My first confession was like this…
all of our class in a row, a sea of navy blue wool and white cotton oxfords, waiting to enter a small closet-like room. We had not seen the inside of a confessional before. We had all the restraint of your typical fourth graders so the line wavered and bumped with pushes, pinches and jokes in the worst of taste. But under our immature façade there was one desperate worry…what were we going to confess? Even with the best dirty jokes on hand we were still grossly malnourished in the sin department. Couldn’t they let life fatten us up first so we had something to take to the sin slaughter?
The line inches forward.
What to confess, I thought. I was a prolific liar…that’s a good one. I had spun tales that left a gargantuan trail of tangled webs in my path. Not the type to speak out often, I also thought horrific thoughts about others. Janet, who teased me mercilessly in homeroom, she’d been beheaded a few times. Scott, who poked me in the back in English, horrible how leprosy could strike one so young.
When you are a kid you cannot think to a future that is unlike school. Therefore, every issue is a big deal. I watched the faces emerging from the confessional. Some of the girls cry a little. The guys use a swift pace to appear nonchalant as they emerge. The cool kids all look unfazed and bored.
I am next. I don’t have the head of the kid in front of me to fix my eyes on. I watch where I look. Having a bad habit of staring I am conscious to fix my gaze on something that won’t shout the question of ‘what am I looking at’ I remember getting this response once from a girl named Bridgette in my class. She reminded me of a twisted, copper wire with her red hair and freckles. Her personality was about the same consistency. I never could understand how a stare (not angry, just blank and unassuming) could work up such anger in others. It was as if I had just shot darts out of my eyes at her. I was just thinking about Bridgette shot full of darts launched freshly from each of my eyes that I missed the Father calling me in. A Nun’s firm hand pushed me forward.
So this is the confessional, I thought. It was full of dark wood and heavy drapery. Kind of like a very diminutive Steak & Ale. Absolutely no room for a salad bar, though.
Then it came out of my mouth ‘forgive me Father for I have sinned. This is my first confession’. Then the Father asked me what I had to confess. I could tell by his voice that I didn’t have the young priest Fr. Allen that everyone loved. He looked just like John Denver and played the guitar.
He would leave the priesthood that year to marry a popular girl’s pretty single mom.
Now he had something to confess!
I waited. Then I said ‘ I thought bad thoughts about my parents’. This was not an outrageous lie but it was not a true confession. The Father gave me penance to perform. I left the mini-steakhouse confessional.
Walking out in the church, past my classmates waiting in line to vent their souls, I didn’t know why I just didn’t show my true self? We all have to answer to our crimes. If I can’t release them in a sealed room, anonymous then when?
Still I remember this years later and wonder what happened to the sins I confessed. Through my teen years I thought enough bad thoughts about my parents to fill an afternoon of confessional time.
Now an adult, I have found that far better than confessing my mistakes in a closed room I face the person who was hurt by my wrong-doing. Instead of penance I hear from them how I hurt them and what they expect from me to heal our relationship. I let go of the childhood idea that confessing was a game and I had to arrive with sin; believing now that it is an exercise in honesty but one that should not end in a small, curtained room.
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