Second grade was the year that we made our First Confession at Christ King School. I was in the second grade in 1966, so the changes wrought by Vatican II were still two years away for us. Sister Shawn Marie and Fr. Lippert did their best to make this process reassuring; Father visited class and practiced the routine with us (“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. This is my — confession. Here are my sins: —–I am sorry for these and all my sins, especially for all the times I —–.”) Each student was in charge of enumerating her own venial sins, but for some reason that is not clear to me it was decided that Sr. Shawn Marie would supply us with what is called our “principal fault,” or the sin that came after “…especially for all the times I —-.” When it was my turn to sit next to Sister’s desk, I ran through the whole script with her and when I got to the “especially….” part, Sister supplied the words, “….for all the times I was lazy.” I remember thinking, “Huh. Did not see that coming. Lazy. Is that even a sin?”
I was a bit uneasy about this whole “going into a dark closet and talking to a grid” thing, not to mention the idea of confessing the sin of laziness, which I wasn’t all that convinced was my biggest flaw anyway, so I solved the whole problem by pretending to be sick the day of my First Confession. My mother had no idea it was the day of First Confession, because in those days the school handled these things on their own without bringing the parents in all the time. I thought it was very clever of me to avoid the entire situation and also have a day off from school. I don’t know why I didn’t understand that Confession was going to happen again, but I didn’t. And so, about one month after First Confession, Sister announced that we were to line up and march over to Church for Confession. My heart lurched. Confession! This was going to be a Regular Thing! And now everyone else was lining up in a confident and serene manner, with an air of “Oh, yeah. Confession. We totally know how to do that. That’s cool.” What to do?
I did the only thing I could do, which was line up with the others and march to Church with all those relaxed second graders who had already been there and done that. I sat in the pew and ran through the script in my head, trying to remember the right words and where to plug in my sins. After not nearly enough time had passed, Theresa Buth opened the heavy wooden door of the confessional and nodded at me to enter. I gulped and walked inside the little dark room. Best to just launch in, get it done and exit with as much panache as possible, I decided, so I knelt down and said the whole thing in one big breath: “BlessmefatherforIhavesinnedherearemysins…..” etc. Just as I was finishing up I heard a scrapy, sliding sound in front of my face and suddenly a kind male voice said, “You may begin.” Begin? I had just done the whole thing! Where was HE?” He was, of course, on the other side of the confessional. I closed my eyes in resignation and started over: “BlessmefatherforIhavesinned…” I remembered everything I had planned to say; I did not, however, confess being lazy as my major sin, as Sister had instructed me. I had decided, all on my own, that my Big Sin in the last action-packed seven years was stealing a holographic block from Patty Goodnetter. The block I had stolen was so attractive to me because the pictures kept changing, just like a television set. Not knowing the words “holographic block” at the age of seven, I cut to the chase and confessed to Father that I had stolen a television set.
I remember there being a pause after the words “….especially for the time I stole a television set,” and then Fr. Lippert gently said, “How old are you?” “Seven, Father,” I replied. “Could you please describe to me the television set?” I did so, and—after another brief pause–Father told me that I had made a very good Confession and asked for my Act of Contrition. Wow, I thought, I think maybe I aced this. I totally got an “A” in Confession. I was so amazed at my Confession Prowess that I almost didn’t hear my penance–two Hail Marys and two Our Fathers. As I opened the wooden door to let the next penitent in, I felt the weight of all my sinning lift off my shoulders; cleansed and pure of heart, I floated out of that confessional and rejoiced in my sinless state. As I knelt down in front of the statue of Mary to say my penance, I realized that, immediately after being absolved of my sins, I had been prideful about my Awesome Confession Skills. Not to mention that I completely forgot to confess the illness I faked to get out of Confession in the first place. Sighing with resignation, I squared my shoulders, acknowledged the constancy of my own fallen nature, and understood that I would be going to confession again very soon and for the rest of my life.