Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Bless Me Father, For I Have Sinned ...

Bless Me Father, For I Have Sinned ...

I must admit that I have not been a good Catholic in my later life. Still, when people ask, I don't do the modern-day fudge-the-facts subterfuge by claiming to be agnostic, atheist, Baha'i, Jewish or, worse still, a Zen Buddhist. I value having a religion. I value being Catholic, since anyone who is not a Catholic will be spending their afterlife on a waiting list to get into Heaven.

Still, I have some catching-up to do. For example, I have not been to confession for some years. Instead, I have always kept an eye out for the ritual of absolution. You see, sometimes, a priest will offer sort of a group confession at the beginning of mass, and everyone in the congregation gets a kind of blanket forgiveness and a communal blessing. That little ritual is best for me. Going to confession, one on one with a priest, would take up more time than a Law and Order marathon. Short of murder, I can't think of one sin that I haven't committed in just the last week or so.

Actually, confession was never a good experience for me. I remember when I was just a nudge past puberty, a good Catholic boy becoming a not so good Catholic teenager. I used to dread going to confession, because once Hugh Hefner started publishing nude photos of everything Marilyn Monroe, I had discovered that my right hand was good for something other than lifting cheeseburgers to my mouth.

"Bless me father, for I have sinned ..."

And I had. In those days, the kind of sin which I was repeatedly committing, was euphemistically known as "abusing myself." Shouting "Hallelujah" at the moment of orgasm did not make the act any less sinful.

Now, I had no problem telling the priest that I had abused myself, but more often than not, the priest would ask, "And how many times did you do this?"

My first impulse was to lie and say "Maybe once or twice," but lying in the confessional seemed like challenging God to strike you down where you were kneeling. So, I always tried to be truthful, sometimes to a fault.

To be completely honest, I never really knew how many times that I had "abused myself" since my last confession. I mean, who keeps score? I knew, however, that it was more than once or twice. So, I figured the safe route was to go big or go home. Since forty is such an important number in Christianity, I would usually throw out a fairly safe estimation of "no more than forty times" to the priest.

The result of my attempt at such honesty was always the same. Suddenly the smell of garlic would waft through the small screen separating me from the shadowy ambassador of salvation, and I knew the priest had turned his look directly at me, most likely with an expression of disgust, disappointment, dismay, or any one of those d-words that added up to the same thing ... damnation.

Normally, the rest of the confession went downhill from there.

"That's far too many times, my son," the sour breath of the priest would growl.

"Yes, father."

"Why do you feel the need to abuse yourself and God's love so many times?"

My mind would race. That inner voice, you know the one that you have to censor minute by minute, would want to blurt out, "Are you kidding? Have you tried it?"

Instead, I learned from Catholic school, just to say, "I'm sorry, father, I am not worthy." So, that's what I usually said, and it always seemed to satisfy the priest.

Then the penance came.

"Say twenty 'Hail Mary's' and five 'Our Father's' ..."

For the life of me I have never figured out why, as a youngster, I always thought the penance part was negotiable.

"Twenty 'Hail Mary's' father?" I'd groan. "That's like a whole rosary. Couldn't I just do eight, maybe ten tops?"

Sometimes, the priest might chuckle at my shameless impertinence and even reduce my penance, but I remember one priest, who was far too quick for a man who dressed in purple robes, saying, "Since you have abused yourself about forty times, let's make it forty 'Hail Mary's,' one for each time."

Now, my mother didn't raise no dummy, so from that time onward, I changed my approach to confessing my self-abuse. Instead of throwing out the magic number of forty, I switched to, "Oh, father, I am ashamed to think it may have been eight or more." That seemed to leave the door conveniently open to a more compassionate response, and I'd leave the confessional with a penance of maybe six "Hail Mary's," three of which I had already recited in my head.

Not that I was in a hurry to get home to take a "nap" behind the closed door of my bedroom, but I always found going to confession to be fairly stressful. Fortunately, I had also found a way to relieve some stress, at least in the short term ...



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