Sin and forgiveness


Happenstance events entangled two church families
in a most unhappy situation.

I can’t imagine what’s recalled this story, unless it’s the weather.  It was about this time of year, 1974 or ’75, when I was home from college on summer vacation and read about these things in the papers.

I grew up in a fairly large congregation of upper-middle class people.  We would get 200 on a Sunday.

Ron Roberts and his wife and children came.  There were about seven children.  The oldest were a few years younger than me; I never knew them well, but they seemed to be good kids.  I nicknamed their mother Zelda, ’cause she was kind of wild-looking.

Sam Smith and his wife Louise belonged to my father’s generation; they had been pillars of the church for decades.  They had a daughter Linda, whom I somehow never knew.  She married one John Jones.  They had a daughter Becky, a few years younger than me, just about the cutest girl I ever met.  She eventually married one of my pals from the youth group.

One night in January, two junkies broke into a hardware store.  They tripped a silent alarm; police arrived; there was a gun battle.  A police officer got killed.

John Jones was charged with felony murder.

Unknown to anyone before all this came out, Zelda had found part-time work as a belly dancer.  At Jones’ trial, she testified that on the night of the break-in, she performed at a house party where Jones was present.  Following her performance, the two of them retired to a bedroom, where they proceeded to have sex till dawn.  She testified to this at length, in graphic detail.

John Jones was acquitted.

I never saw the Roberts family again.

Where I attend church now, we celebrate the Mass every week.  We begin with a rite of corporate confession and absolution.  The people recite:

Almighty God, we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.  We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.  We have not loved you with our whole hearts.  We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves.  For the sake of your son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.  Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways; to the glory of your holy Name.

The priest pronounces absolution:

In the mercy of Almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for his sake God forgives us all our sins.  I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

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