Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. This is my first confession.
My Catholic grammar school opened the year I entered the second grade. And during that year I learned a very important lesson. Everyone is A SINNER! I was astounded, and I filed that little tidbit of information in the recesses of my brain to pull out later when I would want to call somebody’s attention to it.
But, really, everyone? Nuns? Priests? My mom?
I couldn’t wait to tell her! And I’d have to watch her and my dad very closely, so I could point out their shortcomings and beg them to confess or suffer the consequences of HELL.
That lesson hit me hard. Up until second grade, I thought I was sinless. Actually, I never gave sinning a thought, but now I learned that I must confess my sins if I wanted to purify myself before I received my first Holy Communion. I was 7 and I already felt as if I was being punished just for being Catholic. The way I saw it was that after I told the priest all the horrible sins I committed, I would then get scolded for revealing them. But my penance would be rewarded with Holy Communion. I had one problem, though – I had nothing to confess.
Maybe I denied my imperfections, but seriously – I was 7! I wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t lie, cheat, steal, disobey my mother or my father, or abuse my sisters. And truth be known, I was terrified of my mother. Except for looks of disdain I directed at my parents when I became a teenager – for having to follow rules, I was a pretty good kid.
Well, except for that one time after my first confession when I stole a Chunky bar. It was Arnold Stang’s fault. He made it look so delicious, I couldn’t help but long for one. I begged my mother to buy one for me – just one – it probably cost only a nickel back then – but she refused, and I was so upset with her, I decided I deserved it, so I just took it!
Later I would reason that Satan must have been sitting on my shoulder – Go ahead. Take it. You know you want it. You know you deserve it. Your mother is just being mean. She doesn’t want you to have fun. I pictured Satan twirling his mustache around his finger as he spoke, squinting his eyes, and raising his eyebrows. He had a good point. I did deserve it!
The cashier didn’t see me, Mom didn’t see me, my sisters didn’t notice, and though I was terrified on that long walk to the car in the grocery store parking lot, holding tightly to my safely-hidden-in-my-jacket-pocket Chunky bar, I made it home without anyone discovering my sin.
As soon as I got home, while my mother was putting away the groceries, I ran outside and hid on the side of the house. I savored the moment, unwrapping my prize as I snuck the gorgeous chunk of chocolate into my mouth. I awaited waves of blissful satisfaction to flood over me when I, too, would salivate the words Arnold Stang deliciously expressed in those Chunky commercials, “What a chunk of chocolate!”
Instead, instant karma choked me – Chunky had RAISINS! I HATED raisins! My immediate urge was to regurgitate, but, mouth full, a bubble of words thrust out of my head – what if Dad finds it on the lawn? Where would I put the wrapper? Mom would find it if I put it in my pocket, just as she did the melted ice cream cone my sister put in her pocket to “save for later”!
Oh, woe was me. Why did I not think about consequences?
Oh, well, the upside was that at least now, after my first confession, I had material for the next time I visited the confessional and I knew firsthand the evils of sinning.
But what would I possibly confess during my first confession?
I labored for weeks over that one simple question. I had nothing to say! If the priest was as close to God as I’d been led to believe he was, didn’t he already know everything? Why did I have to tell him I was a good girl?
What bothered me more than having to confess sins I hadn’t yet committed, though, was learning that confession was not a one-time obligation. I would have to endure this torment every month! What was this little 7-year-old supposed to do every-single-month? Anything I said would be a lie!
Thank you, God! I knew what to do for my first confession! I’d say I disobeyed my mom, which was a lie, and then, the next time I went to confession, I’d say I lied! Genius!
But – what would I do about the confession that would come after the next one? The pressure was intolerable! The problem obviously required more analysis, a skill my anxiety-ridden mind would perfect throughout the rest of my life:
Would my original lie be like The Original Sin? Might I be taken from my Garden-of-Eden existence, thrown into oblivion through a portal in the confessional and find slithering snakes tempting me to eat apples? Would God strike me dead the moment I uttered my first lie?
I considered being bad on purpose, so I’d have something to confess. But, but, but, if I talked back to my parents, wouldn’t I risk being sent to HELL – not by the priest – but by my parents?
OH! NO! NO! NO! NO! Back talk was not an option! I was more terrified of my mom, who had a habit of pulling up the skin from the top of my hand and twisting it – in church – if my sisters and I even sneered at each other (oh, no – was sneering a sin?) than I was of the priest. Then again, I didn’t want to upset my younger sister, either, who gritted her teeth and blazed fire from her eyes when she was angry – definitely did not want to get on her bad side!
Such a conundrum. At the tender age of 7, I felt doomed!
So I decided to stick to my original plan, to lie first and then repeat the process, changing the actual lie every other time I went to confession and using the Ten Commandments for reference.
The day finally came when classes of second-graders lined the pews in church, awaiting punishment for their evil crimes. Towering before us were two side-by-side upright caskets. And it was my turn. If I was struck dead for lying in that confessional, I was only one step away from being buried. At least my parents would know I had died forgiven. With shoulders slumped to my waist, I walked in and sat down on the other side of the mysterious priest who would listen to my lies and pass judgment.
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. This is my first confession. And over the next several months, I added, I didn’t honor my parents, I stole something, I coveted thy neighbor’s wife. No matter that I had absolutely no idea what coveting a wife meant, I was let out of the confession box with nothing more than a sin to repent! And I was still alive! Bye-bye, casket! No bury for Terry!
But then another problem loomed before me. If I stayed in the confessional for too long, I might be given a lot of penance. Some of those kids were still kneeling in their pews, praying their hearts out long after the last kid made his confession, and they were first in line. How bad did you have to be to pray that long for contrition?
So I told myself to stick to normal kid stuff, like lying and disobeying my parents. All I had to do was say an Act of Contrition and, depending on the severity of the confession/lie, a few Hail Marys and a few Our Fathers. And if I ever did anything bad, like steal a Chunky bar, I could explain that even Jesus was tempted!
Bless me, Father, for I am cleansed! Problem solved.