After Stuart Dybek's "Confession"
Father Krastel was the priest who usually awaited me. He was the pastor, large and vaguely unfriendly, with wisps of dark hair on top of his head and a pinched smile he’d direct at us when he’d visit our classroom. He sweated a lot, though he didn’t seem or feel quite human; none of the priests or the nuns did.
There were times in the sacristy when Father Krastel angrily slammed shut the cabinet and refrigerator doors, his voice raising in last-minute commands to me and the other altar boys, minutes before Mass would begin. In the way that adolescents intuit things before they have the language to describe them, I felt that Father Krastel was unhappy then, or anyway deeply pissed off. (I wonder now if he drank during those years. I imagine him hiding bottles behind the plastic bags of communion wafers, or deep in a closet behind the cassocks, and arriving at church suffering.) Yet those were rare flashes of startling human behavior, surreal, as if I’d dreamed them. Years later in high school, a legend arose that a priest had admitted to the student body that he’d become addicted to masturbation, his body imposing itself as something greater than his vocation.
As usual, I’d saved the deadly sins for last: the lies and the cussing, biting my little brother on the arm, stealing glances at the Hustler and Oui magazines on the high shelf at Wheaton Newsstand, which I’d been convinced was one of the worst sins of them all. But I was already lost. Across the street from my house, under wet leaves at the bottom of a hill, somebody had stashed a Playboy or a Penthouse, and there it stayed, unrepentantly cached in a tree stump. I knew that being alive meant that I was sinning. He knocked and said I was forgiven.
As for Penance: “Go in peace, my son, sit and recite ten Our Father’s and ten Hail Mary’s, and think about your transgressions.” Later I’d wonder if a priest would ever admit to suffering enough for the two of us. I’d wonder if sometime during the early years of his calling the inevitable, unhappy sins of his body had been gratefully taken by God, the temptations and irritations and hungers lifted from and unburdening him, but that seemed impossible. What would be left?