The Tiber as it gushed forth overflowing its banks called to my mind the tears that gushed forth when I went for confession preparing for the thirtieth anniversary of my priestly ordination. And as I looked in retrospect at three decades of my priestly ministry and life, I was overwhelmed. I went down memory lane tracing the routes and roads I took that led me nowhere; I re-called those detours and deviations that made me leave the right path; I remembered the odysseys that left me bruised, battered and beaten. And I found myself sobbing uncontrollably like a child. Tears speak much more than words, and with their mysterious flow, express what the heart alone knows. My Confessor on the other side of the grill remained so silent, respectful and under-standing even as I snivelled, snorted and struggled to lay bare my soul.
But why was I crying? For my many sins surely. They were tears of sorrow that came from a contrite heart, a heart so weak and wayward, a heart which, like an untethered beast that wanders and often gets lost, has to be sought after and rescued. Yet they were not only tears of sorrow but also of joy. I felt deeply loved by God in my utter sinful-ness. I felt powerfully God saying to me: "Do not cry. I have never rejected you, even though you may have rejected yourself, or others may have rejected you…… I will never reject you, even though you will reject yourself or others will reject you." I was grieving for God, for while I felt swept away by the tide of my sinfulness, I felt swamped by the flood of His love. I read recently that deep prayer is a grieving, a grieving that is born of the experience that God's love goes beyond our human expectations and that the limitlessness of His love far exceeds all the categories of our limited understanding. I was face to face with a God Who not only welcomed me after I had left home and frittered away my inheritance but a God Who was longing for my return, loading me with • His gifts of grace and reminding me that even in my waywardness I still remained His son.
God's love is first, for He loved me before I failed and fell, He loved me even before I could experience any rejection. God's love is last because it lasts for ever, for He will love me even after I have failed and fallen, He will love me even after I have suffered rejection from myself and others. And as the Tiber flowed past, it seemed to heave a sigh of relief, and with those gurgling sounds, it seemed to echo and express the sentiments in my heart that were too deep for words but not too full for tears!