“There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.” C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
I mentioned a while ago how my dear old aunt, poor lady, came to stay with us in the final six weeks of her life. (No moral heroism here, mind you: when the hospital says, hop it, because it’s Christmas the day after tomorrow, the relatives had better have their ducks in a row. This is the reality of living in a country that is steadily working its way down the OECD tables.)
We nursed the aunt as well as we could, with flowers and conversation and visits from friends and basin baths, as she faded and dried into a pressed-flower version of her former self. The last day, the process sped up beyond expectation. Her body started shedding fluid dramatically.
(This is really a mercy, since it helps the body produce natural analgesics against the pain, but, still - And also, as a nursing note, if the Hospice people suggest a catheter, don't say, no, you don't want her to get a UTI. )
As she was struggling up to the commode for the last time, she said, fiercely, out of clenched teeth, “I hate this.” Dying, she meant.
Confession was like that. It was like dying, and I hated it.
I can’t quibble with its efficacy, though. When I fronted up, like Hagrid at a Hogwarts school desk, to an old wooden kneeler made for a past generation of smaller-framed penitents, I still didn’t know if I could do what I had to, so I think the grace of the sacrament took over. I asked a blessing, choked a bit and began the sentence that had to be said. “Father, ten years ago, I – “
Do you know, Father was actually sorry for me. After I spilled the rest of my dirt sheet, there was a happy lift in his voice as he gave me absolution. It must be a good day’s work to release someone from soul-killing sin. As he gave me a petit rien of a penance, he said, “Well, now you’ll know how light Catholics feel after confession.”
Well, no, not really, because we Kiwis wrote the book on low emotional affect. To me it was as when, after giving birth to a child, you get up off the bed and find that, since your spine is still an extreme S-bend, normal walking is yet a day or two away.
And yet, if I prod that terrible spot in my memory, the place that used to make me blench, and, if I thought of it while driving, want to wrench the car into the nearest power-pole, there is nothing there. The abscess has been closed over. Thanks be to God.
So on to the happy business of Confirmation and First Communion. I took the name of Monica; may St. Monica guide our adult children into the Church. “If your saint is Monica,” I was told, “all you have to do is pray and weep.”
The confirmation made me catch my breath a little. It’s a closure on twenty-one years of Reformed worship, and it puts me definitively outside that camp, and excommunicate. And I did so think I had the right of it, back when I chose that. Perhaps the difference is now that I think Christ has the right of it, and I have to be where He is. “So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.”
As to the wonder of the Eucharist: it’s an odd thing, being (as I often have told you) mumblety-one years old, to be so little again, to look up to see this Person. I fumble for words and fall silent.
The moment of taking communion, though, since that’s when grace meets nature, that I can speak about, at tedious length. Father gave me the Host and then watched with something like questioning as I consumed it. I realized where I knew that expression from, that mixture of absorbed love and concern – will you eat? Do you know how good this is for you?
I recognized it because I’ve had that look on my own face half-a-dozen times, when I’ve approached a baby with a spoonful of carefully confected solid food, his or her first, knowing that when and if the food goes down, life will be forever different.
Here is the beginning of the rest of your life, child. Will you eat this, baby? Please don’t spit it out of your mouth. Do you know how good it is?
Sacraments of Healing, Booklet Seven, "What Catholics Believe: An Introductory booklet series", The Catholic Enquiry Centre, Wellington, www.catholicenquiry.org.nz
"No, it wasn't a dream," said Edmund. "Why not?" "Well, there are the clothes, for one thing. And you have been - well, un-dragoned, for another." The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis
"Crap," I thought, when Betty Duffy pointed out that I was not, as I thought, dashing off occasional notes to friends, but in some sense Blogging My Conversion, "now, since it's the next way-point, I'm going to have to write about First Confession, aka Reconciliation, aka (in these parts) Hohou Rongo, and I really don't want to do that."
People say they loved their first confession, and some practical people advise taking a large handkerchief, but my problem is with the examination of conscience. Fifty-mumble years old, committing mortal sins on a regular basis: it's Zeno's Paradox. However fast I tally the sins, I'll never catch up to the present. It's dreary work, too. It consists largely of discovering that I am far from being the person I think I am (mostly moral) or the person I pretend to be (mostly harmless).
I've also made the strange discovery that, however intimidated I have been all these years by my mother-in-law, she is more frightened of me. Poor woman. All these years when we could have been, if not besties, then at least comrades-in-arms.
But my worst problem has been a failure of memory altogether. This is partly because the Calvinist doctrine of Total Depravity combined with the doctrine of Imputed Righteousness adds up to excusing moral failure as unavoidable while passing the penalty Higher Up. Why register failure when the books are cooked? But some sin is so heinous that the Calvinist cop-out cannot cope, and then memory corruption kicks in for self-protection. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?"
So, I had such a sin straitjacketed away, and I'd half-forgotten it. It was pretty bad. It was bad, and not pretty. It was the work of a moment. I cried off and on for about a year after I committed it. If I'd managed to fornicate on the Sabbath while committing it, it would just about be a perfect strike against the decalogue. Somehow I had suppressed the memory till this very week, till this day, Sunday.
I had forgotten it; God had not: still merciful, and still with the sense of humour. "Father," I said to our priest after Exposition today, "since I'm coming into the Church on Saturday, when would it suit you to hear my confession?" "Monday, after Mass?" he said. "Yes," I said, thinking of my half-finished Examen and this unsavoury addition, "I think I can pull it together by tomorrow." "Oh, no, how about Thursday? I have a funeral on Wednesday," he said. "Yes," I said, eyes widening a bit, "fine."
Friends, if I read this elsewhere, I would suspect the writer had sugared it up to make a better story, but I assure you this is not the case. I will be confessing this awful sin, one which has roiled years on my soul, on the ten-year anniversary of my committing it - to the very day.
See you on the other side - after my un-dragoning.