Friday, 4 February 2011

See, I can screw up now, and then just go to confession. No longer do I have to throw my parties in international waters.

Jennie My confession is that I didn't write anything for today. Oops! But don't worry, cause Joe did:

I was kind of a goodie two-shoes when I was a kid. I’m sure that comes as a big shock, considering my current bad boy persona, but growing up I never really did anything that would get me in trouble. It wasn’t because of my strong sense of right and wrong or anything like that. It was mostly because I was afraid of getting in trouble.

I think my strong fear of getting in trouble was made more powerful by my religious upbringing. I was brought up very, very Catholic. I attended church every Sunday, and I went to a Catholic school from preschool through high school. I studied the Bible and sang in the choir. And even as I grew older and more cynical, I still bore (and still bear) what I consider to be the two main traits of any good Catholic: crippling guilt, and an intense fear of punishment.

There are seven sacraments for Catholics, seven big events or whatever in one’s religious life. The first is baptism, which is like the most important one, where you are given a magic bath and your sins are washed away. I’m not sure how it works, but I think they must use special soap or something. Then there’s your first communion, which for me came during second grade and had a special Sunday mass devoted to it. Everyone’s parents are invited to first communion, and it’s a big happy celebration of cannibalism. The third in the series of seven sacraments is called reconciliation. More traditionally, it’s called confession. If first communion is when you join the church community, reconciliation is when you are publicly shamed in front of it. You’ve surely seen it on TV or in movies: you sit down in a little closet with a priest and you tell him what you’ve done wrong, and he makes you say some prayers and you’re on your way. Well, in third grade is when we ‘celebrated’ our first reconciliation, and it was a big deal. If you don’t confess your sins, you don’t get to go to Heaven, and if you don’t get to go to Heaven then I think they kick you out of Catholic school. We spent weeks and weeks learning about the importance of reconciliation, and having practice reconciliation services. Seriously, we had mock confessions. It was weird.

After months of preparation and learning about how important it was to apologize to God for stuff that he was probably too busy with other stuff to notice you doing, the big day came. Our first reconciliation took place in the church attached to the school during school hours on a weekday. No one’s parents attended, although there was this weird lady who sat in the pew next to me and who, when it was all over, thanked me for coming and said that it really meant a lot to her. I had no idea what she was talking about. Did she get off on people feeling bad about stuff? There were several ‘stations’ set up around the church for students to go to to give their confessions (there were multiple priests at our parish at the time), and it was voluntary as to when you went, but everyone had to go before the time was up. There were a few stations that were right up front, where everyone could see you. They couldn’t hear you, but still, if you went up there you were confessing to having done something wrong in front of your friends and classmates. For some reason, this didn’t bother me, and I resolved to go to one of those stations when I decided it was time to go.

Normally, with something like this, I would have been one of the first to go, because I was an overachiever and I liked to show off to the other students about how awesome I was. This time, though, I waited, and there’s a simple reason for this: I couldn’t think of what to say. I was already so afraid of getting into trouble with my parents and teachers that I hadn’t even stopped to worry about being in trouble with God. I always tried my hardest not to do anything wrong, and put on the spot like this I just had no idea what I was going to tell the priest when it was my turn. I couldn’t think of a single thing that I had done wrong recently. It was a lot of pressure for a third grader to be under, and I could not handle it.

Almost the whole class had gone by the time I made my way up to the front station. At that point I had just decided that I needed to go because I didn’t want to be the last one. I figured I’d probably relax and think of something once I got to the confession station. I sat down in a chair across from the pastor and we said hello to each other, and then it was time for my confession. I completely froze. I couldn’t think of anything that I had done wrong, and there I was and people were watching and the clock was ticking and the priest was waiting and what was I going to do? So I made a decision at that moment. I did what any third grader would do when faced with such pressure.

I lied.

Priest: So what would you like to talk about?
Me: I…uh, I lied to my parents.
Priest: I see. What about?
Me: …my grades.

My palms were sweating, and I was fidgeting in my seat. I was not a good liar in the slightest. Mercifully, the priest didn’t ask me any more questions. I think he probably knew that I was just making stuff up, but he didn’t call me on it. He explained the importance of being truthful, and he gave me some prayers to say, and I was on my way. I went back to my seat, relieved to be done with it, not really stopping to think that I had just lied to God, which was probably way worse than lying to my parents. Except God couldn’t ground me. He couldn’t yell at me or not give me an allowance. Lying to God was consequence-free.

I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed lying to God, but I certainly didn’t feel bad about it, either. Over the years we had three or four more reconciliation services, and usually I would just make something up for it – I cheated on my homework once, I lied a few more times (I was a chronic liar, clearly), and I think once I had mean thoughts about someone. It didn’t matter what I said, as long as I said something. I think that’s how I became so good at bullshitting people. It definitely served me well in college.

If I were still a practicing Catholic I would probably feel really bad about all of this, but I don’t. I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed, either. I was a kid, and kids do ridiculous things. It just so happened that what I did was lie to God. He hasn’t smote me yet, though, so I think at this point I’m good. And if I decide one day that I’m not, I can always go to confession and apologize.

14 comments:

Jennie said...

But priests can't tell anyone what you tell them in confession, right? So you could like tell them that you murdered someone and then ate a puppy and they couldn't say anything, right? Just tell you to pray or whatever?

(Note: I learned everything I know about confession from TV.)

Joe G. said...

That's pretty much it, actually. I think that, on special occasions, they can break their vow, but if you beat someone up and confess it to a priest, he can't tell anyone. He can just tell you to say some prayers, and then forgive you on behalf of God. As long as you confess what you did, you're good to go.

Heather Anne Hogan said...

Oh, I love this post. I want to hear more about little Joe! Or, er, child Joe. :)

Julie G. said...

dude, your supposed to go to confession before you have your first communion. it probably didn't take.

"...i firmly resolve with the help of thy grace to sin no more and avoid the near occasions of sin. amen."

WHY do i remember this?!?!? confession was my least favorite sacrament. i'm proud of you, joe.

Julie G. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie G. said...

above was an apology for my typo in the previous comment, for which i am terribly ashamed. i'm even more ashamed since my apology had another typo. so i had to erase it.

these are the sins i should be avoiding.

Joe G. said...

It sounds like they did things differently at Leibold (you went there, right? I'm just assuming) than they did at St. Albert's. We definitely communed before we confessed, and I never had to say that thing that you quoted. The Act of Contrition, sure...

Julie G. said...

leibold was kind of hippy. so maybe. (they told me that the creation story in the bible was just a story! not the absolute truth!)

and that was the act of contrition. a version of it anyway. i checked the internets to make sure i wasn't mis-remembering. there were five or six versions.

Ashley said...

Joe: JOE. Our childhoods were EXACTLY THE SAME. I LIED TO MY PRIEST, TOO! BECAUSE I COULDN'T THINK OF ANYTHING TO SAY!

I told him I hit my sister. Which, while it's less ironic than you lying about lying, is still pretty funny. We also had to go to confession as part of the Confirmation process (did you even get that far?), and that time I think I was too embarrassed to confess any real sins I might have had, so I think I lied then, too. Or, if I didn't lie, I just didn't say anything. We were at a retreat up in the mountains and everybody was in the same room, and all the priests were up at the front, and I was only sixteen years old! As a kid I was also really concerned with the priest knowing all the things I did wrong, and I bugged my mom so much about it that she told me God erases the priests' memories so they won't remember what you said. It took me sixteen years to figure out she was lying to me.

I think there may actually be some merit to confession, aside from the Hell-bullying some priests/parishes partake in. I think there are some things that you're so ashamed to tell anyone that having a priest there to tell them to sounds kind of nice. At the same time, if I was ever to confess those icky deep thoughts and things, I would have to go very far away and find a priest I would never see again in order to unburden myself.

In conclusion, Catholic guilt is very real.

Joe G. said...

I'm glad to hear I'm not alone in lying to priests. I'm sure if I'd had a younger sibling to hit, I probably would have told a similar lie to yours.

I was confirmed, in eighth grade. That was a process more akin to first communion than to reconciliation. There was again a special Sunday mass, and everyone's families were invited. Julie G. was my sponsor, actually. Good times.

Joe G. said...

Also, Julie: AMAZING that they told you the creation story was just a story! I'm pretty sure if I had ever mentioned that in a religion class in grade school that I would have been cast out.

I recall a time, when I was in college and after I'd more or less stopped going to church, that I went one Sunday with my parents. It was shortly after Easter, and the gospel was about Thomas not believing that Jesus was back. And Father Jim's homily/sermon was basically a literary analysis of the story about how Thomas wasn't real, the character was used as a stand-in for anyone who has doubts about Jesus. I was so surprised and impressed with the quality of the sermon that I never went to church voluntarily again, because it's pretty much all downhill from there. I'll go for a paycheck or if I have to, but not just cause.

Julie G. said...

i love fr. jim. he was at st. henry's when i was at leibold. maybe he had something to do with the creation myth business.

this is terrible, but when you said i was your sponsor, i was shocked. after thinking about it for a while, i do have a vague recollection of it. just like i do with my god children's baptisms. apparently i'm blocking it all out.

confession: i do actually remember kramer's baptism. i've seen pictures recently, and he's only 4. my other god child is 16. yikes.

eclectic said...

Catholics have nothing over Adventists in the guilt department. SDAs can make you feel guilty for eating a burger; or riding your bike or swimming on Saturday, for cryin' out loud! But at least we didn't have to tell a priest about our evil dietary indiscretions or on-the-wrong-day recreational pursuits... so there's that.

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