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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Catholic education, you can't beat it, but it can sure beat you.

I grew up Catholic, and there is much about the solemnity, and pageantry that still inspires awe.  There is much that is beautiful in a Catholic Mass, and the rigid, choreographed uniformity can be a source of comfort, and succor.  Other memories are not quite so comforting.  One incident in particular haunts me a little.

It was Monday, and my grade was scheduled for confession.  My parents had a huge fight on Sunday evening, and my Dad left on a week long business trip before I was awake, so I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye.  My Mom had to rush off to her job, so I did not have much time to talk to her.  After the fight I did not sleep well, and was uncomfortable with the situation between my parents.  My older sister pushed my glass of milk into my lap and onto my toast.  I had to change quickly and rush out the door or I would have been late to school.  So, there was turmoil in my evening, night, and, morning.

I was waiting for my turn in the confessional.  I noticed smoke billowing from under the curtain that enclosed the little box of the confessional.  It smelled strongly of sulfur, and when it opened I swear I saw the flames of hell licking the little stool, and the face of the beast smiling from the back wall.  I took my seat, and knew what had to be done, on one side was salvation, on the other, eternal agony.  I was shriven, waiting for absolution, forgiveness.
I started slowly my voice was a little shaky.  “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.  I lied, several times, I swore, often,” the gates opened, a little, “I stole a dollar from my Mom’s purse, I read my sister’s diary.”  Soon, the words began pouring out.  “I cheated on my math homework, I used my Dad’s adding machine.  I ripped a couple of pages from a library book and blacked out several numbers in the phone book in the school office, I dumped my steamed broccoli on top of the trophy cabinet in the lunch room because I didn’t want to eat it.  I split infinitives, and dangled participles, I wasn’t really sick last Thursday, I just didn’t want to go to school!”  Soon, I couldn’t stop.  "I have coveted my best friends bicycle, and his color television.  I tried to peek into the girls bathroom, and I have tried to imagine several of the girls at school without clothes, and even some of the younger, prettier Nuns.” 

“Holy Crap,” I thought, “I could starve to death praying off this penance.”  I had to act quickly.

“But, Jimmy Snodgrass drank one of his Dad’s beers, and took one of his cigarettes, but he couldn’t finish it because he was coughing so much.  And Bill Bates took a Kindergartners milk and poured it in the trash, just to be mean.  Jeff Smith carved a swastika in the bathroom wall, and Bobby Jenderson was ripping the wings off of flies, Kevin Wilson copied the answers to the Geography test from Melissa Boles paper, and John Jefferson knocked down all the coats in the coat room when Sister Margaret went to the office for more chalk and Dan and Mary were kissing under the stairs on the second floor by the bathroom.”  Oops, I just sold out everybody, and part of it wasn’t even true.

Softly, the voice from behind the curtain asked, “Dan Hunt, or Dan Jeffnoski?”

After an uncomfortable pause, the voice continued, with what seemed to be compassion, “That will be 4 Hail Mary’s and 3 Lord’s Prayers.  And next time don’t talk so fast.”