This afternoon, as I sliced red peppers and whisked together the curry, 3-year-old Bella queried:
"Miwiam, why dost (she really says dost) Mummy have to go to Kerfeshun?"
The Mother Superior responded, "Well, Belly, sometimes Mommy is a Bad Catholic. So, she has to go and tell the priest, who is really Jesus just for a minute, that she was a Bad Catholic. Then she is a Good Catholic again, until she does something else bad. Then, if she wants to be a Good Catholics again, she has to go back and tell Father."
Yes. That just about sums it up. It's simple. Baptism: We are all good Catholics. We get lazy, we drift, we fall asleep on the watch, we sin. Bad Catholics. The fix is simple: if we want to be good again, we just tell father.
I'm finishing Lucy Beckett's A Postcard from the Volcano, a fabulous crash course in 20th-century history, the Western canon, and... well, all of Western philosophy. (I have raved about her In the Light of Christ, a more formal introduction to the canon.) Not to give it away, but one of the main characters, originally a convert to Catholicism, ends up spending three years without the sacraments. He attends Mass, sitting in the back row, but never reconciles with the Church. In effect, a Bad Catholic.
Max's dearest friend, Adam, questions him: Why has he stayed away so long? His affair had ended, his 18 months of the lusts of the world had ended, tragically in an abortion. Why had he not confessed, been absolved, and returned home? Max's answer is poignant.
During his time of "real life," in the world of sex, drugs, and jazz (no rock 'n' roll in pre-War Germany), he had found himself feeling alive, feeling unhappy, but electric. His lover would tell him, "You're not really a Prussian bureaucrat who only likes Brahms. You just look like one, talk like one, work like one. Take it all off with your clothes." And he did. He even felt relief when she had the abortion--although he also immediately left her--just because he wouldn't be tied down to her forever.
He tells Adam he is uncertain now--after it all--of who he is, what he believes, even of God's interest in him. Confession seems too certain, Mass only a fragment of his self. How can he confess a sin he enjoyed, a sin that he felt relief at?
Adam listens--and this is good--but then brings Max back to the simplicity: "Now listen to me. Eros is the only sickness for which we volunteer. You are anwerable for what happened between you and Eva, in a way that she's not, or not yet--no one knows... Your reaction to the abortion shows that you know [there was hardly any connexion between you]. It also shows that you understand the self-indulgence, the distance rom God, of the whole thing. You understood this all along. The fact that Eva didn't understand helped you to hide from the fact that you did."
Adam continues, "What I would like you to do is this. Tomorrow is Sunday. The village Mass is at nine. Come with me half an hour early and make your confession to Father Stanislaw. He's a good man--not that it matters what he's like. Tell him the simple facts. Be given absolution. be given Communion. Pray for your child. Pray for Eva. And for me."
And that is what they do. Then Max takes the train back to Breslau and realizes that he can once again play Bach. "Adam had restored him to a place where the truth was steady."
That's what Confession does. The sloth of sin and the the grime of accumulated falls make the world spin. Reality is unsteady. Was it really so bad? Did I even mess up? Does God really care?
The only clarification is in absolution. When you want to be a Good Catholic again, after you fight through all that grime and grasp the rock, the light breaks through.
I can play Bach again.
Miriam has the instinct, if her vocabulary is a little reminiscent of the 1950's CCD teacher. Mommy was, for a little while, a Good Catholic again. And I found that the truth was steady.
Come to think of it, I think Miriam's ready for her own First Confession. Next month.