IT MAKES SENSE TO ME
By Larry Peterson
This past Sunday two of my grand kids made their First Confession. It is always a beautiful thing when children receive their first sacraments. Invariably, they never forget those moments. I was seven years old when I made my First Confession and I can still vividly remember that day. I do not remember what sins I confessed because, at seven, the only thing I can remember ever doing was picking on my little sister all the time. And I know I had been punished for that—numerous times.
Last Tuesday they had a penance service in my parish. I was stunned at the large crowd. Eight priests were available to hear confessions and the church did not close up until almost 10 p.m. I wondered if any of the people who went to confession that evening were denied absolution because what they had done was considered “unforgivable”? Ridiculous, right? Everything is forgivable, isn’t it? And it does not matter if you are six, seven or one hundred and eight.
To give an example of how God’s mercy is ALWAYS available to those who seek it I would like to briefly mention a man by the name of Arthur Flegenheimer. Arthur was born in New York City in 1901. A German-Jew, by the time he was 27 he was known as Dutch Schultz and was quickly becoming one of the most feared mob bosses in New York. The “Dutchman” was a bootlegger (running illegal whiskey), a number’s boss operating in Harlem and a “shakedown artist” within the NYC restaurant industry offering protection while using the restaurant unions as cover.
His main enforcer was the infamous, Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll, a brutal killer who did Schultz’s bidding without hesitation. Eventually the “Dutchman” got tired of Coll’s wanting more money. As “Mad Dog” sat in a telephone booth talking on the phone he was machine gunned to death by Schultz’s henchmen. Dutch actually proved to be a more brutal killer then “Mad Dog” Coll. So how does my brain tie Dutch Schultz, the Sacrament of Penance and Zero-Tolerance together? Actually, it is not that hard to do.
Dutch Schultz wanted to kill U. S. Attorney Thomas E. Dewey (Later to be Governor of NY and the Presidential Candidate losing to Harry Truman in the 1948 election). The Mafia Commission told Schultz, “NO, it would cause us too much trouble.” Schultz refused to listen and decided to kill Dewey anyway. The mob, under Lucky Luciano, sent “Murder Inc.” after Schultz. They gunned him down in a restaurant in Newark, N.J on October 23, 1935. Enter the sacrament of Penance and Forgiveness.
When Dutch Schultz was acquitted on tax-evasion charges he converted to Catholicism. He believed that Jesus had saved him. (He was also trying to impress Lucky Luciano). When he was shot he did not die right away. He was taken to the hospital for surgery and he immediately asked for a priest. He was 34 years old and his last thought while he was dying was to ask Jesus for forgiveness and mercy. He went to confession, received absolution and was administered the Last Rites of the Church by a priest. Then he died. Did Dutch Schultz go right to heaven? Did he get to the “pearly gates” and have St. Peter say, “Sorry Dutch, that priest made a mistake. What you did was “Unforgivable. We operate under a strict “Zero-Tolerance” policy. You are not welcome here.” I think not.
Sunday is Palm Sunday. Holy week begins. All over the world Catholic/Christian people celebrate the bloodied, tortured and crucified Son of God, Jesus Christ. Jesus embraced forgiveness for all people and extended love to everyone. This is also what He wanted us to do. This is why he suffered and died for us. He offered Himself to His Father for us. His Father’s gift back to us is the Risen Christ. We all have been saved and we all can get to share eternal life with the Blessed Trinity. Because of God’s mercy even Dutch Schultz can join in the celebration. It is a beauty beyond description.
The only people who remain among the ranks of the “unforgiven” during the Easter celebrations and all through the year are those who are subject to the man made rules of Zero-Tolerance. This includes Zero-Tolerance rules as set in place by much of the Catholic hierarchy. But God Himself could never be party to Zero-Tolerance since it would be a contradiction of His perfection. Maybe this Easter the hierarchy of the Church, as they celebrate new Light during the Easter Vigil, should begin re-thinking this intransigent policy called Zero-Tolerance. If it did not apply to Dutch Schultz, well, —-who am I to judge?
copyright © 2015 Larry Peterson