Saturdays were for our bi-monthly confessions. We all had to go to the church and wait in a pew for our turn to enter the confessional booth. When my turn came, I opened the little door of the side booth, knelt facing the center booth until I heard the swish of the little window slide open and from behind the heavy curtain heard the priest’s voice, “Go ahead, my son.”
Then I began the ritual, “Bless me Father; I have sinned. It has been two weeks since my last confession. I have lied four times, I have used profanity 12 times, I have taken the Lord’s name in vain once.” Usually, only the number of sins changed from week to week. The acts themselves were habits already established. Then the priest would pronounce absolution in Latin followed by, “Your sins are forgiven you; for your penance, say the Lord’s Prayer five times and five Hail Mary’s. You are dismissed, my son.”
But on one memorable Saturday in the late ’40’s, it was my mis-fortune to draw Father Gettelfinger as my confessor. When I entered the booth, finished my confession of that two weeks’ crimes, instead of hearing “Your sins are forgiven,” I heard Father Gettelfinger’s unsympathetic voice, “Are you going to never do these things ever again?”
Knowing full well the honest answer to this question, I replied, “I’ll try, Father.” That wasn’t satisfactory to Father Gettelfinger. He repeated, “That’s not good enough. I want to know, are you going to NEVER do these things again?” With perspiration forming on my brow, I tried again, “I’ll do the best I can Father!”
Not to be satisfied with any half hearted commitment, Father Gettelfinger’s absolution and my
dismissal were not going to happen without my definitive renunciation of the sinful life. So finally, after a couple of rounds of this, I sinned against the truth and said, “Father I will NEVER
do these things again.”
The freedom of exiting the confessional that Saturday never felt so good. And I took special care to be sure that my next confession two weeks down the road was to a different priest than Father Gettelfinger.