The sacrament of confession as it was known in the world of the Catholic church of the early 1960’s was a bizarre and troubling event. Keeping in mind now that the act of confession has changed considerably in the years since that time. In this modern age of enlightenment the sacrament of confession is observed in the full and healing light of day with all the joy that forgiveness brings. But in 1962 in Sister Monica’s class it was done the old fashion way, in the dark, with all the fear that visions of eternal damnation can conjure up.
Once a week we were marched from Sister Monica’s classroom up to the church to purge our immortal souls of all of those horrible sins against God and man that we had committed since last week. Although I am sure we were most certainly well within the national average for murders, rapes and robberies committed by grade school children, no chances were to be taken that any sin should go un-confessed. Even now the mere thought of confession conjures up those feeling so familiar to Catholic school children, panic, fear, guilt, nausea and hunger, that last one is due I think to the fact that we always seemed to go to confession just before lunch.
For those of you unfamiliar with Catholicism I will attempt to explain this quirky little neurosis generating religious oddity. Imagine if you will, you are eight years old and kneeling in a small very dark closet that smells of old people. When directly in front of your nose a one-foot by one-foot space of light suddenly appears with a loud and frightening bang. In this light is the silhouette of a head of some one you have been taught to believe is a direct conduit to God himself. And the way this silhouette’s head is slumped you’re not real sure if God’s rep. is having a bit of a snooze or perhaps reading the Times. You are now expected to tell this ear of God almighty any and all sins that you have committed. God then hears these sins through his earthly proxy and, if there is any real justice in the universe, says “ Why are you bothering me with this, can’t you see I’m busy, the kid is 8 years old fer Christ’s sake. Now leave me alone, go on, git ”. Then you are given prayers to say that are supposed to be equivalent to the severity of the sins committed, sort of let the punishment fit the crime. Your soul is now a clean slate, should you, God forbid, get hit by a truck on the way out of church, technically speaking, you should be able to by pass all the red tape and fast track it right through the pearly gates and on into heaven. Unless of course you mutter the words “ah shit “ just before the truck flattens you. Then you have to do the whole damn thing over.
For some reason when I think back on confession the church always seems to be in the throes of Lent. Lent is, depending on how you look at it, a season of soul searching and repentance, or a guilt generating 40 day torture designed to separate a person from: Clark bars, Moon Pies and Bonamo Turkish Taffy. Everything in the church is covered in thick purple velvet, statues of saints disturbing enough throughout the rest of the liturgical year now for Lent shrouded in black sacking looking for all the world like Casper’s jazz band. There you are standing in line waiting your turn to have all your sins forgiven. You would think one would welcome this opportunity, even rejoice in the possibility, to have all ones transgressions washed away, to begin anew. Well the hell with that. It was the same every time, waiting my turn, scripting out exactly what I was going to say and how I would say it. For if you were to do something as insane as to tell Sister Monica ” Hey Sister, gonna pass on confession today thanks, I’m good, maybe next week. ” You would immediately become a target for The Flick or if the good sister was feeling particularly peevish her vice grip like hand would lock onto your earlobe and you would be marched to the head of the line, the confessional door knocked on and the priest told that he would next be hearing from the grade school equivalent of Vlade the Impaler.
When one looks at a line of Catholic school children as they wait to enter the confessional, looks of concentration, easily mistaken for piety and pray, are in fact a mind feverishly at work. For a successful confession is a question of strategy and planning. The following are a few simple but vital rules in making a good confession.
Always have a minimum of 4 strong sins that you are comfortable with and can convincingly convey to the priest that you did in fact commit these harmless and marginal transgressions, thereby distracting the priest from any real penance generating behavior. For in the game of confession the winner gets two Our Fathers and 3 Hail Marys, these can easily be rattled off in 45 seconds on a good day.
‘I lied to my mother’ is a good steady working class sin.
Always have the lie ready to go, DO NOT ad lib, thats trouble.
Keep the lie harmless, such as, she told me to brush my teeth and I told her I did, when I didn’t. This is an effective lie and one that will not inspire any extra curricular activity such as the, I told her I did my homework when I didn’t lie. This lie will nine times out of ten illicit a reaction from the priest that will entail 1000 words on why lying about your homework will send you on a path of corruption and evil with little or no chance of redemption.
Stick with the brush your teeth lie, as priests generally have very little interest in dental hygiene.
‘Hit my sister’. Always a good one, hard to disprove, and completely believable under any circumstances particularly if the priest knows your sister.
‘Took a cookie’, simple yet effective. Involves stealing, which gives the priest the opportunity to use his powers of forgiveness on a real sin but the item stolen is harmless enough thereby bringing the penance time down to a manageable level.
Do not use the ‘I stole some change from my father’s dresser’ lie, this will always get you big penance time, granted on the outside it seems a small sin on the same level as the stole a cookie sin, there is however a subtle difference as this lie involves money which in the eyes of the church is the root of all evil, which always made me wonder why they have so much of it …ah well another mystery of faith.
Always keep one sin in your pocket in case the priest is not happy with the ones you’ve used, or if he for some reason recognizes your voice and cops on to the fact that you’ve confessed to the same three sins every week for the past six months and that you are either a desperate liar or have developed a serious jones for cookies.
And remember, remember, remember!!! It is always one week since my last confession ALWAYS!!!! For if you are to tell the priest that you did not go to confession for your entire summer vacation he will be expecting a litany of villainous and satanic transgressions that will keep you saying Hail Marys and Our Fathers until the cows come home.
Now once you actually enter the confessional box do not panic, do not let the fact that it is really dark, and stinky throw you off your game. Do not try to anticipate the priest opening that little window of his this will only cause nervousness and will over time lead to facial ticks and a fear of bright lights. Just focus on your lines and concentrate on creating a flow and getting in the zone. “ Bless me Father for I have sinned it’s been 1 week since my last confession” , from this point sail right into the sins, don’t pause, don’t hesitate, your in control, create the flow, remember you are just one of a hundred confessions this poor bastard is hearing today, so do not give him any reason to come up out of his private revelries to acknowledge you in any way. Get your 2 O.F’s your 3 H.M’s and get the hell out of there. These are tried and true strategies that have come down through the ages. Although there are limits to the effectiveness of these methods, they do not work on Jesuits for example, should you try it on a Christian Brother you will be wearing your ass for a hat. So be careful out there.