Bless Me Father, For I Have Not Sinned

One of the more recent scandals about the Catholic Church in Ireland has brought up memories of going to Catholic schools.

Having been brought up a Catholic, I remember what it was like to believe in God as a kid. I also remember absolutely not wanting to make Holy Communion and refusing to smile for any of the photographs. Gradually, as I got older, I began to stop believing in God.

In primary school in Dublin, I was at a “state run” Christian Brothers school for two years, and every so often a priest (I’ll call him Father Brady, as I cannot remember his actual title) from the church round the corner would visit the school for us to make confession.

During one of his visits, I was in the line and I heard a lad, Sean, daring another kid, Johnathan (Johnno) to say to the priest that his confession was that he kept on thinking of little boys’ mickeys (Irish slang for penis).

‘Oi’m not fuckin sayin tha, ye dope, you say it,’ said Johnno.

‘Here, oi’ll pay ye two quid if ye say it,’ whispered Sean. ‘That’s two hundred jellies.’

There used to be a shop beside the school that sold sweets for a penny (cent) each.

‘Alrigh, giv us the two quid then,’ said Johnno.

‘No, you gotta say it first.’

‘Give me the fuckin two quid an oi’ll say it.’

‘Oi’ll give ye a pound and you’ll get other one when ye say it.’

‘Fuck sake, alrigh,’ said Johnno.

I was ahead of these two, but I remember the feeling of anticipation and the increasing urge to start laughing. The two behind me were still arguing over the pound deposit (“Give us one fifty now an oi’ll say it”) and when it was my turn, the best I could do from getting a full on attack of the giggles, was walk into the room with a big, silly grin on my face.

Father Brady asked me if I had committed any sins lately and I racked my brains. I honestly couldn’t think of anything, so I said:

‘No, Father, I can’t think of anything.’

‘But you must have done something,’ said Father Brady.

‘I really can’t think of anything, Father.’

Father Brady continued to press me for a confession, but I was sure of my innocence; this was all said while trying to stifle laughter. It wasn’t an act of rebelliousness, I honestly couldn’t think of a single thing worth saying.

Then he asked me to say the prayer that one normally recites after confession, but I didn’t know the words. I remember the disbelief on his face that I didn’t know this very common prayer and the apparent frustration in his tone when he said:

“Repeat after me, so.”

When I left, still grinning, the two next in line, Sean and Johnno, were silent; as Johnno went in, slamming the door behind him, Sean broke into a fit of convulsions.

Apparently the news had spread down the queue, because all the whispering and talking had stopped and you could have heard a pin drop in the room. Even the teacher, who was sitting at her desk, looked up, apparently wondering why everyone had gone silent.

All of a sudden, there came a roar from the confession room.

‘WHAT? WHAT DID YOU SAY TO ME?!’

The door burst open and out flew Johnno, followed closely by Father Brady, robes billowing.

The class burst into a roar of laughter. The result of this was that Johnno got five hundred lines and three days suspension. He also got five hundred jellies, so he didn’t mind.

“Jesus’s Mickey”

This is a true story that happened to me in Moscow a few months back. I don’t know why I haven’t written about it until now. All that I’ve changed is the names of the participants, apart from myself. For the record, despite the awkward situation I am about to describe, the evening as a whole was a lot of fun. Also, the reason for the title won’t become apparent until the end of the story

Earlier this year, an Irish exporter found a potential buyer at an annual event in Moscow. It was looking promising, so the importer invited the exporter, Damian, to go to dinner. Then Damian asked if I would like to go as well. I wasn’t comfortable at first, as I didn’t want to impose on discussions they might have, especially as the importer had not specifically invited me. I voiced my thoughts to Damian, who said it would be fine.

We went to the company office to meet with the importers, they gave us a tour of the place and then we went to the restaurant nearby.

At the restaurant, the CEO, Aziz, ordered the first of several large bottles of vodka, poured for everyone and things began to relax. Aziz was a fiery, emotional individual who gesticulated, and was clearly from the South (the Caucasus, most likely), given his name and the fact that he had much darker skin than regular Russians.

He dominated the conversation throughout the evening, telling lots of interesting stories about the company and about his work in the United States running health clinics before taking over as CEO at his current company. Whenever a bottle of vodka was emptied, he would simply order another and kept refilling our glasses.

All of a sudden, he veered off topic onto more political themes, such as gay marriage and the Russian interference in the US election. His rant about homosexuality went on far longer than I was comfortable with. Not because I don’t find societal or political topics interesting to discuss, or because his views were the absolute opposite of mine, but because of the way he was talking.

As he spoke, he grew more and more animated, to the point that he had stood up with his hands on the table, staring at me continually and at nobody else.

He was what one might describe as emphatically homophobic.

I generally don’t get offended easily, and was not offended then, but was more acutely aware of the fact that this was not the time for me to voice my true opinion on the matter; nor was it the time to get The Giggles, which was precisely what I could feel rising up.

It was a sensation reminiscent of my school days, when I would get The Giggles, even while the most terrifying teacher was yelling at me. The more they would shout, the more I would laugh. Church was even worse for that. You were not allowed to laugh and everyone around was wearing sombre expressions; therefore ANYTHING would make you laugh.

I bit my tongue very, very hard, but could still feel the corners of my mouth twitching.

‘I do not understand this whole gay thing and gays being allowed to marry in the West. It’s so completely weird! You understand that men and women were made by God to be together, not a man and a man or a woman and a woman. It’s written in all the holy books!’

I nodded. So did Damian, who kept his eyes averted.

‘It’s the same with magnets.’

At this, I feigned a coughing fit and sipped some water. I wanted to excuse myself to make a beeline for the bathroom, but I felt it’d be rude to interrupt.

‘A negative charge is not attracted to another negative charge and a positive charge is not attracted to a positive. Do you have a wife, John? Do you believe in God?’

‘Not a wife, a girlfriend.’ I said.

‘And where is she from?’

‘She’s from here.’

‘She’s Russian? Very good! And what about you, Damian?’ said Aziz, turning away from me, after what felt like an eternity.

‘My wife is German,’ said Damian.

‘Nobody’s perfect, I suppose,’ said Aziz.

I used this comment as an opportunity to finally release some of the laughter pent up and the atmosphere relaxed again. We drank more and he continued on the same topic, albeit more calmly, but he then asked me if I agreed with his views on the matter.

‘Do you agree with what I’ve said?’ he said, staring straight at me.

‘Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion,’ I replied.

The dinner was very good, and the conversation finally moved on to other topics, where Aziz would stand up again, gesticulating, but this time his attention was directed to Damian.

‘Damian, my friend! We are going to make a loooot of money!’ he said, arm around Damian’s shoulder, the other patting his chest. ‘I think we need to drink to this!’

So that was that. We all tipped out merrily into the freezing night, but even under the warming influence of about 8 or so vodkas, I was still very much aware of how close I had come to getting uncontrollable Giggles at the wrong time and place.

It reminded me of all those painful times in church as a kid/teen, such as the time in primary school, when my class was standing in a part of the church where the sun was shining down through the high windows, reflecting off my wristwatch.

‘Here,’ whispered my classmate, Woodsy, ‘shine it on Jesus’s mickey.’ He indicated the model of Jesus on the cross, which was overlooking the altar.

For non-Irish readers, “Mickey” is Irish slang for penis.

I duly reflected the light upon Jesus’s mickey and then the priest said:

‘And Jesus said, take this, this is my body.’

*Muffled snorts of laughter*