CONFESSION OF A GERMAN WIDOW
The widow, Rosa Hoffberger, stepped out of her large farmhouse and adjusted her gloves before toddling off down the cobblestone path leading into town. She would be late for Mass. It couldn’t be helped; her arthritis had begun advancing when the cold weather set in and movement was twice as difficult in the winter. She hadn’t attended Mass in several months since the onset of chest and arm pains had begun. Over the recent months, she had developed the habit of mumbling to herself aloud.
“As long as I make confession before I pass, I’ll be in a state of grace with the Lord.”
Two long hours inside the church passed and it finally came to be Rosa’s turn in the confessional booth with the priest. After preliminary recitations, she got down to business.
“Bless me Father, for I have sinned.” She paused as though a weighty matter were oppressing her mind.
“Go ahead, my child,” Father Spengler urged. “What grave sin weighs upon your conscience this morning?”
The priest smiled to himself. The older people in the village often amused him with their strange notions of what a sin was in their ordinary daily lives.
The sound of the widow’s rustling dress fabric filled the silence on the other side of the Confessional. She cleared her raspy throat a few times and began in a faltering tone.
“Forgive me Father, but I need to confess and receive blessing for something I did quite a while ago and never once brought up in confession before. I’m having heart problems now and I don’t want to go to my grave in an unclean state before our Lord.”
The old priest, who had known Rosa since before the Great War, when she was a small girl in the farming village outside Berlin, smiled at her humility. Her mind was often confused and her memory sometimes faltered. He would do whatever kindness necessary to bring peace to her few remaining days on earth.
“Go ahead, tell me what is troubling you.”
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I feel terrible because during World War II I hid a refugee in my cellar."
“But that was not a sin, my child—it was a noble act of compassion!”
“Father, I did not tell my husband I was hiding this refugee!”
“I understand. I understand. But, the deception is perfectly understandable in a time of war.”
“Yes Father, I know—but, he was a young Rabbi. He had money. I made him pay me 50 marks a week!”
The priest rolled his eyes and continued, "Well, I admit that certainly wasn't the most selfless thing to do, charging the man to save his life -- but you did save his life, after all, and that is a good thing. Don't worry about it too much; God forgives."
Momentary silence passed and the priest could tell there was more to come.
“Is there anything else?”
The sound of the widow’s gloves being removed followed upon the continued clearing of her throat. Finally, she continued.
“You have eased my mind considerably, Father. There is but one more question. . .”
The priest waited patiently for a full minute. It was often necessary to reassure the elderly. He gave his best recitation of compassion.
“The war was hard on all of us and it was many years ago. I have heard so many confessions in the intervening years from so many of my flock who continue to fret and worry about the pressures the Nazi regime placed on ordinary folk where there were no clear cut choices of simple right and wrong. Few of us can claim we risked life and limb to assure the safety of a refugee—much less one not of our faith—a Rabbi!”
“Yes, Father. But-you see, I—um . . .”
The priest stroked his chin and suddenly threw up his hands with an insight which suggested itself to him. The spirit was willing, but the flesh could be so weak!
“Let me assure you, my child—thrown into such an intimate interpersonal situation, there are emotions which rise to the surface which, outside of the war, would never have occurred. I knew your husband, Otto, and I know he was a difficult man—a cold personality. Do not be ashamed to confess, you will receive no judgment from this priest, I assure you!”
A long sigh heaved on the other side of the screen and the widow’s voice aroused itself barely above a whisper.
“Oh no, Father! Nothing of the sort ever happened. Lord no! It’s nothing like that, I assure you. It’s just—I um . . . “
The patience of the old priest was growing short, but he checked himself and continued his soft and placating tone.
“Very well, let us hear what you have to confess and we’ll put it right in the eyes of our good Christ through the power of the Holy Ghost.”
“Yes Father. . . I told you, the Rabbi paid me 50 marks every week throughout the war and never seemed to run short or quibble in the least about the amount I was charging him. I was, after all, feeding him home cooked meals. He wasn’t made to suffer in one of those dreadful, abominable camps like the rest of his lot.”
“Yes, yes—go on. Go on. . . “
The old lady seemed to straighten up and gain full possession of herself at this point. Her voice was clear and full and her energy had returned.
“I’ve nothing more to confess about that. I do have one question remaining if you wouldn’t mind giving your opinion about it?”
The priest sighed and smiled, glad to have come to the end of the widow’s self-flagellation and humble remorse.
“Certainly, my child—ask whatever you care to ask. I’ll do my best to answer you with godly zeal.”
“Thank you, Father. Since I’m a poor widow and all, I was wondering if it is okay if I wait until the money runs out before I tell the Rabbi the war is over?”
The only sound in the confessional booth was the sharp gasp from the old priest who sat with his mouth working soundlessly as the bells rang out over the hillside.
“Oh! Dear God!” He croaked. “Oh, my dear God!”