Triskaideka IV: Spiritus Sancti

Written by Luna

NOTE: The opening words are Bob Dylan. Props to Steve for helping me research confirmation.

*Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then -
I'm younger than that now....*

They'd rehearsed it half a dozen times, but somehow, Frank realized, it was different. It was different because it was the Bishop speaking and not Father Llewellyn, the parish priest. It was different because of the white Easter lilies decorating the church, and because of the gilded Easter candle burning in its prominent place. Most of all, it was different because it was real.

The homily ended, and the candidates for confirmation stood up -- twenty eighth-graders in brand new suits and dresses under white robes. *It's enough to make anyone feel holy,* Frank mused as he got to his feet.

The bishop spoke. "Do you reject Satan, and all his works, and all his empty promises?"

*What a no-brainer,* Frank thought. It wasn't as if anyone needed to consider the question. Nobody evil enough to accept Satan would be hanging around in a Catholic church.

"I do," twenty voices answered at once.

"Do you believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth?"

"I do."

Somewhere in the background, a woman could be heard sniffling and then bursting into tears. Frank groaned inwardly, sure it was Theresa Tate's mother, who'd been crying through all the St. Ignatius school functions since they'd finished kindergarten.

"Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord, who was born...."

His mind wandered -- of *course* they all believed in the crucifixion and resurrection. He glanced down the row at his classmates. One boy was crossing his eyes and making a face when the priests weren't looking, and the kids standing close to him were stifling giggles. Frank was disgusted. *When are they going to stop thinking that's funny? Don't they realize he's just acting stupid? This is serious.*

"....And is now seated at the right hand of the Father?

"I do," they all replied, and at least one answering voice was fighting off laughter. Frank clenched his jaw, irritated. He was tired of being patronized and looked down on by adults -- he'd never liked it. People assumed he didn't know anything and couldn't possibly have an important opinion, just because he was young. Most of the time he would bet he was smarter than they were. But then there were those other kids, acting like babies and making everyone look bad.

*What an idiot. No wonder they think people my age are immature.*

He caught back up with what the bishop had been saying: "Do you believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, the giver of life, who came upon the apostles at Pentecost and today is given to you sacramentally in confirmation?"

Again the group's answer resounded. "I do."

"Do you believe in the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?"

*....I do, don't I?* Frank thought. It wasn't that he didn't believe in the Church, or saints, or Heaven and Hell. But... the forgiveness of sins?

It wasn't the ordinary sins that threw him. It made sense to forgive people for little human errors, for little white lies and swearing and the occasional stray lustful thought; the type of things Frank was sure everyone admitted to in the confessional.

*But what about people who don't reject Satan? I read in the paper every day about people who steal and cheat and make people suffer -- and even kill. There's no shortage of evil people in this world. How can they be forgiven for everything they do?*

He remembered an old woman down the street who'd been murdered by a burglar last year. He hadn't known her, but he couldn't think of a reason why she deserved to die. Frank wasn't sure that the man who killed her deserved to be forgiven for it, even if he confessed. But there was the priest asking if he believed....

He joined the response, a few seconds late. "I do."

"This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church," the bishop said, and for a moment he looked directly at Frank, who felt suddenly that his doubts must be plainly visible. "We are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus, our Lord."

"Amen," Frank replied, more sincerely this time.

The candidates for confirmation knelt, and the bishop extended his hands over them. The elderly priest implored God to grant his sons and daughters wisdom and reverence. Frank barely listened. He already knew that too many people didn't display much of either quality -- the mocking smirks and muffled laughter coming from the boys nearby was proof enough. Frank hoped he was smart and lucky enough to have what the prayer called "the spirit of right judgement," but he didn't see many signs of it in some of the others.

The bishop finished the prayer, and the assembly said Amen. Then the deacon brought forth the chrism oil, and the first two children in the line approached the bishop, their sponsors in tow. Frank heard the woman sobbing again somewhere behind him, and felt sorry for Theresa Tate, who must be melting down with chagrin.

They were lined up in alphabetical order, so Frank was a little more than halfway through the procession. It moved quickly, but it still seemed like a long time before he and Aunt Vivian arrived at the top of the center aisle.

The bishop looked at him seriously for one long moment as he dipped his finger in the sacred oil. He drew the Sign of the Cross on Frank's forehead, and spoke in Latin. "Francis Xavier Pembleton, accipe signaculum doni Spiritus Sancti."

He had learned the translation in Religion class: "Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Ghost." It was the core of the ritual; the moment that made him a full-fledged Catholic, with all the responsibiities, the rules and privileges, and all the doubts.

"Amen," he said.

"Peace be with you," the bishop intoned, solemnly. It sounded more like a command, or a warning, than a wish.

"And also with you."

Frank made his way back to his seat as the ritual continued. The rest of the Mass was commonplace. As soon as the anointment was done with, the mysteriously special air of sanctity seemed to vanish, and the general prayers and the Eucharist continued as they did at every Mass. He was seated in the front pews with his classmates, and so it was not until the close of the service, just after the final blessing, that he turned around to see his parents. They were sitting a few rows back, both watching him. His father was smiling. He was surprised to catch his mother trying to wipe away tears. He realized she must have been the one he heard crying through the ceremony, and experienced a conflicted pang of embarrassment, and guilt, and a strange pride.

*She's crying because I'm growing up. She's crying because everything's going to change. Things are going to be different from now on.*

The knowledge was at the same time sad and joyful. He felt blessed, refreshed, and terrified -- and free.