Tuesday, October 20, 2009
By Richard E. Noble
My wife constantly accuses me of having a moral conscience. She has learned over the years about all my friends, my family, relatives and whatever. She has come to the conclusion that none of the above contributed much to the development of my “moral conscience.” She suggests that the only influence in my life that could be responsible for this moral conscience that she thinks I have, must be the Roman Catholic Church.
For the longest time me and my street corner buddies went to Confession every Friday night. If St. Mary’s Church had two hundred people inside on a Friday night waiting to tell their confessions to a priest, 90% of them would be lined up at Father Kelly’s confessional. Father Kelly was a very kind and forgiving man and in his role as a priest he was equally generous with God’s graces. No matter how grievous a transgression you may have confessed, Father Kelly would say:
“Are you truly sorry that you have committed such a deed?”
“Yes Father, I am.”
“As your penance say three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys. Go in peace, my son.”
This, of course, was the reason for the long line at Father Kelly’s confessional every week.
On this one particular Friday night a priest who was waiting alone and lonely inside his little cubicle on the empty side of the church, stepped out of his anonymity and gave a speech to all us reluctant confessors.
He accused us of cowardice. Certainly we all couldn’t have committed such outrageous sins that we were afraid of an objective consequence or penance. He advised us to remember that all our penance and suffering here on earth would be to our credit once we arrived in heaven. He also insinuated that all priests were forgiving and compassionate by nature. No one should be fearful of having his confession heard by any priest.
Several older people rose from their pews but instead of walking over to our admonisher’s side of the church, they walked out the side door. They could come back later after things cooled down a little and reposition themselves at Father Kelly’s station.
The chastising priest shook his head in disgust and returned to his stall.
I sat there thinking about what the priest had said and I concluded that certainly with my little, dinky sins I should not be afraid to kneel before any Roman Catholic priest.
After about fifteen or twenty minutes of analysis and soul searching, I left the safety and security of my pew at father Kelly’s station and meandered over to the other side of the church.
Naturally there was still no one there, so I stepped right up to the plate.
As a part of my confession, I admitted to this priest that I had been stealing penny candy from Dube’s Variety store which was on the corner of Chelmsford and Center Streets. He was shocked. He wanted to know why I did that. I stuttered and stammered. This had never happened at father Kelly’s station. He never said boo. He never asked “why” I did anything. He would say, “Three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys” and that was the end of it. Now this new guy was asking “why?” What was this? Is that a fair question for a priest to ask in a confessional? Was this a pop quiz or what?
“I don’t know why I took the penny candy Father. I guess I just wanted it.”
“Well son, as your penance I want you to go back to Dube’s Variety store. I want you to apologies to Mrs. Dube and I want you to pay her back for all the candy that you stole.”
OH MY GOD! What had I done? I was certainly heartily sorry for leaving father Kelly’s station. And certainly, I will never do that again! But now what do I do?
Would it count if I went back over to Father Kelly and told him the same sins over and got three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys - like I knew he would give me? Would I have to tell Father Kelly that I had been across the way to this other priest?
I went back to Father Kelly and he did just as I suspected he would, but yet the whole situation plagued me. Finally one day I gathered up all my pennies and went up to Dube’s Variety. I was trembling as I entered through her screen door. As usual it took her five minutes to get to the counter. I could have stolen a pocket full of candy by then - but I didn’t.
When she got to the counter, I laid down all my pennies and confessed. Mrs. Dube stared at me like I was a kid who had just landed on the planet earth from outer space. She scooped up the pennies and eventually sputtered, “You are an admirable young man.”
All the way back to my house I questioned if it was better to be a known thief and an “admirable young man” or to have remained anonymous and said three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys.
From that day forward I took my errands to Walter’s Variety on the corner down the hill on Center St. How could I ever face Mrs. Dube again, the little thief from down the block on Chelmsford St? I never stole anything at Walter’s. I wasn’t about to go through that again.
Richard E. Noble was raised in Lawrence, Mass and is now a freelance writer. He has published six books. Two of them with Lawrence as their setting, A Summer with Charlie and Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother. A Little Something is a book of poetry - parts of it inspired by life in Lawrence. Hobo-ing America is a workingman’s tour of the U.S.A. The Eastpointer is selected pieces from his award winning column about life in a sleepy fishing village in the Florida Panhandle and Noble Notes on Famous Folks is History – with a bit of humor on the side.