Going to Confession

Posted on January 24, 2008


(a true story, based on childhood memories, that have lasted a life time)

My mother was a devout Roman Catholic.
When I was a child, we lived in Holland for a while, and I was very impressed at the way she went to the big Dutch Catholic church as often as she could. Not just for Mass, but any time we were passing on the way to the shops or whenever. I was sure my friends at school couldn’t possibly have such a religious mother as I had.
I used to watch her pray with interest. She would kneel down, bend her head, and place both hands in front of her face. She would stay in that position for a long, long time, barely moving.
I was only young, had no great understanding of God, but I figured He had to be very pleased at the way my mother prayed. It looked awfully serious and devout to me. She used to go on for such a long time. It seemed like hours would go by.
I occasionally tried it as well. I would kneel down, bend my head, and place both hands in front of my face. And pray like hell. As intently as my mother did.

Trouble was I got bored.

I was old enough to figure that: “Dear God, make me a good boy “, was a bit wimpish. But I hadn’t really progressed beyond that. I would pray for my mother, and my Dad. And my two brothers. And the uncles and aunts.

“Dear God, please look after Uncle Billy. “
Very generous of me, that one, seeing as Uncle Billy was a cussed old sod who never bought me presents or even talked to me. But fair was fair.
But the list didn’t last very long. The mind would go blank. Now what? Occasionally I enjoyed a real flash of inspiration: “Dear God, please make there be no more wars “. Good one that. Would make me feel really good.
But that sort of inspiration was rare.
More often than not I would start to fidget. Eventually I would slyly peer out past my fingers. Sideways look at Mother. But she would be immobile, seemingly frozen in her devout posture.
That’s going to take hours…
Oh, well… hands back in front of face. No peering. Try and pray…

Fidget, fidget.

Furtively part fingers. Open one eye. Secretive look around. Along the rows and rows of wooden pews. Polished. A dark, solemn wood. Along the pillars. Impressive stuff, those pillars. Each one was like a tower, solid, reliable, ageless…

Fidget, fidget.

A few old women at the front. Why were there always old women at the front of the church, praying away like the clappers? Never old men. Funny that.
Deep sigh…
My arms would start getting tired. Another sideways peer at Mother. Still immobile. Boy, can she pray! Heavy stuff, that.

Somebody walking up the aisle.
Shuffle, shuffle. It’s old ‘Father Petrus’. I liked him. Everybody liked him. He belonged to some order, and although he was a priest, Mother had told me he was a monk as well. I think. Or something like that. Had to be hard work. He was probably nearly a Saint. And he always wore a monk sort of habit, which was different from the other Dutch priests. With a big cross with beads around his neck. He had a HUGE beard. I was very impressed with his beard. I had never seen such a vast expanse of hair hanging from a face before. It reached all the way down to his stomach. He had big yellow broken teeth, and lots of gaps in his mouth. But somehow it didn’t matter with him. It wasn’t ugly or frightening at all. Because old Father ‘Petrus’ was always smiling. He was so warm and kind, and always went out of his way to talk to everybody. It was a positive pleasure to meet Father ‘Petrus’. He was always happy. I never saw him sad, or even preoccupied. Lovely man. I was sure he liked me specially. More than all the other ordinary kids. I could tell by the way his face lit up when he saw me…
Lovely man, broken yellow teeth, funny mouth, and all.
I liked him…

I didn’t like the gardener in the public park.
The ‘plantsoen’ as the Dutch called it. The gardener had that mean sort of mouth, and we were scared of him. He used to yell his head off if we walked on the grass. We just had to stay on the narrow paths. Silly man. What damage were we going to do by walking on his blessed grass? Prat of a fellow. So sometimes we would get it up for him, and a gang of us would watch and wait until old Misery Guts was at the other end of his domain, his all important ‘plantsoen’. And then we would run across the grass, screaming with delight. He would go potty, and start shouting, threatening us with the Police, and a ‘proces verbaal’. I never quite knew what a ‘proces verbaal’ was all about, but it involved the Police, and it was nasty. So I didn’t want to get caught.
Having committed a dastardly crime, we would leg it like stink.
Great fun. Marvellous.
We would congregate in some alley, puffing and panting. There would be a lookout posted, to make sure the enemy didn’t surprise us. And we would debrief.
Good raid, that…
Only trouble was that I would then have to go and confess.
Bloody nuisance, Confession. Mother made me go every month…

Stifled yawn. Sideways peer at Mother. God, she’s still at it! I give up. Hands down, just stay kneeled, rest my aching arms. Must be hard on your arms being a saint like Mother. Oh well…

I would look around the church more openly now.
I knew you weren’t supposed to gape, but every chap has his limits. So I would gape. And, while I was at it, I’d make a good job of it. Have a nice long stare.
Amazing places, churches. This one was huge. Three altars. The main one, and two side ones. One of the side ones was Saint Mary, and the other one I could never remember. Mother had told me, but it was some funny Saint’s name, and I couldn’t remember him to save my life. I worried a bit about it. Maybe it was a sin. Could be. Oh well. Try and remember for Confession.
I would look around at the confession box things. Funny construction really. A door for the priest to go through. And then, on each side of the door, an opening with a curtain drawn across.
The idea was this:

First I would cycle to the church.
Enter the cool building, usually on a Friday evening. Quick look around. Where’s everybody kneeling? Each priest had his own box, with his name above it. They took it in turns, but sometimes, if business was brisk, and there was lots of sinning going on, there would be two or three of them at it. Then you could choose. But if there was only one, then it was a case of hold your breath until you saw who it was.

If I was lucky, I’d get Father ‘Petrus’.
Great. No sweat. We’d have a chuckle, him and I.
When it was my turn, at long last, I would get up and enter past the curtain, pulling it across. Kneel down reverently, facing this funny trap door thing. With a sort of trellis frame in front of it. From behind it, you could hear the low mutter of voices, as Father Petrus dealt with some terrible sinner on the other side. You weren’t supposed to, but if you listened hard, you could… But of course I never did, because that would have been all wrong. Mind, sometimes I was very quiet, and then I couldn’t help hearing a little of what was being said. Especially if your ear happened to be rather close to the trapdoor… Interesting stuff sometimes. But of course I never remembered it. I was far too honest to stoop to that sort of level. Amazing what that fat old cow that lived in the next street was gabbering on about. Something about going to bed. Going to bed? In Confession? If you couldn’t sleep, was THAT a sin as well?

And then, suddenly, the buzz of low conversation would cease, and it would be my turn. The little trapdoor would slide open with a firm ‘clunk’, and I would see, in the dim half light, the head and shoulders of my friend Father Petrus. He was nice. He would smile, and, of course, instantly recognize his firm favorite, me.
I would reverently rattle off my lines in Dutch, which boiled down to the fact that I was a wicked sinner, and that the last time I had been to Confession was a month before, and would he please listen to my dastardly crimes.

He would nod wisely, and I would start.
But it would soon degenerate into a laugh. He wasn’t that fussed about us walking across the grass. He wanted to know how far the old gardener had chased us. And then the two of us would end up rolling around in muffled hysterics. I got the impression he thought the old gardener was a pompous ass as well, but he would always end up warning me that the old boy was not too well, and not to tease him in case it upset him. I would nod wisely and understandingly. And refrain from the game for a while.

I liked Father Petrus.
He would always end up solemn, and give me a little lecture, and a penance of course. Confession wasn’t the same without a penance. So I would end up getting one ‘Our Father’ and one ‘Hail Mary’. And I would part with him on the best of terms. I could say each prayer in under a minute, even if I got muddled somewhere in the middle and had to start at the beginning again.
Out of the confessional I would get, reverently rattle off my penance in front of the altar, and off I would go, cycling home happily, a song in my heart.
For my soul was pure again… and I was sure to go to Heaven.


Come on, Mother! You can’t STILL be at it!
Boy, I’ll NEVER be a saint like you if that means I gotta pray like you…

A door would open and close, and there would be more shuffling, and a bit of coming and going. Occasionally I would spy another priest, ‘Kapelaan van Eyl’.
He was different from Father Petrus. He was a funny fish.
He was a lot younger. Didn’t seem to have any sense of humor. He was in charge of the altar boys. I sort of fancied being an altar boy, but I wasn’t old enough yet. Had to be at least ten. One thing that put me off was HIM. Right disciplinarian.

Confession with him was hard work.
You always felt a right blackguard. Heavy duty sinner.
We never laughed. Oh, no. Serious stuff. Once gave me a helluva penance. One ‘Our Father’, and THREE ‘Hail Marys’. Made me feel real bad. Got quite upset. Almost protested. Felt like saying:
“Come on, Father! THREE ‘Hail Marys’!? Father Petrus has never given me that much… “
But I didn’t of course. Just said meekly: “Yes, Father “, and went off sulking. Said my penance, and left. Cycled home well fed up. Not fair. I wasn’t as bad a sinner as that…

Yawn. Come on, Mother…
I’m sure God’s had enough now. He’s probably very busy you know. There’s at least ten other people in church right now praying their socks off.
You can’t hog Him ALL the time, you know…

And I would eventually get up, and wander off around the church. Stuff it, I’d had enough. So I would wander around, and look at the stained glass windows, and the statues, and the candles blazing away. Quietly I would wander around the church, not forgetting to genuflect, one bare knee touching the cool tiled floor, every time I passed an altar. Very important not to forget that. To pass an altar and not genuflect, that was bad news.
Perhaps even a sin. Could well be a sin.

And then I would have to remember to recount it in Confession. It was hard sometimes to remember all these sins. Because it could be weeks before my monthly turn came around again. And you didn’t want to forget anything. Because there was a lot at stake. I wanted very much to go to heaven. I didn’t know what it would be like, but I knew this much: Hell didn’t sound much cop to me… So I had to get the Confessions right.
Very important.

Mind, if I was lucky, I’d get Father Petrus.
Then I’d be all right. He knew me. He’d always put in a good word for me with God, I was sure of that.
I liked Confession with Father Petrus.
Good bloke to have on your side.

Guess I was happy in those days. Me and God were okay.

Anyway, He was bound to be a lot like Father Petrus…


Last edited by Francis Meyrick on October 9, 2009, 1:59 pm

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8 responses to Going to Confession

  1. Oh Francis` Fantastic Childhood story and with all the details.
    I have enjoyed reading it. Will listen the Evoca next time. I was giggling when you were pipping at your Mother praying so long. I know the feeling. I found difficult to concentrate for that long in the church at your age. The Mass was said in Latin, so no one could understand any thing. I loved my Mum singing. She was a great talented singer. I was too when a teenager was a vocalist with the local band and we practice and tour with the concerts. Lots of great memory.

    Thank you for sharing your childhood wonders with us.

    The story are wonderful to read.
    Loved when you were bored and yawn…
    Then the other Saint was not a Saint Anthony? the one that suppose to save you?
    Really good – Thank you!


  2. We had some masses in Latin, with a little bit of Greek thrown in.
    Others were in Dutch. The Latin masses, especially when they were sung, were absolutely beautiful.
    I remember the churches were often packed out in those days.
    Funny how a few short decades changes so much.

    I can see the funny side of a lot of it. As well as the poignant element. I have another story coming along in the same vein, that you might not have seen yet.

    It’s another giggle…

  3. Francis` I have traveled across Europe and been to Holland too.
    Also been to Germany for Christmas. I was shocked seeing only 20 people on Christmas Day Mass. Really that was unbelievable. It was visible everywhere that people do not think of God this days.

    For me it does not matter in which language the Mass is said. Always brings good memories from the younger days.

    Looking forward to your next story…

    Thank you…Zuzanna

  4. Yes the story was good and you make me laugh hard with evoca.
    You read very well. Zuzanna is right when says that people do not think of god this days. But can you blame the people for this?
    I never quite know if I feel where you are in all this.
    I like to see you explain your position in more detail.
    From a writing view, you need to take care you do not come across the bridge as a man with a holy mission to convert and save our souls. I do not think this, but I feel maybe you could go there.
    I like this story and I give you a good score.

  5. I like looking into the lives of others.  It gives me a sense of realism that I often miss within myself.  I never was much for confession God being omnipotent and all and the fact that I am not Catholic.  Good piece.  Thanks for opening a window into what made you you.

  6. I left the Catholic Church in my late teens. I have never been able to reconcile my thinking with the Catholic Doctrine.

    I have no anger or axe to grind against Catholics. Far from it. I have known far too many good and kind Catholics.
    On the other hand, what spoils it for me are the judgmental types, the Holier-than-thou brigade, who KNOW they are (already) going to heaven, everybody else is DOOMED, and only THEY know it all.

    For me that detracts from Man’s spiritual quest, his seeking.
    It also detracts from God, who becomes a convenient God-in-a-Box. A small God.

    I write a lot about these issues…

    I have two stories written entitled "Kentucky-Fried-God-in-a-Box".
    I’d love it if you looked them up. See if they make sense to you.

    here’s the link for the first one…


  7. They used to let us Catholic kids out early on Friday if we had to take confession before the weekend. We wouldn’t go of course, we’d get our gloves, bats and balls from the school sports locker and take off for baseball practice. We didn’t go to confession until football season began. Although my mother wasn’t as prayerful as yours your story meant a lot to me.

  8. Hi Harry,
    I think a certain element of "longing" never goes away. I miss the innocence of those days.

    I try and tell myself not to throw "the baby" out with the "bath water".
    Just because I have met so many Catholics who were religious frauds, sanctimonious bullies, fraudsters and hypocrites, I must also remember the good, the kind, the gentle Catholics I have had the pleasure of encountering.
    But somehow, that is easier said than done.

    I really struggle with the idea that if you:

    That’s it! You’re IN! To Heaven.

    And then I see the lifestyles behind the facade. Who was it that said by the fruit you shall know the tree?

    (Oh, Jesus, right?)   

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