As a guilt-stricken Catholic boy living outside of Boston who attended church each week, went to CCD class a few times a month, wore a cross around his neck, kept a scapular in his wallet and prayed every night the same three prayers (Our Father, Hail Mary and Act of Contrition), begging for the same blessings to be bestowed upon the same people I loved, night after night, well, I still managed to be a petulant piss ant most days.
What can I say? I managed my time well, giving both good and evil their fair share.
That’s why I loved going to Confession as a kid so much. I never showed up empty handed. Flush with sins, a whole conscience full, I usually brought a small bag of Cheez-Its with me in case my confession ran over. A boy needs fuel. These admissions take time.
Never once did I ball up under a pew at Incarnation Church, blowing snot into my cuff, too scared to meet the shadowy face behind the screen, his hot breath casting judgment upon me. My mother would’ve stomped my ankles with her heels if I got to acting like a fool. True that.
Have at it, I always figured when I entered the confessional box. I knew the code that goes on in those tight quarters. Catholic Law says, what I say to you doesn’t leave this room. And you’re an anonymous figure, likely with his own host of problems beyond the robe. I like this set up. Even playing field. Now, let’s begin.
The shadow would lead a prayer, preparing me for my confession. I’d close my eyes in the pitch dark, letting his words wash over me, then I’d bathe in knowing that soon all my sins would be forgiven. Sure, after, I’d have to hump it over to one of the benches and take a knee before counting off a good twenty “Our Fathers” and ten “Hail Mary’s.” But there’d be no whips to my back, no thorns to my brow, no nails to my feet. I was always at peace in these moments. Likely, for the first time since the last time I sat in the gallows, divulging my indiscretions.
Then, it would be my turn to spew out all the bad words I had said, the mean thoughts I had, the compulsions I couldn’t control. A prayer for every hair I ripped out of my sister’s shaggy forearms. This I was told. And I’d always begin with, “Well, buckle up, Father, because I’m into some weird shit.”
I really got into it.
And from one confession to the next, a brick would fall from my shoulders. My lungs would expand with each heinous deed I admitted to committing. Blood returned to my face, faith to my heart, a better understanding of my own sorrow arrived within me. It got to the point where I liked going to confession so much that I requested to one of the priests that we sit down face-to-face for a session. I had some heavy stuff to discuss, and I really needed to read his eyes in order to trust him. So, we did. Felt good to leave that room heavily fined but clear minded, reborn.
If only life really worked that way.
Anyways, with that said, it got me thinking about going to confession and how it really is the equivalent of starting out a New Year. Last year was just that, last year. That person you were, that fiend, that scoundrel, that lazy-ass do-nothing, that mean wife, that boner of a husband, that phony worker, ghastly friend, faithless Catholic, whatever, whoever you were last year, whatever you did, leave it where it was. In the past. 2018 is just so 2018. Moving on.
So, when that ball dropped on New Year’s Eve and I saw the clock go from 12 a.m. to 12:01 a.m., I said to myself, last year was a son of a bitch, twelve months-worth of heartache. I wanted to watch it burn.
I lost my dog for three freezing nights. Then got her back.
I lost my mother. She’s gone forever. That’s not sitting well.
I nearly lost my own life from a bee sting. I’m back. And I think that’s a good thing. But I’m not always so sure.
Still, motherless or not, I told myself, time marches on, forward, toward more good, more bad, more change, more testing of the will. There’s no other way to greet the New Year than as a clean slate. I hate the metaphor too, but it’s the best I can do with 25 pounds of ham and beer still lodged in my stomach from the holidays.
And, if your past sins are what are holding you back, march yourself into a confessional booth some Saturday afternoon and let it all out. There’s not much to it. Just leave the bullshit outside. Don’t worry about your denomination. Unburden yourself then get back out there. It’s a steel cage match some days, sure, but free yourself of the chains, the vices, the bricks that weigh you down and take to the streets as a new person, the anointed one.
Forgive me Father for I have sinned. Now, show me the New Me.
Rob Azevedo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org