Sunday, January 27, 2013

BLESS ME FATHER by Peter Nolan Smith

My First Holy Communion and Confirmation of Faith to the Catholic Church took place at a church in Maine in 1960. My mother dressed me in white to symbolize the purity of my soul, although she had me wear a red jacket with a black velvet lapel. I had a fight with my best friend Chaney after the rites. Not really a fight, but I must have said or done something bad, because I remember his crying and my mother telling me to apologize. Afterwards I confessed this sin confessed to the parish priest. "I had a fight with my best friend." "That falls under the THOU SHALT NOT KILL COMMANDMENT." Father Murray had heard worst. "Say one Hail Mary and one Our Father." "That's all." "It's not like you killed anyone." I came out of the confessional and said the two prayers. "What was your penance?" Chaney asked, as we walked home to Falmouth Foresides. "One Hail Mary and one Our Father" "Sounds like you got off light," Chaney said on the church steps. "I'm sorry." I couldn't say it enough to him. New England Tel & Tel was transferring my father to Boston at the end of the school year. Next year I would be attending a Catholic school. "Forget about it." Chaney undid his tie. I did the same. We were best friends. A month after my family moved to the South Shore of Boston Chaney drowned in Sebago Lake. I stopped believing in God, but couldn't tell that to my parents or nuns without earning the wrath of the believers. At school I studied the Baltimore Catechism and at church I served as an altar boy with a family friend, Ray Howell. Latin was our first foreign language. We went to confession together. "Bless me father for I have sinned." My sins were always the same. Disobeying my parents and taking the Lord's name in vain. The penance was always the same too. "Five Hail Marys and one Our Father." "What about you?" I asked Ray. "I made up things." He was a good boy. "Why?" I was eleven. "Because the pastor can't believe that I am not without sin." Ray was ten years old. "And are you?" My repertoire of swear words was very small. "I think so." "Me too." I could not recollect Ray ever breaking a Commandment. By freshman year in high school I had violated eight of them. Murder and adultery were out of my league, but one of my transgressions was stealing wine from the sacristy. It was sweet. Two slugs gave a good kick. Ray never drank any. My last time inside a confessional must have on the other side of 1970, although Ray Howell became a priest out of high school and last summer at a family barbecue in Boston the monsignor asked me, "When was your last confession?" "Long time ago." My sister and her friends were in the pool. "You're still a non-believer?" Ray was wearing the black. "Yes." I was in denim shorts and a Red Sox shirt. He frowned and filled our glasses of wine. "Think of all your sins." "That wouldn't be easy." I had done worst than disobeying my parents and taking the Lord's name in vain in the last court decades. "Think hard." "Yes, Father." I watched my younger brother cannonball into the pool. His splash created a tsunami. I was seven years old again. "Are you sorry?" Ray was serious. "Yes, Father." I truly was sorry for most everything, although not cursing at New York Rangers fans or not believing in God. "Then you are forgiven." "What about the Hail Marys and Our Fathers?" "I think we said enough penance in our childhood. Now drink up. In vino veritas." In wine there was truth and Ray Howell was a priest for my own heathen heart. "Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maximus culpa." The Latin Mass I am truly most sorry and I raised my glass. We drank together and he made the Sign of the Cross. Lightning struck neither of us dead and we clinked glasses. I hadn't been so blessed in a long time, but then a wordless confession at a BBQ suited me much better than a dark closet in a church. In wine there was always truth.

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