At the age of 14 or 15, our class had to take part in a ‘Retreat’. For those of you who have never taken part in one, I can’t be very helpful in describing what one was. I think it was a time for prayer and reflection, although for the life of me I can’t remember how long it lasted or what we actually did. I am not even sure if it replaced lessons altogether or whether it was interspersed during the normal days’ activities. If anyone out there can remember more specific details please let me know.
So why am I referring to it all? Because it indicates my level of thinking at that early age. I remember attending a lecture of sorts by the local parish priest who was also the college chaplain. He sat us down and told us we were going to make our first ‘real’ confession. In his own words (I swear this is true, they are etched into my brain) :
“Boys. I don’t want you to tell me you have masturbated. I want you to tell me how many TIMES you have masturbated!”
This provoked in me a crisis in faith that was never subsequently overcome. An over-sensitive boy such as I was in those days was much too shy to get involved in a conversation with a priest about matters such as these. Therefore, any future partaking of the holy sacrament of the Eucharist would be sacrilegious as the sin had not been confessed. What to do? I stopped attending nine o’clock mass at St Clare’s and took up rowing a skiff on Heaton Park boating lake is what I did. One sentence uttered by a priest condemned my soul to eternal damnation!