Monday, May 2, 2016

Nurse the Hate: First Communion

I attended a Catholic mass for the first time in years this weekend.  It was a full house as suburbia came out in full force to see a bunch of seven year olds get their first communion.  The same rituals which had been drilled into me as a kid kicked in easily.  Sit stand kneel.  The Catholic Church is built on tradition, and they never fail to deliver the product exactly in the way in which it was anticipated.  Solemn parishioners strode up to the altar to provide readings, a sense of privilege wafting from them as they flatly read Bible passages.  I found myself feeling almost envious at them with their concrete belief in the face value of what they read.  Even as child I had the lightning bolt of understanding that as the Bible was written by men, it had to be filled with the agendas of the authors.  I recall being the child that was made to stay after class due to asking questions that made the nuns “uncomfortable”.  I stopped asking questions after that.

As I watched the seven year olds become indoctrinated in the rituals that have extended back in time for centuries, I remembered my own first communion and confessions.  The first confession was especially memorable.  For weeks our CCD teacher drilled into us the idea of sin and redemption.  Here’s the Ten Commandments kid.  These are the rules.  Don’t break them.  If you do…  If you do…  Well, you will need to speak to the priest who will provide you with prayers you don’t understand to chant to wipe the slate clean.  Frankly, it made no sense but everyone else seemed to be on board so I went with it. 

We were told to assess our lives up to this point and catalogue our sins.  Now, I don’t know how I stacked up against the other seven year olds but I had not killed anyone and had no idea what “coveting thy neighbor’s wife” entailed.  As I went down the big list of ten I didn’t have any apparent demerits.   Meanwhile I was expected to trot into church wearing some uncomfortable dress-up clothes and pour out a well-documented list of improper behavior.  This had presented quite a quandary.  I was in a tight spot.

A priest came into our class the week prior to The Big Day.  “Children… Have you prepared yourself to cleanse your sins?”  For the past several years we had heard Bible stories of murders, slaughter of babies, theft, and men “laying with other’s wives” (whatever that meant).  These were undeniable fuck ups and major lapses of judgement.  I was seven.  I had literally done nothing.  The only possible area was maybe “honoring thy mother and father” but I wasn’t even sure what that meant.  I knew for sure I had placed no false Gods before him as I had never made a golden goat idol or cavorted with others who had.  The priest came over to my desk.  “Are you ready to make your confession my son?”

I meekly spoke to the fairly terrifying priest and asked him what to do as I had not committed any sins that neatly fit into The Ten Commandments.  “You must think of your past acts.  Jesus will know what sins you have committed.  Think of what you have done.”  This was no help whatsoever.  I’m seven dude.  I am looking for a little guidance into what “bearing false witness” meant and how it might apply to a seven year old boy.  I didn’t need more vague guilt and sense that Jesus was a cosmic government informant.

The big day came and I marched into the church single file with my other classmates.  I had on some terrible outfit that had been purchased earlier that week and was very uncomfortable.  I was nervous at all the attention strangers were bearing on me.  We sat in the pews in the front.  The priest droned on.  The ceiling fans flapped away.  Eventually we walked up to the front of the church and knelt in front of one of three priests that had been placed at the front of the altar.  I had been hoping for a bit more privacy.    

I had the first lines memorized but still had no idea what to do when I was supposed to regurgitate a list of various murders and pagan rituals I had been a part of in the last seven years.  Bless me father for I have sinned.  This is my first confession.  Then there was an awkward silence.  To my right a kid in my class named Peter seemed to be moving through it as scheduled.  Everyone looked pleased.  “Ah… Ah… Father… I don’t know if I did anything wrong.  I didn’t murder anyone.  I don’t know what covet means.”  The priest made a frown.  He smelled like Aqua Velva.  “Have you ever lied?”  Yes father.  This struck me as a surprise as though I knew lying to be wrong it clearly wasn’t part of what we were doing here.  “Have you ever spoken back to your parents or not done what they told you to do?”  Yes.  “Five Hail Marys and an Act of Contrition”.  He looked at me with his eyes saying “hit the bricks kid”.  It was over.  I walked back to the pew more confused than I had walked in.

I sat in the pew heavy with the weight of five Hail Marys and an Act of Contrition on my small shoulders.  I had to get home and knock these out or risk going to Hell with my stained soul, this despite the fact that I didn’t even know what a noteworthy sin was anymore.  The service ended.  We went home.  My Uncle had sent me a Children’s Bible.  There was a small cake after lunch.  I felt embarrassed about the whole thing.  Thus my unsatisfying relationship with the Catholic Church continued.

On Sunday the service made me feel like I did when I was seven, completely disconnected as if it was a corporate accounting procedures seminar.  A little girl behind me coughed like she had typhus.  The “peace be with you” part was coming up.  There was no way I was getting consumption from touching that kid.  I shuffled out of the pew and walked outside.  I immediately felt better.  I stood in the cold breeze.  A kid walked out in his Sunday suit looking for his parents.  He looked happy too.  Maybe because he was out of that church, or maybe because he had just knocked out five Hail Mary’s to wash clean the sin of that golden goat idol he had been praying towards all week.  Who knew?  We’re all on our own trip.


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