges of life. God desires us to be happy. Laughter reminds us how good it is to be alive.

Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos—known as the “Cheerful Ascetic”—belonged to the Redemptorists, a Congregation that bears the title of the Redeemer. To redeem is to set free, and Fr. Seelos (1819-1867) brought freedom to those held captive, particularly those in the confessional who were overly burdened by scruples and the harsh legalism of the time.

People readily sensed his genuineness as he conveyed the magnanimous source of healing and inner peace that awaited them in this sacrament. Blessed Seelos’ own words from a sermon beckoning penitents to the confessional attest to his understanding of our gentle God: “Yes, my beloved people, God is merciful….If you sincerely repent and amend your life; if your forsake forever all those evil ways in order to follow Christ in self-denial and penance; if you really prepare for the life to come, rejoice, for here I present you the balm for all your wounds—the infinite mercy of God.”

Adapted from The Seven Riddles of Life Answered by Fulton J. Sheen, © 2012 Liguori Publications (821868) and Novena in Honor of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, © 2001 Liguori Publications (808098). To order, visit or call 800-325-9521

Published inReflections