Saturday afternoon was ‘confession’ time. The day I normally took part in the sacrament of Reconciliation.
Because my parish sat squarely in the downtown-area, the rush of traffic was literally non-stop. But I came to expect it, anticipate it. The constant purr of car-engines racing by didn’t bother me or distract me in the least. It reminded me, while sitting in a pew, working up enough nerve to enter the wooden box, that real life was out there, moving, without impediment. But my salvation remained here, inside a stuffy church on a Saturday afternoon.
On the back wall, next to the room marked ‘Ushers’, hung a portrait of the Pope. Over the years, naturally, it changed. But as a child, and later as a teenager, I would stare at that portrait as I waited my turn inside the wooden box. And it occurred to me that it really didn’t matter whose portrait hung on that wall. I was still going to Hell.
Couldn’t this person in the wooden frame talk to the person inside the wooden box? Tell him to cut me a break? He was the Pope, for crying out loud.
But Saturday was usually an afternoon reserved for being encased in guilt. Judgement. And yet the concept of ‘forgiveness’ seemed remote and vague. How is it that, on an otherwise pristine Saturday afternoon, I merely interrupt my baseball game with a bi-weekly trip to church, step inside the box, pour out my soul, and both the man listening and the man on the wall give me tacit approval to do the same damned thing that brought me here.
So was I forgiven, or not?
It didn’t seem to matter. And Sister Elizabeth rarely helped. ”God knows what you’ve done,” she’d say, with a slight raising of the eyebrows.
Great. I’d stare at that portrait on the wall, remembering her words, and shake my head from side to side. Sounded like a conspiracy. A spiritual maze, but with no way out. I’m absolved, but I keep on paying?
I remember watching an episode of Mannix one night. A criminal who was close to being caught told his accomplice that “they’re going to get me one way or the other”. It triggered butterflies in my stomach. I know how he felt.
And the butterflies were out in full force on Saturday afternoons. Every Saturday afternoon. I would be close to entering the box, but those words from that criminal on television reverberated throughout my head, doing battle, it would seem, with the sounds from car-engines outside on Cleveland Avenue.
I understood. Just then the door to the box would fling open, and the person ahead of me would emerge, holding it open for me. Gesturing me towards ‘reconciliation’. I’d nod at the Pope on the wall, and the butterflies would dance away, into the traffic below. Because I knew it didn’t matter. If the Pope doesn’t get me, then God will. Hell, they’re going to get me one way or the other.