Bless Me Father For I Have Sinned
By Armando Garcia
My twin, Fernando and I walked slowly down the aisle, each with his girl partner toward the altar to receive communion. We wore white shirts, black shoes, and the new navy blue slacks that our parents had tailor made in Tijuana, just south of where we lived in San Diego, California. The pants had pressed cuffs, creases, and were stylishly loose-fitting. Our older siblings never got such lavish items as tailored clothes. Pa’s truck-driving salary didn’t allow for such extravagances, but Ferd and I were Ma’s little twin dolls.
The girls wore white lacy dresses, veils, and patent leather shoes. We all carried prayer books draped with rosaries and had been sitting in the pews, as still as second graders were able. When the time came to receive communion, we rose, formed couples, and slowly walked to the front of the church to kneel at the communion rail. I had seen my family and the bigger kids of my Catholic grammar school receive this blessed sacrament all of my life. At long last, this was my First Holy Communion.
In order to receive the body of Christ, we had to fast from all foods and drink, even water, since the night before. I felt light headed and my stomach growled like an angry cat.
Father McGuinn walked along the communion rail, placing the sacred hosts on the new communicants’ tongues. An altar boy followed Father, holding a shiny brass paten under our chins to catch whatever minute scraps of the consecrated host that would otherwise fall to the floor and become desecrated. We were told to never ever touch the sacred host, but to swallow it immediately. Only a priest’s consecrated hands were allowed to touch the shiny little wafer of unleavened bread that was now Jesus Christ.
The nuns did a fine job of preparing us for this profound moment in our religious lives. They taught us of the sacraments; baptism had cleansed our souls of Adam and Eve’s “Original Sin.” They disobeyed God by eating of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Disobeying one’s parents was one thing. But how could anyone even consider disobeying Almighty God? Anyhow, we had inherited their sin and we couldn’t enter heaven until it was cleansed by the holy water of baptism.
Baptism was a ritual performed by an ordained priest. But when someone who wasn’t baptized was hurt in a car accident or wounded on a battlefield and they were dying, then anyone could baptize them by pouring holy water over their head while saying, “I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
Regular water would do if there wasn’t holy water nearby. I asked during a religion class, “What if the person has only seconds to live, and the water is far away? Could I use spit?” Sister didn’t answer.
I worried about my little neighbor, Chris. He was a first grade public school kid whose family wasn’t Catholic and never went to church. I didn’t want him to miss out on going to heaven with me. I took him into the garage one afternoon and explained Baptism to him. I then poured water over his head and said the holy words. I felt great. I was in the second grade and had already saved my first soul.
Holy Eucharist (consuming the body of Christ) was the next sacrament. Sister Alvira Marie, our second grade teacher, told us that before receiving Holy Communion our souls had to be cleansed from the splotches of sin and be “white as a bottle of milk.” She then told us the story of a girl who didn’t confess a big sin, and when she went to communion, “the host singed her tongue!” I imagined the girl screaming and running from the church as steaming saliva billowed from her mouth.
Confession, the forgiveness of sins, was the next sacrament. Small sins were “venial,” big ones “mortal.” The punishment for a mortal sin was to be sent to hell and burn forever. Kids rarely committed mortal sins like murder, although I really wanted to kill my little sister, Carmen.
“No,” said Sister, answering another of my hypothetical questions during class, “If a person killed somebody by accident God wouldn’t punish them, but He would know if they did it intentionally. Then he would punish them.” So, I thought, if I killed my little sister and made it look like an accident, then the police would let me go and I wouldn’t get the electric chair, but God would send me to hell. I could just see the little brat looking down at me and getting the last laugh. But if it really was an accident that only looked suspicious, then I’d get the chair, but go to heaven. What if she could be gotten rid of and it really was an accident? Then I wouldn’t get it from anyone. I prayed for divine intervention.
There was a cold and heavy fog outdoors last Friday when we walked into the church to make our first confession. I was in mental anguish. Surely Father would recognize my voice and know that it was me who would confess to looking at one of my older sisters once when she was changing her clothes. Sins of the flesh were among the worst a person could commit. But if I didn’t tell him of this great sin, then it wouldn’t be forgiven, and I would receive Holy Communion with a mortal sin on my soul and I’d wind up in hell forever.
There were three doors in the wall: door number one, door number two, and door number three. Father waited for us behind door number two ready to hear of our sins.
Sister lined a few of us on either side of the confessional and sat the rest in pews to “examine our consciences” while we waited our turns. She opened door number one and pushed in the first little sinner, Ruth, and did the same at door three, making my friend Gerry go in. In a few minutes Ruth came out, walked to the front of the church, and knelt to say her penance prayers. Sister signaled the next little lamb to take her place. Door number three opened. Gerry stepped out and walked down the aisle to join Ruth in the penance pew. And the holy carwash began. Dirty little splotched souls entered, and shiny clean ones exited.
I knelt in the pew sweating it out. Father was about to learn that I was a lecher of the worst sort. How could I possibly convince him that I really wasn’t, but a good Catholic boy who would like to be a saint someday? I hoped that there would be an earthquake or maybe Father would have a heart attack before I had to go in, but no luck. It was my turn. I hesitated to enter the confessional. Sister glared at me.
I hung my head, opened the door, and walked in. It was dark in the small cubicle. I knelt on the pad in front of the little screen in the wall. I heard mumbling; some kid on the other side was confessing. Hey, what if his sins were really big so mine wouldn’t seem so bad. What if he murdered someone? There was a brief silence and then the little door across the screen slid open. I could see Father’s silhouette against the wall behind him. My anxiousness erased months of preparation, and I forgot how to start my confession.
Father waited a bit then asked, “Are you here to confess?”
“Um, yes Father.”
“You may start.”
“I forgot how.”
“Bless me Father...”
“Oh, yeah! Bless me Father for I have sinned. This is my first confession. Since I was born I’ve fought with my brothers and sisters a whole, whole bunch of times. If I told you a hundred but it was really a hundred and one, then could I go to hell for missing that one?” Father put his fist to his mouth and coughed to hide a chuckle. “Just do the best you can, my son.”
“And I disobeyed my parents a whole lot of times too. I wish I could tell you how many, um, maybe about a thousand?” More coughing.
Quick, make up some sins, so I won’t have to tell him the whopper! “And, and Father. I, I threw rocks at the neighbor’s cat, but my mom told me to because it kept pooping in her garden. And once after I saw Moe poke Curly Joe in the eyes, I did it to my little sister and made her cry. And, and um...” I was in a tug-of-war, too ashamed to tell this holy man of my terrible sin, but if I didn’t, then Jesus would host a barbeque in my mouth. There was no escape. My voice broke with emotion. “And, and Father I, I committed a real nasty sin.” He leaned toward me.
“Yes, my son, tell me about it.”
“Father I, I tried to look at one of my sisters when she was changing her clothes.” I started to cry in humiliation and expected his fist to smash through the screen and smack me in the face, but he only sat silently for a moment.
“I see. Well, did you see anything?”
“No, Father. She knew I was in my bed and kept looking at me. I couldn’t get the covers high enough to get a good look. I saw something that looked like my uncle’s bald head; must’ve been her butt.”
Father went into a coughing fit. I felt bad about making him so sick. He settled down.
“Well, God is proud of you for having had the fortitude to confess this, but you must understand that this is an invasion of privacy. Wouldn’t you be embarrassed if people looked at you when you were dressing?”
“Yes, Father. I’ll never ever do it again.”
“Very good. For your penance say three Hail Mary’s and three Our Fathers. Now say the Act of Contrition.”
“Oh, my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee, and I detest my sins because of thy just punishments...” As I prayed, he recited the forgiveness prayer and ended by raising his hand and making the sign of the cross.
“I absolve thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Go and sin no more. You’re a good and brave boy.”
“Gee, thanks Father.”
I was absolved of my sins! I felt like skipping all the way down the aisle to the penance pew. The sun broke through the fog outdoors and shone through the stained glass windows, brilliantly lighting up the church. My soul, after saying my penance prayers, was white as a bottle of milk. What a feeling, I could be killed on the way home and go straight to heaven.
All I had to do was stay sin free at least until my first communion on Sunday. I’d have to obey my parents, not fight with my siblings, or sneak into my sister’s bed to scare the hell out of her at night. I had barely managed to stay clean over the weekend except for when I flicked a booger at Carmen, but I missed so it probably wasn’t a sin.
Sunday had finally come. I walked with my partner to the communion rail. Father McGuinn stopped in front of me. He put a hand into the golden chalice and took out a host. I closed my eyes, raised my head, and stuck out my tongue. The altar boy put the paten under my chin.
“Corpus Cristi,” Father said placing Jesus on my tongue. I tried to swallow him as taught, but couldn’t! He was stiff as cardboard, and my mouth was dry and pasty from not eating or drinking since dinner last night. I tried again and gagged, nearly coughing Him out onto the floor. Mercifully, Jesus finally softened to mush and slid down. I walked back to the pew.
It was done. Jesus was in me, but I didn’t feel any different than I did before. I looked at my partner to see if she looked different somehow. She didn’t. I caught my twin’s eye and whispered over his partner sitting between us. “Feel anything?” He shrugged his shoulders. I gave him a “what the heck?” look. Sister, sitting behind me pinched my shoulder. I turned, closed my eyes, and lowered my head pretending to pray. Maybe there was something deep inside that I had to think about in order to feel Jesus’ presence. I kept trying but nothing came.
Toward the end of Mass I felt something on the roof of my mouth. I put my finger to it and drew out a small glob of a curious looking white paste. I stared at it for a second before the revelation came. IT’S JESUS! I shot my finger back in my mouth and swallowed His arm, or leg, or whatever body part. Holy smokes. Was this a sin? Did I need to confess it? I prayed my mouth wouldn’t start burning.
Mass seemed to go on forever before we finally got to walk down the aisle with our partners, parading past our families, out of the church. Ma had Pa take a picture of my twin and me standing at the church wall in our new shirts and tailor-made pants.
From that day forward, on the first Friday of each month, we got to join the third through eighth graders to receive communion at mass before school. I got one of those cool cinnamon rolls and cartons of milk at my desk for breakfast just like the rest of the big kids. Boy, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, this was great!