The full moon was beautiful that night.
My friend, Larry, and I stood admiring it from the dock of a relative’s cottage on the St. Lawrence River in Ontario.
A group of us had spent the day helping to prepare the place for the long Canadian winter—cleaning, painting, doing repairs, and pulling boats out of the water. Evening found us gathered on the porch, enjoying more than a few bottles of beer. Larry, who is not a drinker, was doing his best to keep up by downing glass after glass of water. I wondered if he was offended by our drinking and off-color jokes, but he looked happy to be there.
I had told Larry how beautiful it was when the full moon rose over the river. He wanted to see it, too, so we left the others and went outside. By then, I was feeling a little ashamed of my language and behavior, especially since I knew Larry was in training to become a Catholic deacon.
“You know, you’ve been sitting with a bunch of sinners,” I said. “That’s okay, Rob,” he answered, “we’re all sinners.”
Guilty as Charged. A religious person who considered himself a sinner? I wasn’t expecting that. To my mind, I was the sinner—and I couldn’t have cared less. Although raised Catholic, I hadn’t been to Mass in years and even doubted that God was real. Yet, gazing up into the moonlit, starry sky, I heard myself saying: “When I look at all this, I can almost believe there must be a God.”
“I know there is a God,” Larry replied. Then he told me a little about his conversion years before. “I wish I had your faith,” I said. Strangely enough, I meant it.
Larry just placed his hand on my shoulder. Immediately, I felt a tingling moving through my body, all the way to my toes. It felt as if I was absorbing something, like an old dry sponge that fills and swells when placed in water. Then the tingling became a numbness, then a heaviness that made my knees buckle. Something was pressing down, forcing me to my hands and knees. Panic took over. Was I having a stroke? Dying?
A feeling of dread came over me, and with it, an awareness of every rotten thing I had ever done or said. Like a huge wave, the weight of a lifetime of sin came crashing down. Dread gave way to terror as I saw how wretched my life had been.
Why had I wasted it? How could I have been so selfish, so thoughtless? I had been given so much—how could I have done all those things? I lay sobbing on the dock in a crumpled heap, overcome with fear, shame, and remorse. I had no excuse, no defense. I had done it all, and God was judging me with complete fairness. I was guilty as charged.
A New Beginning. But then the wave receded. The weight lessened, the numbness disappeared, and I was flooded with a totally different feeling. It was like stepping through a mirror into a whole new world. Everything had changed! I felt set free—cleansed, forgiven, elated.
Staggering to my feet, I turned to Larry, “What did you do to me?”
“I didn’t do anything,” he said, looking amazed.
“But what was that?”
“I think it was the Holy Spirit. I could feel his presence just now.”
I felt like jumping for joy. God was real! Not only that: he knew me, he loved me, and he was giving me a second chance! I had no idea why he would even bother, but in that instant, he filled me with healing, forgiveness, and his burning love.
Now that I knew him as my God and my Creator, I just wanted to stay close to him. Nothing else really mattered.
I Confess. I went home a different person, and my life began to change. I felt drawn to return to the Church—which, of course, meant going to Confession. Even though I felt forgiven by God, I knew I still needed his forgiveness through a priest. In fact, I longed for the sacrament. I hadn’t been for over thirty years, though, and I was scared stiff. What was the priest going to say to me? And what was I going to say to him? After a couple of months and a lot of prayer, I found the courage to call and schedule a time for Confession.
Of all the things I’ve had to do in my life, walking into church that day was the hardest. I literally had to force my legs to take each step. And after I had forced myself inside and was kneeling there praying for courage, I was faced with another hurdle: instead of the confessor I was expecting—a priest I felt comfortable with—in walked the pastor.
I began to panic. I’ve got to get out of here right now! But something held me in the pew. I’ve made it this far. I just have to go through with it.
I should have had more trust in Jesus, because at that point, it seemed he took over and made it easy. My memory is blurry, but I know I had tears streaming down my face as I managed to tell monsignor a little of what had happened to me.
“The Lord must have something special for you to do!” he said. And before I knew it, I was hearing those beautiful words: “I absolve you of all your sins. And welcome back.”
Taking the Chance. My moonlight encounter with God took place on October 11, 2003. Not a day goes by that I don’t marvel at it and wonder, “What does he want me to do in response?” The only answer I come up with is that this extraordinary thing happened to me so that I can tell people about the extraordinary love and mercy our Father has for each of us.
While I’ll never know why I received my second chance in such a dramatic way, I do know that God has many ways of giving people a second chance. Often, all it takes is a little opening—even something as small as saying: “I wish I had your faith.”
So if you need a second chance, maybe God is nudging you to ask for one. You can start over! Whatever bramble you have wandered into, however trapped or alienated you may feel, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, can free you, clean you up, carry you home, and change your life.
Sure, you’ll still stumble and fall. I certainly do. That’s why I treasure Confession so much (even though I still don’t find it easy). Though I’ve become a different person, by the grace of God, I now understand what Larry meant when he said, “We’re all sinners.” But God gives third, fourth, and fifth chances, too! His love is always there to draw us on and give us strength to persevere and seek forgiveness once again.
Robert Eisenbach belongs to St. Eulalia Parish in Elmhurst, Pennsylvania. He encountered the Holy Spirit through the simple prayer of a friend, "Larry,” whose actual name is Leo Lynn—who had experienced the Spirit’s power in his own life years before.