Lights On

I had to get back to confession someday.

I knew that I had been weak again – but for now I had to focus on the present. I needed to stop myself from constantly shoveling sin upon sin, like smouldering ashes. 

Sins were so easy for me to commit – It seemed that I sinned easier than anyone I knew. I could always come up for a reason for my siblings, that I knew that they had not sinned – Maybe they lacked the intentions, maybe they thought of it differently than I did, or maybe they were just stronger than me. All I knew was that it seemed in just about every choice there was a sin, or a pure act with no moral consequence.

I did not want to waste my life sinning, and burying my soul. I wanted to remain vigilant, and keep from ever doing anything like I had done with the fools gold ever again. I didn’t want to steal. I didn’t want to be a thief. I didn’t want to die in sin and spend eternity in Hell. I just wanted to be sure that when I died , I would know that I was ready, and that I would go to heaven.

Images of hell and eternal torment motivated me when I felt like getting sloppy again – just living day to day – complacent with no thought about sin. I could so easily wind up in hell if I stopped making good decisions in every moment. I had to keep thinking about it, I had to watch every move, I had to be sure that I would save my own soul because I knew that no one else could save it for me.

I started realizing that I had been committing sins my whole life. I had eaten food that my parents bought without asking them – I had turned the lights on and used the power at the house without asking their permission, I had used water senselessly wasting my parents money. 

I was embarrassed when I first started asking my parents if I could turn a light on , but I started getting better and better and getting permission to turn a light on without directly asking my parents. I would walk into a room and start doing my school work in the dark, until my parents would come in and ask me why I was working in the dark. If they said that – I knew that I had permission , but until then I would rather work in the dark than to go to Hell.

To me ten minutes in the dark was not worth eternal damnation. I knew that this life was only temporary. We are meant to suffer, to keep from sinning, and to get to heaven. I didn’t care how much I was inconvenienced, how embarrassed I became, or how much I didn’t fit in. I had to keep from sinning, and I was going to put in all the effort and make it to heaven.

This was the most important thing to me in my life – and I was not going to sacrifice my soul’s salvation just because it was easy.

I had taken the easy way so many other times. I was not going to do it any more.

 

 

Never Clean Enough

My resolution to start anew with God was even stronger than my fear right now, and my fear was not going easily. I decided however, that I would not listen to my cowardly voice on the inside and instead I would obey the strong voice of reason in my conscience telling me that I had to go back to confession today.

I entered the church and  inevitably floated toward the confessional like a ghost might do – reliving the moments of their waking life. I forced myself to walk through the small dark threshold into the cool, dimly lit confessional. As I walked in I silently stared at the familiar wooden panel with a cross carved into it, a kneeler, and only a screen window separating me from the priest.

Just as I had done last Saturday, I started to speak the unforgivable words of what I had done. From beginning to end I stumbled through my words and I felt my face glowing red hot. I finally reached a point where I knew that it was impossible for me to be more nervous. My hands trembled, voice was shaking, face was blushing , and my stomach was churning – but worst of all of these: I knew that some one outside would be able to hear all of the horrible things I had done.

I spoke silently, picturing my own Dad, standing outside of the confessional, hearing all of my sins and being disgusted with the person that his nine year old daughter had become. I got quieter and quieter as I continued on with my confession, knowing that my Dad was next in line.

“You need to speak up” said the priest loudly and in a frustrated manner.

I immediately started my confession again from the beginning, almost as if the priest had pushed a replay button on a sound recorder. I continually went up and down in volume and intonation – being so horribly ashamed of my sins and just looking for forgiveness.

The priest gave me my penance, and said the absolution all through which I heard a tone in his voice. The tone I heard sounded to me to be extreme frustration. It didn’t matter if the priest was frustrated with me though, after today I wouldn’t sin ever again if I could help it. I would never have to confess these sins again after today.

As I exited the confessional I felt the yoke that I had been pulling behind me for so long, fall loose and crash to the ground.  I felt light, close to God, happy and whole again. I knelt down, finishing my prayers for penance, and exited the church to meet the sunny, lively world and life ahead of me. Right now I was clean, and whole in God. I had a sense of purpose – and I felt like nothing could ever bring me down again.

I kept peace in my heart all through the day. I watched the sunset knowing for the first time that if I died tonight I would go to heaven, and that was a good feeling. Nothing could be more perfect than this – I thought to myself. For once I had chosen to stay strong and ask for God’s forgiveness and He had granted me forgiveness.

In all of my freedom, joy and peace in knowing that I was one with God again.. one thing kept bothering me slightly about the confession that I had made: The tone of the priest’s voice. I didn’t think that his tone was appropriate for someone confessing their sins , but rather more suitable for someone who is lacking of any contrition at all. There was something that was deeply upsetting him.

Then I thought about how he had asked me to repeat myself more than once.

I was speaking quietly on purpose – I thought to myself.. I was trying to protect myself from embarrassment by having other people in the church.

I decided that this matter was something that could be solved by my catechism book. As I opened the pages and flipped to the back index looking for the section of the book about confession, my eyes scanned the pages for anything that could help me be certain that I had made a good confession today – After all I had felt so light, free and just plain happy after my confession. This had to be God’s way of letting me know that He was proud of me.

Then I saw the words.. words that cut me like a hot rusted knife, being shoved up under my rib cage,  twisted and poked. I wished I had never seen the sentence. In one instance all of my peace and joy, love and truth – everything I was feeling in my heart, was gone in an instance.

“You must truly make an effort to allow the priest to hear you, to give an approximate number of sins, and what kind of sins you have committed ” read the 1959 copy of catechism.

I had purposefully spoken quietly , I thought to myself. I sinned out of cowardly motives once again: to keep from being humiliated and chastised by my Dad or my siblings.

When would I ever stop being weak, and sinning every day.. out of weakness.

 

Repeat in my Defeat

Throughout the week I continued to think about how I had failed God once again. I would break into a cold sweat and my breath would quicken , my stomach churning, every time I thought about it. I knew I had to ask my parents if I could go to confession again, but how humiliating it would be. They would find out how sinful I actually was. They may even ask me why I needed to go again, but I needed to be prepared to do whatever I had to do to go back to confession before Sunday.

How hard would it have been just to step foot back in the confessional and say “Father, I forgot a sin”? It would have been so easy, but I was so weak. I was hoping that my resolution to go to confession would be a new page in my life, a path back to a relationship with God.. but I was finding that even two years later, as a nine year old now, I was almost as weak as I was at the age of 7. I wouldn’t let it stay like this though, I was going to fix this. I was going to be close to God, and live a holy life, and nothing would stop me.

I started writing out a list of my sins – because this time I was not going to forget anything. I slowly and methodically listed all of my past offenses on a crumpled piece of notebook paper, in my large hand print. I decided to include all of the same sins that I had told the priest last time as well, just to be sure. I was afraid that because I hadn’t gone back to confess the forgotten sin , the whole confession had been void. I had to find a place to keep the paper containing my darkest secrets, where no one would ever find it. I decided that the safest place to keep it was in my own pocket. I would know where it was at all times, and no one would get it away from me.

Throughout the week I continually pulled the crumpled piece of paper out of my pocket and added sins that I had forgotten about to the list. I watched the list grow longer and longer and longer. I was glad that I had used a list because there was no way that I could have remembered everything sinful that I had done.

Finally Saturday was here and I felt sick to my stomach. My nerves were frazzled and I couldn’t focus on anything other than the impending doom ahead. Everyone else in my family went about their business like it was a normal Saturday, but for me – this was the Saturday that I would become a child of God again. I knew I just had to get through this hard part, and then everything would be okay. I will have peace of mind after I make this confession.

Everything was going according to plan. My family was going on their regular Saturday Drive. For a moment I even hoped , briefly , that I wouldn’t even have to ask to go to confession. Then I heard the words come out of my Dad’s mouth that made my stomach sink.

“Do you guys wanna go over and see Grandma?”

Everyone excitedly said “Yes” except for me.

No doubt I wanted to see my Grandma, but I had bigger things to do today: Matters pertaining to the life and death of my soul. “I can’t live anymore with a soul that is dead to God”, I thought to myself. I felt like I could feel the death and sin in my soul. I just felt dirty, and I didn’t feel at peace. I knew that must be God’s way of telling me that I needed to do this.

Shyly and quietly I tapped on my Dad’s shoulder from the back seat of the car and said in a quiet, quivering voice. “Can we go to confession today Dad?” I asked.

“Well we just went last week Dot!” said my Dad, “but yeah we can go”.

I felt so embarrassed that I just wanted to sink into the ground until everyone forgot what I had just asked. I was so embarrassed and ashamed. I could hear some of my siblings saying things about how they would rather go see my Grandma. My dad just started driving toward the Church where I knew that I had to do it right this time, I would do it right this time.

After this I would never have to embarrass myself again and I would be free from sin. My burden would be gone. I would no longer feel dirty, sinful and restless. I couldn’t wait to have that feeling again.

 

Freed from my Burden ..

Saturday came sooner than expected. I had spent the whole week thinking out what I would say in confession – how I would make sure that I would feel “true contrition” for my sins. I counted the number and amount of times that I had stolen , and taken communion when I was not in a state of Grace.

I couldn’t think of the number of times – I couldn’t count all of the grains of sand that had been stuck to my feet and flip flops as I had crossed the street out of weakness. There were countless other times that I had sinned as well.

As I was examining my conscience for my confession I realized that I had stolen even more than I thought I had. A few months ago, I started asking my parents for food any time I took it from the pantry.. but before I had started this practice how many times had I stolen from them?

I had been stealing from the people that care for me, and keep me safe. My own parents.

I knew that all of my other siblings took things from the pantry without asking – but they must feel in their hearts that it was okay. I didn’t feel like it was okay , so it would be a sin for me to do it, but not for them.

I entered the confessional … trembling .. knowing that the only thing separating me from a priest was a thin screen. Soon he would hear all of the horrible things I had done- and how would he ever believe that I was sorry. How could someone be sorry , having done the same thing so many times.

I knelt down and began my confession.

“Bless me Father, for I have sinned, and my last good confession was … Two years ago.”

I knew that I had just been to confession last month, but I hadn’t included all of the stealing, desecration of the Holy Eucharist, bad thoughts, and bad confessions made.

I could hear the priest blessing me from behind the screen, and then say “Go ahead.”

My voice quivered and shook .. I began to speak –

“I have made …. a bad confession.. about once a month for the last two years” I said in a low quivering whisper. I felt my face glowing red and my hands shaking uncontrollably.

“You need to speak up” I heard a frustrated voice from behind the screen.

I felt a warm wave of embarrassment and failure sweep over my face. I felt light headed as I repeated the statement –

“I have made a bad confession once a month for the last two years…. I have stolen several things on several occasions, I am not sure how many times but probably hundreds, I have received communion when I was not in a state of Grace about once a week for the last two years, I have chosen to do the wrong things out of embarrassment, I have fought with my brother and sisters, I have disobeyed my parents .. and I am sorry for these and all of my sins” I said taking a deep breath.

I never thought I would have been able to say all of those terrible, horrible things that I had done, but I had done it.

“Why did you steal so many things?” said the priest.

“Because I was weak” I replied.

“What did you steal?”

“Rubber grapes used for decoration from the grocery store, land that belonged to other people, pieces of different things from the store – like parts of cartons or packages, coupons.. food, fools gold.” I replied.

The priest sounded slightly confused- but I didn’t hear it as confusion, I heard it as judgement. Right now he was thinking about how terrible I was. How terrible and sinful I was for being as young as I was.

The priest then gave me my penance – two Our Father’s and two Hail Mary’s, and absolved me from my sins.

As I exited the confessional I felt free of my burden. I felt so happy and light. I felt better than I had felt since the night that I stole the fools gold. I knelt down and said my prayers, I even said the prayers more than once, just to make sure I had them right. I wasn’t going to let anything come in between me and God again.

As I got up and began to leave the church, a thought hit me like a brick out of the sky.. it hurt about as much as a brick falling from the sky would hurt as well.

I had forgotten to confess the times that had emptied a garbage can on a Sunday. That must have been a mortal sin as well. I knew that I had learned in my Catechism that it was a serious sin to do work on Sunday. Wasn’t emptying a garbage can work? If I were strong I would turn around right now and go back into the confessional to confess the sin I had forgotten.

I could feel myself breaking out into a cold sweat. I knew I was going to be too weak again. I was just too weak to stay close to God.

I followed my family out of the church, feeling a lump in my throat and tears welling up in my eyes. I knew that again, I was walking away from God.

 

 

Breaking the Chains of Sin

As time continued on I grew more and more anxious at the thought of Hell. I wanted to be able to join the rest of my family in heaven – it was actually the only thing I had ever really wanted. I would have been okay to die right now just to be able to go to heaven. I continued to think and dream about martyrdom. I thought it was the only way I could be saved.

I started developing plans in my head , of becoming a missionary or a nun – and intentionally leading myself to a place in which it would be very likely that I could die for Christ. In my mind this was my only other option, other than eternal fire and pain.

I was 9 years old now.

And then came a day that gave me hope. For once in my life, I felt the familiar thrill of feeling that I could live a life for God , and find heaven and God by living a full life.

I felt the thrill one day , sitting in church as I always did with my family on Sundays. The priest spoke passionately of the beauty of reconciliation , and that we can be forgiven for anything. ANYTHING. Even my serious sins of theft and receiving communion when I was not worthy. I felt that the priest was talking directly to me.

After church that day, I asked my Dad nervously, in a quivering voice – “Can we go to confession on Saturday Dad?”

“Hey Mom”, said my Dad enthusiastically , “Dot wants to go to confession on Saturday”.

I felt my face blush as if my Dad had just exposed my deepest, darkest secret to the entire world.

“Well that’s alright” said my Mom, and the topic went back to the usual Sunday conversations of the news and visiting my Grandma.

With my face still blushed but fading , from the unexpected embarrassment, I sat back in the back seat of the car and sunk down, looking out the window. I thought about next Saturday, and how much better I would feel. I would be freed from these chains of sin. I would once again be a carefree child.

At least that’s what I thought.

Gnawed and Numbed

Confession: The word ran through my mind all day every day. If I could just come clean, like anyone with a spine or a soul could, I might be able to find happiness again. I thought that after that Sunday , I could just let go of these thoughts. That I would be able to move on with my life and live it the best I knew how, and be okay.. But how could I be okay without knowing for certain?

This is my soul, my spirit, my eternal happiness or suffering. This was the meaning of my existence, and I was not comfortable with allowing uncertainty. I had to be sure that I was clean, pure, and prepared to receive God’s mercy – in a state of grace. Nothing else was acceptable.

I didn’t feel strong enough to do it though. Every time that I found myself about to let the words of confession fall off of my trembling tongue,they inevitably got snagged on the rusty metal hook , waiting vigilantly the end of my tongue for any treasonous words looking to expose me and destroy my charade of innocence.

I didn’t feel like I deserved this. I hadn’t meant to do all of this. I hadn’t meant to sin like this.

As time passed I continued on , numbing myself, trying to pretend that nothing was wrong. Besides my newly found comfort in feeling numb, the gnawing guilt would find me in any unexpected time or place. Like a street rodent gnawing on a disposed piece of expired meat in a back alley, my guilt gnawed and gnawed, and I just sat back and watched.

As I sat and watched my seven year old self esteem crumble and decay, my heart and my love of life died little by little.

I knew that I was damned because of my own weakness, and I hated myself for it.

I would find myself trying to convince myself that maybe God would have mercy on me, or that maybe one day I would be strong enough to confess my sins.. but I knew in my heart that I would never really be strong enough.

All the prayers in the world didn’t make a difference.  I knew that really the only thing that mattered to me was maintaining my image of innocence. I was a fraud, an imposter, a disgrace, and I felt justified in hating myself.

I was weak. I was choosing to go to hell. I saw no other way. I just wasn’t strong enough.

Sunday Morning

Finally it was Sunday Morning.

The elastic arm bands of my floral print Sunday dress squeezed my arms,  and the lace of the frilly bib tickled my neck. I looked down to see my small, black, closed toe shoes swinging above the carpeted floor.

I sat next to my Grandma today in church. I was named after my Grandma and she was such a sweet lady , such a good lady , and such a tough lady. “What would Grandma think of me”. I continued to think to myself. “What will she think if she see’s me turn God down in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.”

Through the Sermon, the prayers. I just went through the motions of the mass, but my mind was still running and beating the same thoughts, over and over and over. I thought about the sand, the seashells, the dockside shop. I thought about everything , and then I thought about everything all over again.

I would go back to the beginning  – the first moment that I realized that I was a thief. And then the beach – the sand that I had failed to get off of my feet – all because I was weakened by embarrassment. I remembered the moments that I had chosen to ignore God, to do what was more convenient for me.

In between these bouts of thought , I would have another thought enter my mind, that I knew that I needed to go to church again today. Somehow I needed to find a way to go to church again today because I had been so distracted. I had not really “been ” to church because I had been thinking about other things. Yes I was thinking about God, but I wasn’t concentrating on the mass. I needed to go to mass again.. later today.

Finally the time for communion was coming closer and closer. I could feel my heartbeat getting faster and faster. I just wanted time to stop so that I could figure this out. “But what if I haven’t really done anything seriously wrong?” I thought to myself. Jesus wants us to take communion – maybe I should just go.

As I slowly got up from my seat, I followed my family : Mom, Dad, brother and sisters, into the line leading up to where I would receive communion. The thought crossed my mind that maybe I should just put my arms crossed across my chest – the sign that I would not be receiving communion.  Maybe I should go back and sit down.. Or maybe I should just take communion.

Before I had any more time to the think the moment was here. The priest held the small white wafer up, and said something that I didn’t hear because I was still trying to figure out what I should do.

I said “Amen” as I stuck my tongue out. The priest softly placed the small bread wafer on my tongue and I closed my mouth. As I began to walk away from the altar I felt my saliva already beginning to dissolve the wafer. As I walked away from the altar I felt a sadness in my heart. The sadness of knowing that I was a sinner. I knew that my guilt was God’s way of letting me know that I had done wrong.

I was determined that this would not be who I was. I would find a way to go to church again, I would not receive Communion again until I went to confession. I had to do better than this.

As we drove home, I knew that if we got in an accident I would spend eternity in hell. I felt sick to my stomach knowing that right now, I had a place reserved for me in Hell.

I never thought that I would be turning out to be such a bad person. I knew I could do better than this.

I will do better than this.