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Lessons from my Catholic Past…

”Confess what you did kid, and we’ll see if we can strike a deal with God for ya and get you a nice little penance to pray so yous can be forgiven “

Doug Pacheco

Another thing that was interesting about growing up Catholic was the idea of Saturday night confession. When you are a kid, you either can’t or don’t want to remember any sins you may have committed during the week. I lived in denial for the good part of 10 years believing that the word “sin” was a misspelling of the word “sign”. Used in a sentence, “If someone leaves money on the counter and you take it, it is a sin” My translation: “If someone leaves money on the counter and you take it, is a sign they are stupid… and don’t get caught!”

As a boy, the concept of “sin” was…well, inconvenient. Disobeying my parents, or “not exactly telling the truth”, or sneaking an extra snack didn’t seem like sins to me. I was convinced they were the training every secret agent was required to take before going into service for the government. Come on! I worked hard to sneak that Tootsie Roll from on top of the kitchen counter, and what was it doing up there anyway? It was begging to me, calling my name and asking me to unwrap it and eat it. And only getting caught because my brother Geoff ratted me out?,,, it only meant that the next time I would have to hone my skills further to avoid detection. If I could fool my brother Geoff, Khrushchev would have no chance of breaking me if I was caught in Russia as a secret agent… this was well established truth according to my brother Greg.

In later years as I grew up, I remember begging my parents to not make me go to confession, which is the Catholic’s way of keeping the faithful on the straight and narrow and their interpretation of James 5:16

“Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective..”

It is in confession, that you go in to the “confessional” to clear your conscience and confess your sins. I always imagined when I was six years old, when I was still too young to go to confession, that a confessional was a small room where tough priests that hadn’t shaved (and with a couple of tattoos each) surrounded you as you sat in a chair under a naked light bulb and where they would say things like, “Look kid, you don’t wanna make God mad do ya? in a thick Jersey accent. I would imagine that they kind of walked back and forth while one priest held a baseball bat in one hand and slapped it into the palm of his other hand saying things like, ”Confess what you did kid, and we’ll see if we can strike a deal with God for ya and get you a nice little penance to pray so yous can be forgiven…otherwise”… the bat wielding priest on cue would wack a small cat with the bat.

In reality, the confessional was just a little booth where you would kneel and after going through the perfunctory preamble “Bless me Father for I have sinned, my last confession was (number of months or weeks) ago, these are my sins” you would enumerate the various and sundry ways you had offended the Almighty. When I think of this, I recall Madonna in the movie “A League of their Own” coming out of the confessional while Rosie O’Donnell says, “The Priest dropped his Bible three times while she was in there!”

I was convinced as a child that all I needed to do was to pray in the privacy of my bed at night and confess my sins to God Himself. I was sure He didn’t need a middleman who knew the secret ritualistic handshake , or the right method of greasing God’s hand with a C-note to getting things forgiven. I knew instinctively that God could forgive me Himself… right there in my bedroom in rural Indiana. I will tell you that what I learned from my parents insisting we go to confession was the value they held for self-examination and the old Shakespearian line from Hamlet, “this above all, to thine own self be true.”

I have also learned that the best way to describe who I am today is to describe the values I was raised by. It is not a perfect method of course. We adopt our parent’s values as a guide until we are old enough to perfect our own. It is important to note however, that my parents’ convictions were indelibly written on my soul which no philosophical launderer will ever be able to remove. They are etched one manner at a time, one chore at a time, one persistent tick of the clock day by day.

My parents’ values brushed against my soul like the rush of water across a rough rock in a river bottom. The rock is not aware that when it emerges again from the stream after a long time, that it will be rounded, smooth and polished. After 18 years of growing up with Lee and Lorraine Pacheco, I was ruined to be used in the gravel pit for common use any longer. I was prepared to take my place in the mosaic of brilliantly shaped stones in the wall of society. I feel for those who do not undergo this familial baptism in the waters of parental values because they find themselves either of little use for anything noble or hopelessly confused.

As we age, we may claim we are the authors of our own identities, but they are; in truth, obtained through simmering in the bain marie of our parents convictions. This is the first baptism we undergo. We don’t have to like it, but it is inevitable. For me, it was the reason that I; when presented with the Gospel, was devoted to Jesus for the rest of my life.

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