Miracle at the Confessional

Vezelay France. The start of my 900 KM Pilgrimage. Only 98 more sleeps to go.

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Keeping in the religious vein I thought I would put this little vignette out there:

Miracle at the Confessional

I am sitting there in the cavernous church: non plussed, and 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 after thousands of years of practice, and not wanting to waste anybody’s time, the priest’s or mine, had a 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 sliding door to the left or to the right as need be and you were 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 heavens and the priest’s sake!

I sat there in the pew for what seemed to me to be like an eternity. As the time marched on my hiccups seemed to get worse. I prayed and prayed that they would stop but no heavenly dispensation came my way that day.  I held my breath for what seemed to be minutes but no luck.  I looked directly into the glare of the afternoon sun but again no reprieve. Finally I sensed that I was the only young soul left sitting in the pews of the church, still hiccup-ing.  Just then the Priest came out from his Priest-cave, looked around in the late afternoon sunlit church, with its long shadows and soft beams of spiritual light accentuated with particles of floating, flickering dust and spotted me.  It was Father Docherty. He was a fatherly Father of our church: nice but somewhat of a lush.  Chubby, but not fat, more cherubic like features, weathered and somewhat rustic with a fractured nose and pronounced limp from his athletic days of playing ice hockey for the “Holy Rollers.”

His robes hung over him in disarray. He was more of a slob really, or should I say heavenly slovenly.  He always drooled so it was wise to give him a wide berth to avoid the spittle for, as mentioned earlier, second hand spittle was a fate worse than death or penance for someone as young as me! He had a high squeaky voice which did not adequately or accurately personify his physical features.

How did I know he was a lush?  Several of my friends were alter boys – assistants to the Priest while celebrating Mass. And father Docherty always celebrated the 10:15 Mass. That was the time that the semi-high mass at our church was celebrated.  And one dictum that every young lad or lass in the parish knew was never ever go to the 10:15 Mass.  It lasted an eternity.  And being a semi-high mass meant more wine at the Offertory segment of the celebration.  It was the alter boys job to carry the small carafes of water and wine from a side table hidden from view from the parishioners up to the alter area such that the Priest could mix the water with the wine.  Only in his case there was no water only wine, and lots of it, in two carafes: one being white to resemble water the other being red to symbolise the blood of Christ. By the end of the Mass, Father Docherty’s limp became more pronounced as he began to slur his words. This was not really a problem because no one in the church was paying attention by this point in time anyway and even if they were they couldn’t understand Latin.

“Shakey Jay” he commanded “What’s the problem”

I thought that I think it is obvious Father.

“I have the hiccups, Father, really hiccup-ing bad so I cannot say my hic-up-ed confession with these hiccups.”

“Come here”

I obeyed and when I got within an arms throw of his massive arms he put his left arm around me, chuckled somewhat and told me not to worry about the hiccups as he led me to the confessional. Perhaps he was impatient for this session to end so that he could run back to his own quarters and watch Tarzan.

And at that exact moment in time, without a doubt and with no exaggeration on my part, when he slung his left arm across my shoulder, those hiccups ceased immediately.

Is this a saintly, canonization, beatification worthy moment?  Probably not in the overall Catholic scheme of things but for me it was an experience that I never forgot.  It was right up there with my Uncle Rupert’s guardian angel apparition on that dark and stormy night or my Dad’s miraculous recovery from cross eye-ed-ness after visiting  St Anne De Beaupre’s shrine outside of Quebec City with his mother.  Truth or fantasy?  Don’t really know for I was an impressionable and innocent soul back in those days.  Cynicism had not yet manifested itself or wrestled away or destroyed my enthusiasm for life nor my innocence or naivety as yet.  Only happy thoughts!

Continuing with the religious theme, here is the song of the day: 1970’s “Spirit in the Sky.” Norman Greenbaum. This song was well ahead of its time with respect to guitar riffs and rhythms.

Have a terrific Tuesday.