Memories of the confession box
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.