Contrition

Long ago I lost my religion…

Evolving through 13 years of Catholic school, I attended mass regularly and married in St. Joseph’s Church. Yet, I was never comfortable believing in the infallibility of the church given the fallibility of the human condition. After the defrocking of the priest who administered my wedding vows for his too-close affiliation with altar boys, I asked my local priest, “Is my marriage still valid?” His response, “We’re only human,” sealed my position. Although I maintained my personal faith, I withdrew from organized religion.

But religious ritual and practice was always important to my mother. Daily she said her rosary and actively participated in the events of her church. Early memories of her role as President of the Confraternity of Christian Mothers involved hosting priests, nuns and other devoted in our home while they carried on their work.

          I walk into her room to find my mother sitting in her recliner. Her anxiety level is high as she rubs her hands together in her lap. Avoiding my eyes she says, “ Lisa, I have to go to confession. I have to go right now. Please take me to confession.”

         “Okay Mom, let me talk to the staff about leaving this afternoon.”

         Down the hall I venture in search of Memory Center staff to sign us out and I find Eija. She laughs as she listens to my request responding, “Okay, then just get your mom out to see a priest!” And with that I wonder where I might find one of those just waiting to hear her confession.

        I recall the Catholic Diocesan office is on the north side of the city and figure it’s worth a try. At least it harbors priests, so it’s a place to start, and test the theory that they’re available to the sinners of the world at any given moment.

       I drive into the city past the Police Department and through the North End neighborhoods, taking a left turn through the iron gates. Along the circular driveway my mother impatiently ponders every wrinkle in each of her ten fingers. The grounds of the church hierarchy, which I imagine were magnificent in some long gone era, are situated between an elaborate old cemetery on the right and one of the most magnificent views of Lake Champlain opening up behind the stately brick building where the bishop lives.

       Pulling under the portico, I ask my mother to stay in the car and then plunge into the building to find anyone that looks like they can help. Craning to see the car through the windows (residual behavior from my mother’s “fleeing” days), I blurt out, “I have my mother in the car. She has dementia and needs to have a priest hear her confession right away.”

      I recognize I’m in a holy place, but don’t believe in divine intervention leaving me a bit off balance when a woman looks up from her desk and asks, “Lisa, are you alright?” I recognize the voice and look away from the windows just long enough to see Dorothy; we had worked together years before. Sensing the urgency of our situation, Dorothy calls for a priest while I usher my mother into the building in her wheelchair.

      I sit in the anteroom while my mother gives her confession to the priest. Feeling like a voyeur, I can’t imagine what’s so critical to confess to a priest on this particular day. The scene is mundane at best, and it’s only through reflection I recognize the level of absurdity passing for normalcy at that stage of our lives in the disease.

      She tells the priest she’s unholy and has committed very serious sins. She pleads, ”God needs to forgive me, Father.” When she’s done speaking, the priest absolves her of her sins both real and imagined. After issuing rosary penance, he rolls her back out to me. Wishing us both well, he extends his hand to me and stoops down to give my mother a hug in her wheelchair.

      On the drive back to the Memory Center, my mother is bathed in a pure glow of forgiveness.

                                           Her soul is now unblemished; she seems at peace.

                                       I’m not sure I’ll ever find peace in this wretched illness.