This Sort of Thing...


Children of the Absolution


Declan’s my best friend. We always talk to each other in the playground. We both talk to some of the other kids too but me and Declan talk about things that the other kids aren’t interested in. We talk about things like how upset our mammies were when the president in America was out in his car for the afternoon and he got shot in the head. They’ve a new president now, so they say, but he’s not as good as the dead one because he’s old and he’s not a Catholic.

Declan told me he heard Peter Sullivan talking about what happened in Doctor Who on the television on Saturday evening. We both smiled a bit because we don’t like Peter Sullivan very much because his mammy gives him a sixpence every morning to spend on Fruit Salads and Blackjacks in old Joe’s corner shop. My mammy said I’d have teeth the colour of the Blackjacks if she was giving me sixpence just like that every day and she’s not made of money. We know Peter Sullivan will be in terrible trouble with Sister Josephine because if he was at home watching Doctor Who on the television on Saturday evening he wouldn’t have been at the confession in the Church of the Sacred Heart and St Philomena and if he hadn’t done the confession he couldn’t have been back there again at the Church of the Sacred Heart and St Philomena on Sunday for the holy Mass and the holy Communion because he’d have dark sins on his soul.

The holy Communion’s my favourite part of the holy Mass because after you’ve been over to receive the Host from Father Crawley it’s a sort of an interval when you can stop praying for a while and you don’t have to listen up for Father Crawley telling you when to kneel down and when to stand up and when to sing a hymn and when to sit down again and you can just sit back and have a good old gawp around at all the statues of the saints and the angels and the wee boys in the nip. And I like to watch all the women in their best clothes staring at all the other women in their best clothes like they hate them because they think their best clothes are the best but they might not be. And there’s all the men who keep looking at their watches and winking at each other and pointing at the big church door behind them.

Sister Josephine said you can’t take the holy Communion if you haven’t been to the confession because the holy Communion is the body of Christ and you swallow a wee piece of him when you take it and when he’s inside you he doesn’t want to be in there with all those dirty sins going on all around him.

At the confession in the Church of the Sacred Heart and St Philomena of a Saturday evening, Father Crawley scrubs away all your sins so it’s nice and clean for Christ to be going in there of a Sunday morning as long as you don’t have a big plate of rashers and eggs for your breakfast before going to the Church of the Sacred Heart and St Philomena for the holy Mass. Christ wouldn’t like being in among the rashers and eggs, so they say. And I wouldn’t blame him for that.

When Father Crawley’s done giving our souls a good old clean at the confession we get the absolution which is something you can’t see but it feels good, so they say, but I can never feel it; unless it’s the same as feeling hungry.

Sister Josephine will know that Peter Sullivan wasn’t at the holy Mass on Sunday. She always knows which out of the lot of us weren’t there. She takes the class register to the Church of the Sacred Heart and St Philomena and puts a wee tick with her special nun’s pen against our names when she sees us. If she says to you on Monday that she didn’t see you in the church on Sunday you can tell her that you went to the very early holy Mass or the very late holy Mass but you’d be wasting your time because she always goes to them all, except when she’s sick and Sister Bernadette takes the register and the special nun’s pen to the Church of the Sacred Heart and St Philomena for her.

You can tell Sister Josephine you were sick yourself or you were away visiting your Auntie Kathleen in another town so you couldn’t go to the holy Mass in the Church of the Sacred Heart and St Philomena but you’d be wasting your time unless you had a note written by your mammy saying the same. Without the note you’d be standing at the front of the class and feeling the clatter of the yardstick as Sister Josephine brings it down hard three times on the palm of your hand.

Sometimes I really have been sick or I really have been away to visit my Auntie Kathleen in another town but my mammy forgot to write me the note for the Monday and I forgot to ask her for it so Sister Josephine clattered my hand three times with the yardstick at the front of the class. It wasn’t all bad though because Sister Josephine never seems like a very happy woman except when she’s just been clattering hands three times with the yardstick and then she has a smile on her face like my Uncle Neil would have when he says his horse has won; though I’ve been to his house a fair few times and I’ve never seen his horse. He hasn’t even got a cat.

Peter Sullivan always has a note from his mammy. Declan said there must be a box full of notes from his mammy in the kitchen drawer in Peter Sullivan’s house and all he has to do is pick one out on the Monday morning after he hasn’t been to holy Mass on the Sunday. Declan said he’s told his mammy this and his mammy laughed and said something about some sheets of carbon paper, but we don’t know what she meant but we know she wouldn’t be laughing if she had the feel of Sister Josephine’s yardstick across her hand three times at the front of the class.

So almost every Saturday evening, as soon as we’ve finished eating our tea, I go to the Church of the Sacred Heart and St Philomena with my daddy for the confession. We have to say ‘Bless me Father for I have sinned. It is one week since my last confession,’ when we are in the dark wee room with the curtain across so that we don’t know that it’s Father Crawley at the other side doing the cleaning of dirty souls and he doesn’t know it’s us with the souls full of sin confessing to him. And then we have to tell him what sins we’ve committed in the week since we were last there.

Me and my daddy have to go in the dark room separately even though I’m always terrified to death of what Father Crawley is going to say to me. But maybe it would be worse if my daddy was in there with me because there’d be two men instead of just the one hearing about all the sins I’ve committed and the whole thing would be even more terrifying. I wish I knew what sins my daddy has done.  

When you’re only a young fella, like me, it’s hard to remember all the things that have happened in a week. So every Saturday evening I try to remember what I was doing while I was sinning, but I can’t. I think sometimes that maybe I haven’t done any sinning but Sister Josephine said that we are all sinners, every single one of us, and our lives on Earth would be filled with misery if we didn’t go to the confession every Saturday evening and our souls wouldn’t go straight to Heaven when we passed. One week, Father Crawley was sick so there was no one to listen to the confessions and I was terrified we would spend all eternity in Purgatory but at least we got home early from the Church of the Sacred Heart and St Philomena so we could watch Doctor Who on the television.

When I can’t remember what sins I’ve done I go through the Ten Commandments in my head to see if they remind me of what a terrible sinner I’ve been. Usually I can only remember six or seven of them and there’s a few that I don’t understand at all. I can’t remember ever coveting my neighbour’s wife. I always smile whenever Mrs Duggan from next door says hello to me but I don’t think I’ve ever coveted her and, if I have, Mr Duggan has never said anything about his wife being coveted. And I’ve definitely never killed anyone, though I’m always a bit tempted when I hear Peter Sullivan saying that he watched Doctor Who on Saturday evening at home on the television or when he shows us the sixpence that his mammy gave him in the morning before he went to school.

I’m scared that Father Crawley will tell Sister Josephine that I think I’m not a sinner so while I’m kneeling in a pew preparing myself, I have to think of some sins I can say I committed. So I tell Father Crawley behind the curtain that I stole a biscuit from the kitchen cupboard, I kicked my sister on the leg and I hoped Peter Sullivan’s television would be broken on Saturday evening. Usually I haven’t done any of these but by also telling Father Crawley that I have told lies I get forgiven for the lies and for everything else that I’ve made up. He forgives me for sins that I haven’t even committed and I’m sure that this makes me an extra special Catholic so I’ll never need to be going within a mile of Purgatory, let alone Hell.

But you can’t just give the holy Father a list of sins and then go home looking all shiny and clean and ready for taking the body of Christ. We have this thing called penance to do. The penance for kicking a sister, stealing a digestive and telling a lie is different every week. This makes me wonder if Father Crawley knows when I really have kicked my sister on the leg and when I’m just making it up. It’s only thinking of the holy Mass and the holy Communion that makes me ever want to give her a sharp dig with the toe on the shin because she’s younger than me so she doesn’t have to do all the Catholic goings-on yet so I wish I was her. Declan said the rules are that you’ve got to be six before you can start the sinning.

Last week I wanted to tell Father Crawley that I had coveted my neighbour’s wife just to see what he’d say, but going into that horrible black hole I was already terrified and I was scared of what might happen if I made him angry, and also my daddy was sitting just by the door of the confession box and he isn’t altogether fond of people who go about the place making priests angry.

But usually the penance is round about four Hail Marys and an Our Father, which have to be recited while I’m kneeling at the big gold altar rail at the front of the Church of the Sacred Heart and St Philomena where everyone can see me so everyone knows I’m a sinner.

I can’t understand why saying these prayers is a punishment. I think if you’re a good Catholic you’ll enjoy saying the prayers and so it isn’t a punishment at all. Auntie Kathleen says these prayers all the time, even on the days when we don’t have to go to the confession.

Declan said that saying the prayers on your knees in the cold Church of the Sacred Heart and St Philomena isn’t as comfortable as saying the prayers by the paraffin heater in your bedroom or at the table just before you start to eat your dinner, so that's why it’s a punishment.

I worry a lot about not knowing when I’m sinning. Sometimes I can’t sleep at night for the worry. My mammy gets angry if I don’t go straight to sleep when I go to bed and I’m terrified to death that one of those ones out of the Ten Commandments that I don’t understand really means ‘thou shalt not not go straight to sleep when your mammy sends you up to bed’. So when I’m lying there wide awake in the bed in a big panic thinking about when I am and when I am not sinning, I’m really sinning there and then. It’s awful!

Declan said there’s other bad people who are worse than the sinners. His big brother Michael told him that they’re called the fornicators and there’s no hope for them at all. Declan asked his big brother Michael what you have to do to be classed a fornicator and his big brother Michael told him you have to do fornicating which is something people do in the bed when they’re not asleep and it’s a fierce big sin. I asked my mammy if I’m a fornicator and she just laughed and said, ‘I don’t think so.’ I wish she knew for certain because I’m still very worried about it.  

Declan’s very clever. He knows everything about how to make people think he’s a good Catholic. He said he has the same problem as me about not knowing what sins to tell Father Crawley about, so every week he doesn’t say his penance and then the next week he confesses that he didn’t say his penance the week before so he gets exactly the same penance to say again but which he doesn’t say so that he’ll have something to confess the next week.

I think this is a great idea so I’ve started to do the same myself. Instead of reciting all those Hail Marys and Our Fathers I stare at the mosaic pictures of the Stations of the Cross, high up on the walls of the church. They’re very colourful and you can see a lot of suffering and misery and pain and blood in them and no one’s wearing any trousers or shoes. When that sort of thing comes up on the television at home my mammy always tells me it’s time I was away to my bed. In the mosaic pictures it’s easier to understand what they did to Christ than it is from the way Sister Josephine reads the story to us in the classroom in the Primary School of the Sacred Heart and St Philomena.

My favourite Station of the Cross is the fifth one where Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross. I like Simon of Cyrene and wonder what happened to him after the crucifixion. The Roman soldiers probably didn’t like him for what he did so I hope they didn’t crucify him too or let the lions have him. It’s very interesting to look at the pictures in the mosaics, but I would still rather be watching Doctor Who at home on the television.  

I think I waste Father Crawley’s time because I don’t say the penance. And I think my time is wasted as well because I could be at home hiding terrified to death behind the settee as the Daleks are doing all their exterminating on the television instead of me being in the Church of the Sacred Heart and St Philomena being terrified to death behind the curtain in the confession box with Father Crawley at the other side, or just staring up at the colourful but terrifying pictures of Christ being crucified.

I’m sorry I can’t remember doing much of the sinning but if I have sinned I’m very sorry for my sins. I don’t want to be upsetting or hurting anybody. So I think it would probably be better if I could just go into the black box of a Saturday evening and say ‘Sorry Father Crawley’ to Father Crawley and Father Crawley could just say ‘Right yez are!’ straight back to me in his County Cork accent. It’ll save us both a lot of time and trouble and maybe Father Crawley might enjoy watching Doctor Who at home on the television himself when he gets in early from cleansing the souls of the sinners.

I’ve told Declan about my idea and he agrees that it’s an altogether grand idea but we’re too terrified to death of Father Crawley and Sister Josephine to tell them. We need to get hold of the Pope’s address in the Vatican so we can write to him and ask him to pass the message on in a letter to Father Crawley at the Church of the Sacred Heart and St Philomena. But before we do this we need to learn how to spell Doctor Who in Latin.


By Turlough Ó Maoláin, age 8½.


Children of the Absolution.

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