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“Forgive me Father for I have sinned. I’m not Catholic and have never taken part in confession.” Reverend Michael Robert Wilson sat in the confessional looking up at the porcelain crucifix hanging on the plain white wall. Beads of sweat began to form on his forehead; they were raindrops from his brow. His nervousness was apparent even to the priest on the other side of the confessional wall; the shakiness of his voice said it all.
He sat in the padded chair, fidgeting; he twisted and pulled at the bottom of his shirt and shook his foot restlessly. He almost jumped out of his chair when the priest replied, “Go on, son. What is it you’re confessing today?”
Reverend Michael attempted to speak, moving his mouth, but words refused to come out; it was like his voice had disappeared. When he found his voice and was finally able to speak, he couldn’t find the words to say. He uttered, “Uh; umm; uh.” He looked for something to say to express the insurmountable guilt he felt. “I killed a man,” was all he could come up with. Tears welled up in his eyes, and a lump formed in his throat. His mind then went back to three days before as he began explaining what he had done.
It was a sunny Saturday morning, and Reverend Michael Robert Wilson was late to work. This was a surprisingly recurring event in his unpredictable life. Every Saturday, he went to the church to counsel, make sure everything was running properly for the Sunday morning service, and write his sermon. He had planned on making it to the church by eight o’ clock that morning, but as usual, the Chicago traffic put him behind schedule.
The honking of car horns became too much for him to bear after the first five minutes of sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Becoming annoyed, Reverend Michael rolled his windows up and turned up the volume to his radio; his favorite Christian rock band, J. C. and the Boys, was playing their latest single. Listening to music about Christ tended to calm his nerves, and today was no exception. As if by God’s grace, traffic slowly started moving. Only an hour behind, Reverend Michael finally arrived at his destination, the South Ninth Street Church.
Walking in through the heavy, wooden door sent a calming sensation through Michael; he felt at ease, although he knew there was much work to be done. He went into his office, sat in his computer chair, and made an executive decision to sit and relax for an hour or so, thinking about God.
As Michael began to finally regain his energy, he was forced to expend it again on his ever-growing to-do-list. He studied his Bible for hours, working on his Sunday morning sermon. Although he had powerful communication skills, he couldn’t figure out how to get his point across. He was at a loss for words; he knew nothing to say. He figured he just had a classic case of writer’s block. So, Michael decided to take a break from his sermon writing session and make sure everything was in order for the Sunday morning service.
First, he checked the lights, making sure none of them had blown out over the past week. He was in the process of checking the microphone and amplifying system when a man came in.
Michael recognized him; he was a member of the church, but that was all he knew. This man was frantic; he was walking slowly and nervously, shaking with every step he took. Tears stained his face. It was hard for Michael to tell if this man was crazy or sane. When the man saw Reverend Michael he was startled; he hadn’t expected anyone to be in the church on a Saturday morning. He had gone there for a safe haven.
“Can I help you?” Michael asked the man. When the man didn’t reply Michael added, “I’m Reverend Michael Wilson.” The man still did not respond; he just sat in the pew, as if the man standing in front of him had said nothing. Michael wouldn’t be ignored; he forced confrontation by walking to the pew and sitting down right next to this strange man; there was just enough room for Jesus between them. The man continued to ignore him.
Michael, giving up on this lost cause, began to walk away when he heard something. Was that a word? Or maybe an attempt at a word? Michael thought. He looked into the man’s sad, green eyes. Without uttering a sound, Michael listened to this man pour his heart out.
“I’m Robert Downs, and I’ve attended this church, somewhat, for twenty years; but you wouldn’t know me. Nobody does,” he began. He continued on for, what seemed to be, hours complaining about his miserable and pathetic life. Robert had just lost his job due to the recent economic crisis. He had no money, no means of living. He was becoming an infant again, completely dependent on everyone around him; he had lost all means of independence. He concluded, “I don’t know what is left for me. Maybe the world would be better without me; I should disappear. Perhaps I should die.”
This was an eye-opener for Michael, who had been half-listening and half-thinking about his remaining tasks. He hadn’t expected to hear those four words; “Perhaps I should die.” That wasn’t something Michael heard very often; no one had ever confided a death wish to him. He wasn’t sure how to respond. The life of this pathetic man was in his hands. Michael had to choose his words carefully. If he didn’t speak tactfully, this man could die. In careful response, Michael said, “Mr. Downs, I believe nothing is worth dying over.”
It was the best he could come up with. He couldn’t force this man to think the way he did; he could only offer his beliefs and hope this man would change his mind. There was nothing else he could say. He had never dealt with a suicidal man; the height of his counseling was working with an abusive relationship and divorce. He made it a point to avoid thoughts of topics such as suicide, murder, and death. Michael’s mind continued to race with crazy, random thoughts that provided him with nothing more than he already knew.
In a split second, Michael saw Robert pull out a handgun. It played in slow motion in Michael’s eyes. He had pulled it out of a large pocket on the left side of his forest green cargo pants. It was small, making it easy to conceal. Michael didn’t know what to think about this. What is he doing? Is he going to shoot me? Is he going to shoot himself? Should I call the police? Michael thought.
His questions were answered when Robert raised the gun to his own head. Black death was sitting at his temple. With the simple pull of a trigger his life would end. Michael couldn’t let someone commit suicide in front of him; he had to do something to stop him. He didn’t know what to do, but he knew he had to try.
Michael first simply asked, “Robert, will you please put the gun down and talk to me?”
There was no response.
It was time to take action.
Michael took two steps toward Robert and the gun. Defensively, Robert lowered the gun, now pointing the barrel at the dear reverend. When he realized what he was doing, he quickly raised it back up to his temple.
“Put it down, please,” Reverend Michael pleaded. “Think about what you are doing. You don’t want to kill me. You don’t want to kill yourself. Just put the gun on the floor,” Michael continued. He knew if he attempted to inflict force, the trigger would be pulled; his only choice was to coax him gently to place the gun on the ground.
Michael’s words spoke through Robert’s insanity, and he gently laid the gun on the freshly waxed hardwood floor. Michael stepped forward slowly and cautiously to pick up the gun and dispose of it, handing it over to the proper authorities and away from this suicidal lunatic.
Michael bent over slowly, extending his hand vigilantly and grasping the gun at the handle. His hand naturally fit around the gun with his forefinger resting on the trigger. He stared at his hand and the weapon resting in it. It felt so wrong for him, a minister, to hold a weapon capable of taking someone’s life; however, it felt so perfect in his hand. For some unknown reason, the urge to shoot at something began to overcome him. If only he could walk outside unnoticed and shoot at an empty Coke can lying in an alley.
Robert noticed something change in the reverend’s eyes. He needed to get that gun away from him before he shot something, or worse, someone. Robert quickly rushed toward Michael, hands extended, hoping to take the gun out of the grasp of the reverend.
Defensively, Michael raised the gun, pointing the barrel to Robert’s chest; in his eyes, Robert was a pursuer, attempting to hurt him, and he had to be stopped.
In a single moment’s adrenaline, he pulled the trigger.
A bullet flew from the barrel of the gun in Reverend Michael’s hand into the chest of a suicidal lunatic, Robert Downs.
Michael woke up from his stupor, as if everything had been a dream. He saw the man lying on the floor, lifeless. He realized what he had done, and an overwhelming guilt took over his body.
Michael attempted to reason with himself. He wanted to die. He brought the gun. He was going to kill himself. I saved him from going to hell, Michael thought, finding a loophole in his sin.
As many times as he tried to convince himself that he did the right thing, Reverend Michael’s guilt continued mounting inside him. He decided the only way out of his sin was confession.
“And that’s how I ended up here. I’m looking for God’s forgiveness,” Michael concluded to the priest in the lonely confessional.
The priest was left speechless after such a story. He knew no penance. He said all he knew to say, “I absolve you from your sin in the name of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Michael left the confessional feeling renewed. He looked up to the crucifix and smiled at Jesus. As he walked out the doors of the cathedral, he felt he could live his life as he normally had, walking to his own church.
The priest sat on his side of the confessional still contemplating what he had just heard. He knew what was said in the confessional was to be kept secret and confidential, but this involved another’s life. He knew he had to tell. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed 9-1-1. “This is Father Morris, and I have a murder to report.”