What They Did to the Kid: Confessions of an Altar Boy – J. Fritscher

WTDTTK(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

Seminaries were what sociologists called ‘total institutions’, like a prison. You weren’t allowed to read certain books, a transistor radio was a sign of lack of vocation, there were bullies, like everywhere else, and bed-wetting. Seminarians are not allowed to have contact with those who have left to return to secular life. ‘Special friendships’ are strictly forbidden on pain of being ‘shipped out’. The nuns ask them to stop blowing their noses in the sheets – innocence. The institution perpetuates adolescence and warps personality. As someone says, ‘Your bodies maybe virgin but your minds are fucked.’; I confessed the same venial sins I confessed twice a week very Wednesday and Saturday af­ternoons waiting in the long lines of boys standing in the chapel at the curtains of a dozen Confessionals. I really and in truth had never committed a mortal sin in thought or word or deed. That was my ironic, intellectual problem: without knowledge of sin, how would I ever grow up emo­tionally and know anything about life in the world?

The priesthood is romanticised in the extreme – your hands are going to ‘hold Jesus’: “Now,” Father Gerber said, “now is the time. Souls are waiting. The night is passed and the day is at hand. Jesus has no hands now but yours. Come to Me, He cries in the night. Be Mine. Be Mine. If you say no to your vocation, thousands may burn forever in hell because you gave no hands to help them, to baptize and bless them, to anoint and absolve them. If in your pure heart, He calls you away from the world, if He asks you to do more, to give more, to bleed with Him on the Cross of the world, then you should, nay, you must, go to Him now. Give Him all, now. Now is the time. Before the world and the flesh and the devil rip you away from your holy Saviour. Now, Ryan, now. Remember, Jesus needs you to work in the vineyard of Holy Mother Church. Christ needs you as his priest. You can be an alter Christus, another Christ. Now, Ryan Stephen O’Hara. Now.”

Then there’s this excrescence: “The Beautiful Hands of a Priest”

We need them in life’s early morning.
We need them again at its close.
We feel their warm clasp of true friendship.
We seek them when tasting life’s woes.
At the altar each day we behold them,
and the hands of a king on his throne
are not equal to them in their greatness.
Their dignity stands all alone.
And when we are tempted and wander
to pathways of shame and of sin,
it’s the hands of a priest will absolve us
—not once, but again and again.
And when we are taking life’s partner,
other hands may prepare us a feast,
but the hands that will bless and unite us
are the beautiful hands of a priest.
God bless them and keep them all holy
for the Host which their fingers caress.
When can a poor sinner do better
than to ask Him to guide thee and bless?
When the hour of death comes upon us,
may our courage and strength be increased
by seeing raised over us in blessing
the beautiful hands of a priest!

I’ve always hated farewell scenes at railway stations so I recognised this: The priests told us no vocation was given free. Any­thing of value has its cost, even with God. I paid the down payment on the price, my palm slipping down the cold glass, sadly, willingly, suddenly realizing my celibate life would always be pulling out of stations, steam, whistle, chug, movies, where I loved too much the world where I did not belong.

Hell is the ultimate controller: The Sisters had insisted something bad could hap­pen between boys and girls. I didn’t know what it was, but I was very careful because they said you never know when you’ll die and go to the deepest part of hell for all eternity with not even a drop of water.

And there’s a hint of resentment at the principal: rested both his thick cold priestly hands on my hair. “No one of us,” he said, “can stand the close scrutiny of God.”

“None of us,” I intoned.

“There is one condition more.”

Still kneeling, I looked up at him with his hands open in the gesture of priestly blessing.

“Yes, Rector?”

“I forbid you to write one more word.”

I wanted to punch him in his consecrated groin.

I liked the idea of each of us having our unique gifts: I knew that most people cannot be reached by most priests. I knew that certain people can be reached by cer­tain priests. I knew that if I struck a tuning fork in the key of G and put it near to another tuning fork in the key of G, it would start the second tuning fork humming. But if I put the humming tuning fork in the key of G next to a tuning fork in the key of C, nothing would hap­pen. No energy would be transferred. So, all people can only be saved by some priest who is in their key. That’s why the world needs so many differ­ent kinds of priests, because there are so many different kinds of people. That’s why there are so many different kinds of vocations.

My favourite expression: hailing Mary’s like taxicabs.

There are some errors: a thurible is called a ‘censorium’, the Greek for ‘know thyself’ is plain wrong and I don’t think that the early fathers of the church lived in caves and self-harmed with sharp stones. Talk of the rhythm method of birth control is anachronistic in 1960 since Humanae Vitae was yet to be published.

Despite the author being gay, there are no specifically gay relationships in this book and the only abuse is mental.

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