We confessed to breaking all the Ten Commandments. If you
said you committed adultery or coveted your neighbor’s wife the
master knew you didn’t know what you were talking about, Don’t
get above yourself, boy, and moved on to the next penitent.
After First Communion we continued Examination of Con-
science for the next sacrament: Confirmation. The priest said Exam-
ination of Conscience and confession would save us from hell. His
name was Father White and we were interested in him because one
of the boys said he never wanted to be a priest at all. His mother
forced him into the priesthood. We doubted that boy, but he said he
knew one of the maids at the priests’ house and she said Father White
got drunk at dinner and told the other priests his only dream was to
grow up and drive the bus that went from Limerick to Galway and
back but his mother wouldn’t let him. It was strange to be examined
by someone who became a priest because his mother made him. I
wondered if the dream of the bus was in his head while he stood at
the altar saying Mass. It was strange, also, to think of a priest getting
drunk, because everyone knows they’re not supposed to. I used to
look at buses passing by and picture him up there, smiling away and
no priestly collar choking the life out of him.
When you get into the habit of examining your conscience it’s
hard to stop, especially when you’re an Irish Catholic boy: If you do
bad things you look into your soul, and there are the sins, festering.
Everything is either a sin or not a sin and that’s an idea you might
carry in your head the rest of your life. Then when you grow up and
drift away from the church, Mea culpa is a faint whisper in your past.
It’s still there, but now you’re older and not so easily frightened.
When you’re in a state of grace the soul is a pure dazzling white
surface, but your sins create abscesses that ooze and stink. You try to
save yourself with Mea culpa, the only Latin words that mean any-
thing to you or God.
If I could travel to my twenty-seventh year, my first teaching
year, I’d take me out for a steak, a baked potato, a pint of stout. I'd
give myself a good talking to. For Christ’s sake, kid, straighten up.