Mem­o­ries of the con­fes­sion box

The Compass - - NEWS - Ma­rina Power Gam­bin was born and raised in her beloved Branch, St. Mary’s Bay. She is a re­tired teacher who lives in Pla­cen­tia, where she taught for al­most three decades. She can be reached at mari­nagam­bin@per­

Grow­ing up in Branch in the 1950s was truly a Catholic ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause the whole Cape Shore area was af­fil­i­ated, 100 per cent, with the Ir­ish Catholic re­li­gion.

Our lit­tle church, sit­u­ated on a hill, which we re­ferred to as the Knapp, played a cen­tral role in my ru­ral up­bring­ing. Catholic wor­ship holds a prom­i­nent place in my child­hood mem­o­ries, most of which are quite favourable, ex­cept for the con­fes­sion box and therein lies my story. As an adult, I re­fer to it as the con­fes­sional, but to a small child, it was a box in ev­ery sense of the word.

Lo­cated at the rear of our church, I can still pic­ture it in all its threat­en­ing glory. It was con­structed in three par­ti­tioned sec­tions, with the cen­tre cu­bi­cle hav­ing a cush­ioned seat for the rev­erend gen­tle­man’s der­rière. On each side of his chair was a shut­ter which the priest would slide over when he was ready to lis­ten to the sin­ner’s trans­gres­sions.

How I dreaded go­ing into that con­fes­sion box. I was scared of the dark, afraid I wouldn’t be able to open the door af­ter­wards and em­bar­rassed of what the priest might think of me for not be­ing good. On top of this, there was al­ways the anx­i­ety that I might for­get the mem­o­rized “Bless me Fa­ther for I have sinned. I con­fess to Almighty God and to you, Fa­ther. It has been two weeks since my last con­fes­sion. Here are my sins.”

Let me tell you, it was no easy task com­ing up with a list of wrong­do­ings ev­ery few weeks. Reg­u­larly, in our lit­tle class­room, the teacher, guided us through the cus­tom­ary ex­am­i­na­tion of con­science. Even so, it seemed like I was telling the self­same sins ev­ery time.

• “I fought with my sis­ter five times. • I for­got my prayers 10 times. • I dis­obeyed my mother a hun­dred times.”

It didn’t take long for these trans­gres­sions to go stale. I didn’t know enough about “Thou shalt not com­mit adul­tery” and “Thou shalt not covet thy neigh­bour’s wife” to in­vent any earth shat­ter­ing sins. How­ever, I wasn’t long into the holy sacra­ments when I found my­self mak­ing up vices like swear­ing and cheat­ing and ly­ing so I wouldn’t have to go into the con­fes­sion box empty-handed.

Of all the sins pre­sented to me dur­ing those child­hood years, the one that re­ally filled me with trep­i­da­tion was the one against the sev­enth com­mand­ment: Thou shalt not steal.

One sum­mer af­ter I had picked rasp­ber­ries in my neigh­bour’s meadow, I con­fessed “I stole one time.” My great­est duress wasn’t the shame of breach­ing the sev­enth com­mand­ment. It was the stress of mak­ing amends when I re­al­ized I had to give back that which I had taken.

To get my soul back into the state of grace, I con­sci­en­tiously picked a container of berries some­where else and dumped them over the fence on the site of my per­ceived theft. Aside from pro­vid­ing an easy meal for the birds and ap­peas­ing the con­science of an eight-year old, my act of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion sure didn’t do any good for my neigh­bour … just like he would have cared any­way.

When I look back at it all now, I envy the in­no­cence of child­hood. Ex­cept for the un­de­ni­able claus­tro­pho­bic ef­fect the con­fes­sion box had on me, I am glad I went through the whole ex­pe­ri­ence.

Al­though I am no saint, I like to think I am acutely aware of right and wrong. Be­ing hu­man, I fall by the way­side now and then. Not to worry. Long ago I learned how to blurt out a per­fect act of con­tri­tion. I feel well equipped to han­dle any wrong­do­ings or fail­ures which I may be re­spon­si­ble for due to my hu­man frailty, my sheer reck­less­ness or just be­ing un­able to avoid the near oc­ca­sions of sin.

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