I was seven years old, the age of reason.
The age when for the very first time sin becomes possible.
When I made my First Confession, I had to find a sin.
To prove I had the capacity to reason.
Or rather the common human capacity to have reason overridden by desire.
It’s hard to sin when you’re seven, at least back then when children were still children.
I hadn’t done anything bad.
Not because I didn’t want to, but because my father wouldn’t let me.
No matter: For Catholics, wanting to do bad things was already a bad thing.
Wanting to do bad got you credit for doing it.
So I confessed to wanting to talk back.
I wonder now why thinking bad things gets you credit for being bad.
But thinking good things doesn’t get you credit for being good.
To get credit for being good, you actually have to do good things.
For teens, having impure thoughts was a common sin.
It was hard to tell the priest the number though.
There were too many and they were difficult to individuate.
There were venial and mortal sins.
Venial sins got you time in Purgatory.
Mortal sins got you an eternity in Hell.
Sex outside marriage was a mortal sin.
So was murder.
Letting kids starve all over Africa wasn’t.
It might seem that confession should have worked the other way round.
People should have told the priest what good things they had actually done.
“Father, I have not done any good at all, I have nothing to confess”.
A focus on sin leaves too many people locked in thought and not deeds.
It leads to spending too much time removing sin from one’s soul.
And not enough time removing harm and evil from the world.
Being good comes to mean avoiding sin and temptation.
Don’t do this and don’t do that.
But, would not God think well of a head full of dirty thoughts and a life full of good deeds?
Some Christians attack abortion clinics and that’s a deed.
Yet they want to cut social services and champion the death penalty.
They do good things for embryos, not for real people.
There is a paradox about good deeds: They can only make things better, not perfect.
Evil flourishes in perfection.
Too often many die so that all can live.
Of course there are good Christians, Christ was one.
He told us not to cling to riches or status.
And To DO what he DID.
Christ made the final exam open book.
He gave out the questions well before he demanded the answers.
For some reason he left abortion off the test.
Come, you blessed of My Father,
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you
From the foundation of the world;
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave Me drink,
I was a stranger and you took Me in,
I was naked and you clothed Me,
I was sick and you visited Me,
I was in prison and you came to Me.
Assuredly, I say to you,
Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My Brethren,
You did it to Me.
So there are only six questions on the exam.
The exam you get at the End of Time.
Hungry thirsty strangers and naked sick prisoners, that’s all there is.
As we debate abortion and Christ in politics,
As we claim the U.S. is a Christian country, but that helping the poor is Communism,
I wonder about “Christians” who fail a test that was released ahead of time.
I visited a girlfriend in prison once.
I have unclothed more people than I’ve clothed.
But unlike “Christians” I don’t claim to have passed the final exam.
I don’t worry anymore about whether I am a good Christian.
The exam questions have settled that.
Old now, though, I wonder whether what little good I thought I did was any good at all.
There is another exam I fear.
At the moment of death, when there is no reason left to lie even to yourself, you ask:
“What good did I DO?”