Monday, December 18, 2017

Confessions of a sacramental fibber

THAT SMELL: It's either incense or my pants on fire.
When I was five--maybe six--I knew what was right and I knew what was wrong.

Some people spend lifetimes searching for the answer to that question. I'm here to tell you that by that welcome June day when I graduated out of Miss Winnie Trainor's second-grade, I had reached the Age of Reason.

Here's why.

At five or six years of age, we Roman Catholics could receive Holy Communion but couldn't do so until we were in a State of Grace. To get there meant knowing right from wrong.

And once we recognized what we'd done wrong, off we went to Confession to be absolved of all our sins; the sins we committed when we were five years old. Five! Imagine. (I recognize now as I'm writing this that one of those sins must have been "not upper-casing all the right Catholic words like 'Holy' and 'Grace.'")

Barely big enough to cross the street alone,  every second or third Saturday, between 4:00 and 6:00 p.m., while Protestant kids in their Protestant houses watched complete Bugs Bunny cartoons, we Carters and other little Catholics in the 'hood marched up to St. Clement's Church to go to Confession.

And it was there, in the Confessional, that--and this sure won't come as a surprise to Catholics of my vintage--we made stuff up.

Yeah, although fibbing itself was a sin, we felt the need to have something worth confessing, so we lied in Confession. The logic and morality that went into this is noggin-numbing.

I never pretended to commit big sins like robbing banks or murder; just little ones such as having impure thoughts or swearing. If I had actually "taken the Lord's Name in vain" as often as I confessed I had, "Jesus" would have been the single most-often-used word in my minuscule grade-one vocabulary.

Still,  there I was, in my squeaky little-boy voice, confessing to Father O'Driscoll or Monsignor Salini, through the Confessional curtain, "I took The Lord's Name in vain seven times." It fell to us to keep tally.

I'm sure priests knew what we were up to.
Reminds me of a Steve Martin routine. Imagine if after you die it really is clouds and heaven and harps and some bearded guy meets you at the gate with his checklist.  He says, "Lemme see. You took the Lord's name in vain two million times." And you're like, "Two million? Jesus!"

But back to me. One of my go-to imaginary sins was "fighting with my brothers and sisters," which was weird because there's no commandment about that. Plus it never happened.

I was the youngest of 10. My parents had the same management strategy as the Chinese government uses and it is, don't dare let anything start or all hell rather heck will break loose.

Among the Carter-house rules was, "No hitting anybody smaller than yourself." As the runt of the bunch this was a regulation I could work with.

Except I never had to fight for anything. As the baby of a great and big family,  all I needed do was ask or whine or complain and voila! all my wishes came true. Every time. Same holds true to this day.

My mom and dad and brothers and sisters know a thing about unconditional love.

Did I mention that at the same time as I was making my first Holy Communion, my loving brothers and sisters nicknamed me?

Little Hitler. Yup. That was me. Little Hitler.

I've forgotten the point I was trying to make.

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