A Church Mandated Penance

Everyone is always obsessed with whether or not they’re a good Catholic, but I don’t know that it really matters. You’re either a good person, or your not. That’s the key. It’s not about practicing your religion or donating to your church or attending midnight mass, it’s about waking up and being a good person. A good human. But maybe you shouldn’t listen to me, because I haven’t been a good human in years. That’s all going to change though. I woke up this morning and decided to be a good person. I also decided it wouldn’t hurt to go to church and see if maybe a little Latin, some genuflecting, and a confession would help me. It can’t hurt.

I decided to go to the closest church, because I want to get started on being a good person today immediately, so why not go to the closest church and get this show on the road. Man, this church, it’s really beautiful. The people who attend here and give their money, I can see why. There are tall spires on the outside, stained glass on the inside, stone floors. I don’t think anyone really builds like this anymore. It’s beautiful.

I remembered to stick my fingers in the water as I came in, crossed myself. I probably shouldn’t say “I remembered” because it’s more like I walked in and my fingers were wet and making the cross without my even noticing. A muscle memory mind of their own. The next thing I know I’m halfway down the aisle and sitting in a pew.

These are nice pews. I remember growing up and the pews were so hard I’d be grateful to stand up, bow down, kneel, stand up. But these pews are nice. These have cushions and not just those hard foam kind, these are real cushions covered in a some kind of soft material. Is it velvet? It might be velvet. Nice.

I don’t think there’s a homily today. It’s not Thursday or Sunday and I don’t see anyone around besides a little old grandma lady lighting candles over there by Mary. That’s a good looking Mary. You know, sometimes you see Mary and she’s not beautiful. She should be beautiful, why not? She’d have to be beautiful, who knocks up a thirteen year old kid? You’ve got to make her beautiful to make it all make more sense.

I may not be getting a sermon today, but I can see the confessional has a curtain open. That’s probably for the best, I need to show I really mean this whole change I’m making. I realize as I’m walking towards the claustrophobic box that this really is my chance to make good. I was an altar boy once and I can change. This is gonna be great. No more violence or shame, I’m starting over today.

I squeeze myself in and close the curtain. The little box smells like incense and sweat. Perfect. There’s no room to kneel in this thing so I lower my head and clasp my hands in front of chin. “Bless me father for I have sinned. My last confession was…twenty years ago or so.” And then it all came out. I blabbed for what felt like an hour, if it weren’t for the occasional “mmhmm” or “go on” from the priest I’d have thought he was asleep, although who could sleep through the dirt I was spewing. I finally came to the end and heard myself saying, “that’s all I can remember. I’m sorry for these and all my sins.”

And there was a moment there, right there, where I sighed on those words, where all the words had been spoken and I did feel good. I did feel lighter, more relaxed, ready to make good. I was shocked. I didn’t think it would work that good. But it did.

But then the priest gave me my penance.

I had to check with him again about what he’d just said, cause I couldn’t believe it. “Are you sure I’m not supposed to do some community service or something, Father,” I said. I mean, I just couldn’t believe this, what I was hearing, what I had to do. But he insisted. And I said, “but Father, that would be murder. It’s a sin, Father!” But he insisted. He kept telling me there was great evil in the world, and if I was sure I was ready to be forgiven, if I was sure I wanted to make good on all I’d done, the only way was to kill Tony Scarpone.

So I went home saying my Hail Mary’s. I made sure the place was clean and nice and I grabbed my gun. I figured a gun is the simplest option, it’s what I started with, so it seemed appropriate now. I double checked that everything was neat, that I’d said all my prayers, and I pulled the trigger on Tony Scarpone.

I thought the death would be more instant. I’m a good shot, I know I did it right. But it took a little longer than I’d thought. Couple minutes maybe before everything went totally dark. And it was as the light was fading, as I held as long as I could to the knowledge that I was helping to make the world a better place, that I realized the Father was right. Tony Scarpone was finally a good person.

This #writethirtyminutes session was prompted very loosely from “A Year of Writing Prompts” by Writer’s Digest, available here.

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