Often I think about blog posts. No! I do! (How rude!) But this one has just popped in my head and I’m going to roll with it.
I was raised as a Catholic. This meant catholic school and Mass. Oh dear lord we had a Mass for everything. One of the things you have to endure (and there are many) as a catholic kid is Confession. I think Confession gets a capital letter because it’s a sacrament? Could be wrong. It’s been known.
Anyway how this worked in primary school was that the priest, Father Brosnan, would come into school. He would take up residency in the school medical room. There was a little wooden pew thing there to kneel on. We would be sent in one by one, rather like when you go for injections in school, to confess our sins to Father Brosnan. He would hold our hand whilst we confessed and he would hold it so tight that he crushed it. It was standard practice as you walked out the room, down the corridor and saw the next child sinner approaching to shake your hands out in a ‘yup, he’s properly crushing hands today’ type gesture. After listening to whatever sins we’d committed Father Brosnan would give us our penance. This usually involved Our Fathers and Hail Marys. The number depended on how awful you’d been. We’d each have to go and kneel by the statue of Mary at the school front door. This was more weirdness to be honest. For a start Mary’s hands had long since disappeared and instead she had a spike protruding from the end of each arm where her hand should have been.
I also think it’d be quite strange to walk into a school and be greeted by the sight of children individually kneeling in front of spiky Mary to take their turn to say their prayers. Just me?
These Confessions would fill me with anxiety as a child. I was always scared that I would do it wrong eg there was a set script to follow “bless me Father for I have sinned it had been X weeks since my last Confession”
What if I didn’t know how many weeks it was since my last Confession? In fact I usually didn’t! Aged somewhere in the 9-11 bracket calendar time was not really a concern of mine. But! Oh no! I couldn’t lie to a priest! But I couldn’t tell him I didn’t know. I’d have to lie. This upset me. A lot.
Being a kid meant that I actually hadn’t committed any sins! I had certainly not coveted my neighbours wife, I didn’t worship false idols – hey I liked Barbie but I didn’t worship her FFS, I didn’t steal and I most definitely was respectful to my mother and father. It confused me. Of course I hadn’t committed any sins. I was too scared. I was terrified and tried ever so hard to be a good girl. This was a good approach until it came to Confession time. I couldn’t very well tell Father Brosnan I hadn’t sinned because he’d know that couldn’t be true. If I told him that then he’d ask questions to find out what my sins were. I couldn’t have that because I lived with a secret. I had to keep the secret. In fact it was like a mission – no one must know. So, having a priest ask me questions wasn’t going to work. I’d need another strategy. (That’s not bad logic for a 9 year old is it really? I’m actually rather impressed with my kid self!)
The only strategy left was to make up sins. This seemed OK because doing that was actually a sin! So problem solved! I would commit a sin by confessing fake sins! Genius! So my confession would go something like…
“Bless me Father for I have sinned it has been 3 weeks (maybe?) since my last Confession. These are my sins:
I argued with my brother (sometimes true!)
And I told a lie (just now!)”
And that was it. Job done. Time to go pray for forgiveness at spiky Mary.
Being alone with an authoritative adult can be terrifying for kids can’t it? As a child hiding abuse and neglect it was deeply uncomfortable. I never knew what the right thing to do was. What if he asked about home? (It wouldn’t be unreasonable as once my gran called Father Brosnan to ask for help with my unholy mother. He came to the house. She was drunk. I didn’t let him in. That was the end of that although I think I was older when that happened.) I must not betray my parents but this is a priest. Talk about caught between a rock and a hard place! Mainly though, the problem was, that I just didn’t understand when adults were safe or unsafe so being alone with hand crusher Brosnan was filled with anxiety.
It’s odd how, now I have mental health problems as an adult, I can flashback to those snippets of my life. I can visualise the yellow curtains and the cream bedspread with blue lines on it in the medical room. I can remember the sounds in the distance of a class doing PE in the hall. Mostly though I can feel the fear. My heart rate will raise in sympathy now and I know what I wanted to say to Father Brosnan.
“Bless me Father for I have sinned. My sin is that I was born. If I wasn’t born everything would be better.”
Wonder how many Hail Marys that’d warrant.