Finishing with a Clean Slate
Bless me father for I have sinned. It’s going to be my first time at confession in over fifty years and I feel sorry as hell for those in line behind me. If I were a nicer person, I’d pass the word along that they should all go home and come back tomorrow when I might be finished. Except it’s Easter tomorrow and everyone wants to celebrate with a clean slate.
Actually, a clean slate is almost exactly how the nuns that taught me catechism described the soul. Or did I get this from other authorities like Late Night Catechism or Do Black Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? Except it wasn’t square like a slate but about the size and shape of a football and squeezed in between the heart and lungs. When you were born it was blinding white with a grayish cast to it- the gray being the presence of Original Sin. Once you were baptized the gray lifted out and the football assumed a serene white color. I could describe this better with a book of color chips from Sherwin Williams - ”just baptized white” or “holy ecru, or “sinless soul white.”
When we were children preparing for our first confessions, the nuns assured us that few reached the age of seven without a whole shitload of sins accumulated. And these sins made black marks on the soul which could only be removed by confession, penance and absolution. For our first childish soul search the nuns provided us with an easy check-off sin list.
Did you fight with your brother or sister?
Were you disobedient?
Did you miss mass on Sunday?
I scanned the list for my big one: Did you steal pennies from your own family?
Uh oh...that one wasn’t suggested, so it was probably on a bigger list. I was in trouble - no way was I telling the priest I was a thief before I could even walk. Mom had sewn pennies into the hems of our curtains so they would hang straight. I discovered this low-hanging fruit when I was still crawling and as soon as I was able (pun alert)I worked the pennies out through the stitches and stashed them away. Even though I could barely talk, I had grasped the concept of embezzlement. I think I knew it was wrong but in my defense about this same time I ate a pound of cold lard thinking it was ice cream so I did have a lot to learn about a lot.
As I recall, there was an escape clause you could use in confession in an emergency, and this was clearly an emergency, something like…”and everything else I may have forgotten.” No doubt, like a sleazy insurance company or like United Airlines I used the clause to wriggle off the hook. Right about then I knew my soul was going to be grey forever. The few times I did think of it over the past fifty years..I fancied it up a bit by imagining it as “mother of pearl.”
Preparing for my confession now as a senior citizen, most if not all of my sins, seem silly and inconsequential. Many of them, bad at the time, turned out very well for everyone involved. Does a happy outcome started with a sin count in your plus or minus balance sheet? Years of perspective do make you realize that nothing is black and white.
I wish there was some special dispensation for seniors...where you could just kneel down in the box, confess to being an all-round, frail sinning human being and get forgiven for it all. Seniors with freshly-forgiven souls, lapsed Catholics such as myself, might be more inclined to bequeath cash to the church in their wills out of gratitude. Someone please put this suggestion in the pope’s email for his immediate consideration, so I can get up off my aching knees, go home and give all these folks in line behind me a break.
And speaking of confessions now you know why I was destined for a career in the food business. Ice cold lard, anyone?