….Our Catholic diocese had some really weird rules. Of course the Priests and Nuns had our unbridled attention for fear was their calling card and eternal damnation our incentive. If I even thought some bad thought I was sure to go straight to hell – or worse! I used to think that my soul after confession was as white and as fresh as newly fallen snow but for every venial sin committed a small black spot appeared. After a while many black spots. Weekends were especially bad for black spots. Don’t even think about committing a mortal sin – like eating meat on Friday. Heavens no. That was akin to rolling around in a coal bin. All black! The only way out was to go to confession again and spew out all of the sins of the past week: admonishment, atonement then absolution. Yes! Penance? The requisite number of Our Father’s, Hail Mary’s and Glory be to the Father’s, the Son’s and the Holy Ghost and all of the saints were attuned to your particular sinful list but faster than you could say Alleluia your soul was as white and as pure as snow again. Whew! At least that is what I thought at that young impressionable age.
I am reminded of one really weird and unexplainable moment that occurred to me while waiting to go into the confessional to confess my indiscretions and sinful works and sinful deeds and equally sinful thoughts. It was a Saturday afternoon, springtime, around 4pm, the scheduled time for confession at our church. Given that the church was right across the road from our house that day or time of day for confession didn’t really cause me an inconvenience. Run across to the church, do my thing, say the requisite number of Our Father’s, Hail Mary’s and Glory Be’s, and voila, the slated soul was clean, snowy white again, all black spots disappearing into the sinful ether. Then run back home to catch the latest Tarzan edition on TV or tales from the really dark continent awaiting a supper of hot dogs, or better still, Kraft Dinner – with ketchup!
I am sitting there in the cavernous church, non plussed, wondering what I’ll be confessing. There was that list of sins of course both venial and mortal to contemplate. The church, being really well organized from thousands of years of practice and not wanting to waste anybody’s time, the Priest’s or mine, held the list and that list was all encompassing. It must have been quite interesting and comical fun coming up with the list of venial and mortal sins. I would have loved to have been part of that Working Group or Ecumenical Council for certain. Yes, a sinful checklist of remembrance was the way to go. Did I do this? Check! How about that? Check. Masturbation? What is that? More on that later! Uncheck? Murder? Nope, uncheck, unless thinking about murdering my oldest sister was a sin? Uncheck that. On and on it went. Meantime, while I was sitting there waiting to go in to meet my fate head on, I suddenly came down with a horrific case of the hiccups: bad, violent, non-relenting. Each hiccup shook my entire being.
Ever try to mask or hide a hiccup in a confined environment like a church, or worse yet, the claustrophobic confines of a confessional? It is not pretty. Your cheeks bulge out; eyeballs and pupils expand outwardly in a Feldman like manner; the stomach contracts then expands in rapid succession; and, like an uncontrollable fart, a growling sound begins its emanational rise from the lower bowels of the human body bypassing the stomach then running up the oesophagus in its belch like fashion, or in the Catholic vernacular, like a resurrection. The gut, it hurts. The whole sensation repeats itself over and over and over again until those hiccups run its course. With each attempt to mask the hiccup the sensation becomes worse and deeply magnified.
Embarrassed, I sat out in the pews near the back of the church daring not to even think about going in to that dark, dank and tiny expanse that they called the confessional. The interior of those tiny cells, abreast of and on either side of the priest’s chamber, have a unique odour about them. Here, some 50 years later, as I am writing this, I can still sense that smell. A toxic mix of incense and sweat interspersed with a whiff of stale tobacco and alcohol for all of the Priests smoked and drank. Once inside and kneeling there was no escape for the Priest knew you were there given the little panic-type-like button that activated a beep for the Priest’s sake and a tiny red light outside of the cell once your knees pressed into the red foam of the kneeling pad. All the Priest had to do then was to slide the small grated, face level sliding door to the left or to the right as need be and you were trapped. Trapped, trapped by the Priest’s undivided attention until absolution. I am sure that every Catholic knows and remembers the sound of that small sliding door opening and closing.
I couldn’t even think of how I would handle that situation.
“Bless me father – hic -up – for I have hic-up – sinned. It has been hic-up – one – hic-up-ed week since my last hic-up-ed confession.” Good thing that I didn’t stutter for heaven’s and the priest’s sake!…..