In the French Medieval Tale The Legend of the Little Barrel, we find a character who may resemble us in ways that may make us uneasy.
This lord of a great castle was rich and handsome, and he feared no king, prince or royalty. He was also vain, cruel and proud. He feared no God.
He observed no fasting or abstinence and attended no mass. He heard no sermons and was ruthless in his financial dealings. Good Friday found him shouting to his cooks to prepare a feast of game hunted the previous day.
His knights cautioned him, since it was Good Friday, that he should abstain from meat and go to confession, so as not to offend God. He declined.
“At least accompany us to the hermit-priest’s cave where we will seek penance,” his knights pleaded.
He agreed and they made for the hermit’s cave. The Lord stayed outside with the horses while the knights sought confession. The hermit invited the lord to come in so they could converse. Once inside the hermit proceeded boldly:
“Sir, consider thyself my prisoner. Kill me if thou wishest, but I shall not freely let thee go from hence before thou hast told me all thy sins.” The Lord refused. The hermit insisted: “Tell me just one sin, and God will help thee confess the others.”
Swearing, the Lord barked, “I will confess. But I shall repent of nothing, absolutely nothing!”
With mighty arrogance, he told all the sins of his stormy life at one fell swoop. In order to be forgiven the French lord was assigned a penance, which he refused.
The hermit gave him a simpler penance of one good deed he could not refuse. “Take this little barrel to the nearby brook, fill it with water, and return it to me.” The lord went to the brook and dipped the barrel under the water, but not a drop would enter.
The hermit explained that even a child could fill the small barrel. It must be because of his unrepentance. In frustration the Lord set out alone to travel all the world to find water to fill the tiny barrel. Only his guardian angel and God accompanied him.
He crossed mountains and valleys and strode through brambles. He suffered cold and hunger, all to no avail. Finally he returned to the hermit on another Good Friday. The lord was hardly recognizable, so gaunt and frail. He was still unrepentant.
The hermit began to weep.“O God, look upon this creature Thou hast made and that so madly gambles with his soul. Shouldst Thou have to choose between the two of us, unleash Thy wrath upon me, but save this creature.”
The Lord was moved. “Make me repentant, O God, so that this holy man may have at least the consolation of my contrition. I beg Thee, forgive me for everything of which I am guilty!”
His contrition was so deep that his eyes began to fill with tears. A large teardrop spilled from his eye, ran down his face, and fell right into the little barrel that still hung about his neck. Lo, that single tear was enough to fill the barrel to its very brim. It was a sign that God had forgiven him his sins.
The lord confessed again all his life’s sins and wept abundantly. He received Holy Communion, and fell into the hermits arms. Light filled the chapel as angels descended to accompany him to heaven.