Father Ignatius was at the supermarket pushing his trolley slowly from one aisle to the next and reading his shopping list as he went along. He rarely visited the confectionery counters but this time he made a special detour to buy a box of chocolates for Mrs Davenport, his housekeeper, whose birthday was the following day.
Just as he entered the aisle he saw one of his parishioners there standing a few feet away. He was a successful local business man and a regular in church every Sunday and at confession every Saturday morning.
The priest was about to greet him when what he saw next made him suddenly stop in his tracks and freeze on the spot.
The business man took a chocolate bar from the shelf and put it in his pocket. He then moved away nonchalantly as if nothing happened.
Father Ignatius faced a sudden dilemma. Should he confront the man and tell him what he did is wrong. This may well cause a scene at the store as the man may well deny any wrongdoing.
Or should he inform a member of staff about what he had just witnessed and leave the matter to them.
Or should he just do nothing. Look the other way. Condone stealing through his lack of actions.
As the man casually walked out of the store Father Ignatius decided to let matters rest. He walked up the aisle and bought an identical chocolate bar as the man had just stolen.
Two days later Father Ignatius was hearing confessions as he normally does on Saturday mornings.
He sat at his confessional, which was one of those old fashioned wooden cubicles where he sat in the middle, and on either side people would kneel and speak to him through a small aperture covered by a thick curtain so that he would not see who is kneeling there.
He often smiled to himself at the intricacies of these old contraptions.
“What is the point of all this secrecy” he asked himself, “when I can usually tell who is on the other side of the curtain by their voice?”
Father Ignatius had a good memory for faces and voices and more often than not he knew who was confessing their sins to him. He had his regulars turning up Saturday after Saturday seeking absolution and listening to his wise words before leaving with a much lighter heart to pray their penance.
“Even their sins are always the same …” smiled Father Ignatius to himself as he waited for his first parishioner to kneel by his side, “sometimes I could recite their sins for them … but then, they’d think I can read minds …” he chuckled silently.
“Well at least they’re a good lot generally … not terrible sinners most of them …”
About half-an-hour later the business man he saw at the store came for his usual Saturday confession. Father Ignatius listened attentively to him and noted that he had not mentioned the incident at the store.
After the man had finished talking Father Ignatius whispered quietly through the heavy curtain, “for your penance I want you to take this …”
And he handed him the chocolate bar he’d bought from the store through the heavy curtain dividing both men.
The man took the chocolate bar and mumbled quietly, “I don’t understand.”
“It is your favorite chocolate is it not?” asked the priest.
“Er … yes it is.”
“Two days ago I saw you pocket a similar bar in the supermarket … am I right?”
“Yes … Father …” mumbled the man after a short pause.
“You see my son,” continued Father Ignatius, “I wasn’t the only one who saw you steal that chocolate bar … God saw it too … I spoke to Him about it … and He asked me to buy you a similar chocolate bar …”
The man said nothing, feeling both ashamed and totally repentant in his heart.
“For your penance I want you to enjoy this chocolate bar,” continued the priest quietly, “but I also want you to promise that you will never steal anything ever again … is that a deal?”
“Yes Father,” mumbled the man behind the curtain.
“And remember … next time you do something wrong, I may not be there to witness it … and God alone may be the one seeing your wrongdoing …”
“Yes Father!” repeated the repentant man as the priest absolved his sins and sent him in peace to fulfill his penance.