What penance did you get? 'A million prayers AND the creed,' replied my younger brother

It’s My Life with Tric Kearney. 

How many times a day must I remind myself that it’s been 2018 for 12 days already? Thank goodness we are no longer in the habit of writing cheques as in days gone by I used to finish an entire cheque book in January writing the wrong year.

I know on paper January is 31 days long, but is it really? While on many occasions later in the year I can be heard screeching, “Oh my goodness the months are flying by”, in January I’m much more likely to be heard wailing, “Is it really still January?”

For years I gave up making new-year resolutions but in more recent years I’ve felt the need to annoy myself with them, wondering how I can live, ‘better?’ And each year I come up with the same nonsense, exercise more, be less stressed and make time for me.

As I ream off my rather uninspiring resolutions, I’m reminded of the ‘sins’ I used to tell at confession as a child. I didn’t go too regularly but like my resolutions, they were always the same: “I told lies, took the name of God in vain and was mean to my brother.”

I might well have thought by confessing I’d clean the slate and never ‘sin’ again, but I am who I am and within minutes the one about my brother was already a problem.

I remember one year holidaying in Donegal. I was about nine years old, my brother a year younger. It was Easter, so time for confession. Instead of queueing outside a confession box in the local church we went to a Friary where, unknown to us, confession was heard in a small room sitting facing a brown-cloaked monk. To say we were unprepared for such a change was an understatement.

I went in first and began my usual learned introduction,

“Bless me Father for I have sinned it is eight weeks since my last confession (another lie).”

I was just warming up when the monk, staring at his open-toed sandals, grunted: “Just get on with it.”

I was a little taken aback but skipped to my usual set of sins to which he mumbled a whole heap of prayers I’d to say for penance, not the usual three Hail Marys. He then stopped talking and waved me out.

My younger brother went in next. He wasn’t too long after his first confession so I could only imagine his horror at this new set up. Kneeling, head in my hands I peeped up regularly eagerly anticipating his exit. The look on his eight-year-old bewildered face did not disappoint. My shoulders shook as I unsuccessfully tried to suppress laughter.

He knelt beside me, head down. We both lifted our heads enough to peep at each other.

“I didn’t like that priest,” he whispered.

“Why?” I said, almost exploding.

“He wouldn’t let me speak. I got all confused and kept starting again, but he got cross.”

“Really?” I giggled. “What penance did you get?”

“A million prayers AND the creed,” he said.

“Wow, you must have been very bold, I only got one Hail Mary,” I lied.

Thinking back to that confession I can see age and maturity have done little to change me. Even as a child I was incapable of keeping my soul clean for more than a few minutes. Fast forward the clock and I think it might be about time to accept that I had as much hope of ever becoming a better person by confessing my childhood sins as I have of being a better person by making new year resolutions.

Maybe next year I’ll just look in the mirror and say: “2019. How lucky am I to see you? Let’s make the most of it.”

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