Note – This is a humorous Catholic vignette I wrote on the spur of a moment. Enjoy!
Aidan gulped as he sat wiggling about in the pew, his palms covered in sweat. “Ethan,” he whispered to his friend beside him, “are you sure you don’t wanna go first?”
Ethan shook his head, yawning and shrugging his shoulders together casually. “Nope. You’d better go first. You’re the brave one,” he added, smirking.
Aidan gulped again, but didn’t contradict the statement. Instead he twisted his head in the direction of Rachel, another one of his second grade classmates. “Hey, Rachel,” he called, trying to keep his voice quiet in the still, dark church. “Do you wanna go first?”
Rachel shook her head, her brow wrinkled with lines of worry as she tried to remember the words to the Act of Contrition. The teacher had said that it wasn’t necessary to know it because the pastor kept a copy of it posted in his confessional. But the pastor wasn’t here today. He was sick. So they were going to Fr. Candler instead, and who knew if he kept a copy of the Act of Contrition in his confessional?
“You sure?” Aidan pressed. “The teacher says Fr. Candler is really nice. Maybe he’ll…”
“Aidan, shush,” a voice hissed.
Aidan winced. He glanced back at the second grade teacher Miss Fletcher, who was frowning at him. He bit his lip, but fell silent.
Just then, the priest emerged from the sacristy vested in his alb and a purple stole. He paid no attention to the collection of wriggly second graders, but discreetly made his way up a side aisle towards the confessional at the back of the church. He slipped inside the center door—Jesus’ door, Miss Fletcher sometimes called it—and closed it firmly behind him. A few moments later the green lights above the confessional doors flicked on.
“Alright, Aidan,” Miss Fletcher whispered encouragingly in his ear. “Go ahead.”
Butterflies filled Aidan’s stomach as he rose to his feet. He stepped out of the pew and started towards the confessional, only to come to an abrupt halt. Turning back, he almost bumped into Ethan, who was right behind him.
“Hey, watch out!” Ethan exclaimed. “What are you doing?”
“I forgot to genuflect,” Aidan mumbled as he hastily dropped to one knee and signed himself with the Sign of the Cross. That done, he rose and headed for the confessional, knees shaking beneath him. At the door to the screen side, he paused, heart pounding, before slipping inside.
The interior was small, dark, and bare except for a crucifix on one wall illuminated by a single bulb overhead. Kneeling down before the screen, Aidan rested his folded hands on a small ledge. A piece of paper with the Act of Contrition in big, bold print was taped to the ledge. Yet it did nothing to comfort him.
Drawing a deep breath, he began his confession in a thin, quavering voice. “In the name of the Father…”
“And of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen,” the priest’s encouraging voice joined in, before falling silent.
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” Aidan continued alone. “This is my first confession. These are my sins…”
His voice trailed off, and the priest waited. Aidan, however, did not say a word. Finally, after several moments’ silence, the priest himself spoke.
“Son, is something wrong?” he asked in a gentle voice. “Do you need help remembering your sins?”
Aidan remained silent, hardly breathing, before bursting out: “Father, is it true you have a lever on your side of the confessional?”
“A what?” the priest exclaimed with surprise.
“A lever. Ethan said you have one. He said that if someone confesses something really bad to you, you’ll pull it and the floor will fall out beneath their feet. Do you ever pull the lever, Father?” Aidan added in small, frightened voice.
For a second there was silence. Then the priest laughed, a quiet, pleasant laugh that made Aidan relax a bit. “Son,” he said, his already kind voice growing even softer, “who is Ethan?”
“My friend, Father. He and I sit next to each other in the classroom.”
“And he mentioned this lever to you, did he?”
“Son,” the priest said, “your friend lied to you. There is no lever. As to the floor, I’ve never seen or heard of it falling out from underneath anyone. And I’ve had some very naughty people come to me for Confession.”
“Listen to me,” the priest cut in gently, “do you think Jesus would ever put a lever in the confessional? He wants people to come to Him and confess their sins so that He can forgive them. He doesn’t want to hurt or scare you. How could He when He loves you so dearly, more than anyone else, even your parents?”
Aidan nodded, heaving a sigh of relief. “Alright, Father. Should I say the Act of Contrition now?”
“I think you should first tell me your sins, Son. I need to know what trouble you’ve landed yourself in before I offer you absolution.”
Aidan rattled off his sins—there were only three—and the priest gave him some advice and a penance of three “Hail Marys.” As he prayed the Act of Contrition and listened to the priest reciting the prayer of absolution, a wave of peace and happiness such as he’d never known swept over him.
So, this is what Miss Fletcher meant by God cleaning out your soul, Aidan thought.
“The Lord has freed you from your sins. Go in peace,” the priest finished. “God Bless you, Son.”
“Thank you, Father,” Aidan answered cheerfully, before leaving the confessional.
Outside, he found Ethan waiting. As the confessional door closed, Ethan stepped forward, licking his lips nervously.
“How did it go?” he muttered to Aidan as they passed each other.
“Swell,” Aidan replied. “Father said there isn’t any lever.”
“Really?” Ethan said, smirking at his friend’s gullibility.
“What did he give you for a penance?”
“Nothing hard. Just three Rosaries.”
Aidan nodded solemnly. “Yup. And Father said that was a light penance.”
Ethan’s shoulders slumped, and he muttered something under his breath as he trudged into the confessional.
Aidan just grinned and retreated to a pew. As he knelt down to say his penance, though, something struck him. Wait, that had been a lie. Didn’t the eighth commandment forbid lying?
Aidan scratched his head, frowning. Then he sighed.
“Sorry, God,” he mumbled. “But You get it, don’t You? The pastor did once say that You have a sense of humor.”