Catholics Anonymous – Why There’s No Such Word As Catholohol But There Bloody Well Should Be.
“Hello, my name’s Mike and I’m a Catholic”. A polite chorus of “Hello Mike” from the faces in the circle of chairs around me.
“It’s been 27 years since my last confession”. Enthusiastic round of applause from the hands in the circle of chairs around me. And a genuinely enthusiastic chorus of “Well done!”
And so my first confession without a priest being present began.
I started when I was in primary school. It was fun at first. Stories. Singing. Putting on little plays about Jesus and shepherds and 14 year old girls who came up with highly implausible explanations for why they were pregnant. There was a bit of boring stuff in between about numbers and letters and suchlike, but not enough to make the day too horrific.
When I went home every evening, I forgot all about it. I had my tea and watched The Magic Roundabout and Tomorrow’s World. Went to bed and read my Beano annuals. It wasn’t a problem and I had it under control. Or so I thought.
That all changed when I turned 12. I became an Altar Boy. .
That was fun at first too. Swigging the communion wine, licking the communion wafers and nicking the frankincense to put into extremely pungent homemade fireworks. Dressing up and appearing on what is essentially a stage for an hour every Sunday. It was all very jolly. My individual behaviour behind the Church scenes wasn’t very nice admittedly, but if you go around telling young boys that if they confess all and are truly sorry, God will always forgive them, you are just asking for trouble.
But appearing on stage without any critics to review your performance has a funny effect on a young mind. Before long, I became filled with an over inflated sense of my own importance. I got that arrogant swagger of someone who knows that they’re that little bit more special than everyone else. And I began to think “If this is what it feels like on the sidelines, what’s it like to be centre stage? What if I became a Priest?”
Then puberty kicked in properly and prospect of an adult life wearing what is , at the end of the day, a dress and not having sex lost its appeal. The fact that being homosexual is practically obligatory was the final nail in the coffin of the idea. Fortunately or unfortunately, I fancied girls. So I still went to church on Sunday, but set myself very firmly on the public side of the altar rail.
Religion continued to be rammed down my throat throughout my school career. But ram things down a chap’s throat for long enough, and sooner or later they are bound to come out the other end. That’s just nature. For me this happened in a very spectacular fashion . All the rhetoric and dogma fell out in a big ugly lump and I became what is known as a Prolapsed Catholic.
But such a prolapse is never complete. Little strands and sinews of Catholicism remain to affect your adult life. And it’s the effects of these strands and sinews which mean I have to say an abject “sorry” to virtually everyone in my life. For all the times I’ve lived my life like an apology for my own existence. For all the times I’ve refused to fulfill my potential because good little boys do as they’re told and get their reward in Heaven. For all the times I’ve felt guilty about everything, except the things I should feel guilty about. When I should have felt guilty the arrogant Altar boy came racing to the surface and completely blinded me to any sense of shame or culpability.
So I apologize to everyone. And this is a contrite act, not an Act of Contrition.
The room erupted into cheers and applause. Then we all went on a three day tequila bender. I woke up naked in the font of St Xavier’s. I didn’t feel the tiniest bit guilty about that either.
© Copyright Michael Grimes 2013