Counselling or confession? (haibun)

I grew up in a small French Québécois village with approximately 5,000 in population. We had two huge Catholic churches at each part of the town, one United Church and one Anglican Church. There were three French Catholic primary schools, one Protestant primary school, one Catholic collegiate for boys, one convent (primary and high school) all French. I was not permitted to go to the only English school because it was Protestant and in those days the priest threatened to excommunicate us from the Catholic Church.  I suppose that was like waiting for the roof of your house to cave in, in those days.

My sister and I went a French Catholic primary school that housed two English classrooms where we fit Grades one to seven included. The first Friday of the month we had the same Catholic priest who came to our school to hear our confessions. That was basically when we would say, Bless me Father for I have sinned, my last confession was last month and I listened to 2 dirty jokes, swore at my sister, slapped Tommy for tripping me and disobeyed my mom once or twice. I remember seeing the shadow of the priest…he often sighed out of boredom and we usually always had about the same penance…Three Hail Mary’s and an Act of Contrition.

When I went to high school, we were bussed to a bigger town nearby. But that meant I had to find a way to get to confession OR ELSE! Well or else nothing, I just couldn’t go to Communion if I had not been absolved of my sins. Keep in mind that was how we thought then and today I am NOT that person and the Catholic Church has certainly evolved with the times but this is not the purpose of this post…I am getting to my point real soon…confession is the point.

My parents were struggling in their marriage for various reasons. Without getting into details, home life was tense, my feelings towards the situation was concerning me because for one thing, it is a sin to not like your parents and my dad was not an easy person to like. We didn’t have school counsellors in our schools then and quite frankly, I was not too pleased that my mother had told my principal and Grade eight Latin teacher about “our” family situation. I get it now but then, I was so ashamed. As a teen we don’t particularly want anyone knowing about our personal life. We had worked so hard keeping our family troubles private. In the 60’s it was frowned upon if marriages failed (well in a Catholic village in Quebec it was) …it was just, well, not allowed!
I started going to confession at the church. I loved going to that church because it was so beautiful. It had been originally built to be a cathedral, the stained glass, the architecture, the marble, the statues…such beautiful art! I even enjoyed doing the Station of the Cross. The huge paintings of each station were lifelike and it was always a deep spiritual experience at the 13th station, a magnificent life like statue of Mary holding her son.

Jesus Is Taken Down from the Cross

13th Station of the Cross

(haiku)

Heart filled with sadness
kneeling in prayer for our sins
  a solemn moment.

Sometimes I would go to confession before doing the Stations of the Cross, other times it was after. But I always felt good after leaving the confessional. I also saw the same priest for my confessions because only one  priest understood English; he was le Curé, the parish priest. Every month sometimes every other week, I would go confessing my sin of having mixed feelings about my father… {Okay, maybe I threw in saying a few swear words or listening to a few dirty jokes}. He would never judge me or scold me for not respecting my father or the other transgressions.  He would simply nod; I felt his presence, his empathy and his kindness. He would give me a tiny penance of a few Hail Mary’s but always, he would end with the sign of the cross granting his absolution and saying, Je vais prier pour toi. (I will pray for you).

Somehow, I knew he did not mean he was praying for my sins but for our family situation. Little did I know that he was listening to my sister’s confessions; my mother would visit him for spiritual counselling as well and he encouraged her to leave our father. He had been silently, confidentially hearing my stories, my sister’s tales and my mother’s struggle for years.  My mother trying to do the “proper” thing for a good Catholic mother and wife. Confession for me actually became my very first experience with counselling from 1965 to 1968. Curé Chapedelaine made an impact on my life more than he or I realized.

Who would have thought that today, I would be counselling on an anonymous youth line? I knew what it meant to share something private and confidential.  He listened with respect and from a place of compassion; he very discreetly  gave my mom his blessing to separate from our father. I don’t know many Catholic priests in 1967 who would have given such advice.

Confession to me
a long time ago
meant so much more
than just fighting my foe
Satan was not my spur
in any way
I must concur.
Confession for me
was my first experience
disclosing my personal story
forming a first in my counselling history.

© Cheryl-Lynn, 2014/03/14