September 06, 2003
In the closet

Tomorrow I hope to file a report on the Church of St. Mark. It should be interesting to visit a Catholic church whose parish probably has more tattoo parlors, body-piercing shops and incense stands per square inch than any other place in L.A. But it also got me to thinking about my one previous brush with Catholic practice, many years ago.

When I was about eight or nine years old I joined a girls' club of sorts that was run by a Catholic neighbor. I thought of it as an activity group, like the Girl Scouts -- we'd get together and do parties, crafts, food, and other girly stuff. The religious element was not prominent.

They threw a Halloween party one time in the basement of an apartment building. While I was busy carving a pumpkin or something, one of the women running the event came over and asked, "Have you talked to Father ----- yet?"

"No," I said. It was true, but I had no idea why I should talk to him.

"Come on," she said, taking my hand.

I followed her without a word. I was the sort of kid who generally trusted authority. We went up a flight or two of stairs, past a room that I recognized as a chapel. Then she put me in a closet, and shut the door.

I looked around. There was nothing in there except a speaker on one wall. After a few seconds, a man's voice emanated from it.


I'm not sure when, exactly, I figured out that this was a confession booth. I'd heard of them, and I put it together at some point. But the priest realized I was totally confused, so rather than ask me to confess, he made conversation. He asked me about my religious life, which was at that point nonexistent. We chatted for maybe five minutes before he dismissed me, leaving with a cheery, "Be sure to go to church!"

It was a ridiculous thing to say to an eight-year-old, since I had no control over these thing. He probably just had no idea what to say, and wanted to put in a word for God. But as the woman took me downstairs, I felt something heavy like a stone inside me. I kept quiet through the rest of the party, and the ride home. But as soon as I stepped through the front door, I ran to my mother's arms and burst into tears.

It's hard to say exactly what upset me so much. As I said, I trusted authority, and the opinions of adults mattered to me. It was, in a way, my first collision with a completely different value system from the one I was raised in. The priest was not acting judgmental, but I knew he disapproved of the way I was being brought up, and probably a lot of things about my life. And I had to deal with it completely alone.

I am sure the woman who brought me there just assumed everyone at the party was Catholic. It was an honest mistake. And obviously, it's not gonna stop me from going to a Mass more than 20 years later. But going to confession ... hmm, that would take some work.

Posted by Camassia at September 06, 2003 06:52 PM | TrackBack
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