This is an episode from a section titled Advent, 1975. The Catholic priests in his scene serve a parish in Cicero, Illinois. While Monsignor Kilba has been at the parish since the 40’s, Father Cruz is brand new. Lars is the church organist, a composer.
Listening to confessions always made Monsignor Kilba hungry. He changed out of his vestments and sat at the kitchen table to nibble on the smoked fish still left there. The large bits were too oily, the small ones too dry, so he wrapped the fish and tucked it all the way in the back of the fridge. Looking through the food, he chose some of the leftover cabbage soup a neighborhood woman had made for the priests. Kilba also took some bread, butter and Lithuanian cheese.
Cruz came in while Kilba was heating the soup at the stove. “Will you make some for me?” He wasn’t changed yet.
“There’s plenty,” said Kilba.
“I’m hungry. I’d fry my chicken livers, but I’m too tired.”
“I’ll go and change.”
By the time Cruz came back, Kilba had finished heating the soup and had set the table. He didn’t wait for Cruz before dipping a chunk of black bread into the broth to soften it for his dentures.
“How is it?” Cruz asked and sat down.
The Monsignor ate in small mouthfuls but appeared greedy with the food. “Very good.”
Cruz tasted it. “That woman makes pretty good soup.”
“Not as good as Lars’ wife used to make. She used to make the best borscht.”
“Yes.” Cruz wanted to eat but sat quiet for a moment. “Monsignor, would you listen to my confession before I eat, before I ask a question? Do you mind?”
“I’d like to confess as well.”
“Alright. You want to go first?” Cruz broke off a piece of the bread and sliced some cheese.
“You go first.”
“All right,” said Kilba. “I’ll go first.” He wiped his mouth. “Bless me, Father. I’m a quality sinner, well ripened and seasoned. It’s been a week since I last reported my filthy deeds. Isn’t that true?”
Cruz nodded. He dipped the bread.
“Very well. This week’s filthy deeds include paging through pictures of naked women, quite young, I don’t know if they were married or not. I confess to having fantasies about Lars’ daughter…doesn’t happen so often, but, you know…the mind is a very soft instrument. I also, believe it or not, told a calling salesman exactly what he could do with his such-and-such merchandise. A blatant use of the Lord’s name in vain, also with a good surge of pride. What else? Yes…I broke a promise to my niece in Racine and did not visit her on Wednesday.” Monsignor Kilba rubbed his fingers together. “You know what, Father Cruz, I also took the batteries out of your tape recorder and put them into mine.”
“Yes, I was wondering about that.”
“Are you angry?”
“No.” Cruz spread butter over his bread.
“Well, then scratch that. Of course, we know about last night’s nonsense with Lars. I drank and ate like a glutton and enjoyed it but for penance felt sick all day today.”
“Is that all?”
Kilba paused. “No…” He tapped his forefingers together and sat up straight in his chair. “It isn’t, actually. There’s something else. I’m afraid it’s quite serious.”
Cruz stopped eating and set his utensils down. “What do you mean?” He was beginning to get a feel for Kilba’s manners—the Monsignor’s tone and posture convinced Cruz he was being sincere.
“During confession today, I heard something that alarmed me, to be honest. And I’m not certain I’m doing God’s work by not telling anyone about it. I wanted to ask you. Have you ever broken the silence of the confessional?”
“Never. No! Not ever in my life.”
“I never have either. But…I’m very concerned about someone. I believe something terrible is happening to someone very close to me.” Kilba paused. “I’m 75 and I have heard many sins in my life. But I never had someone ask me for help in the confessional.”
“You cannot, Monsignor! You’re already telling me too much.”
“I am not.”
“You didn’t do anything today, did you?” Cruz became very agitated.
“What’s the matter with you? Calm down, for Pete’s…” Kilba drank some water.
“Well…it’s strange…I wanted to confess as well. About something similar. Not exactly similar, you understand. But something happened in confession…”
“I bless you. You have sinned. Tell me.”
Cruz spoke hurriedly: “Apart from this week’s lying and getting very angry at people…apart from that. I was furious with Lars for playing the organ today and I told him he had no self-respect. I let him leave the church with no coat.”
“Lars is fine. Tell me what happened in confession.”
“I don’t know which part I should tell.” He rubbed a butter knife on a napkin. “A woman came to confess. I know her. I have seen her many times since I began here at St. Anthony’s. She comes to the parish breakfasts. I…I’m not sure what to say. I didn’t…I recognized her voice and the confession was unorthodox.”
“It wasn’t about anything she did. It was about what happened to her. I…imagined it happening. I imagined what she was saying.” Cruz put the butter knife down and stared Kilba in the eyes. “I became rather fixated on the thoughts. I had a fantasy.”
“Cruz,” said Monsignor Kilba. “Cruz, how old are you again?”
“Cruz, a fantasy is normal.”
“It isn’t normal.”
“Yes, you’ll repeat yourself…you’re supposed to be a priest. This idealism of yours…”
“I’m not an idealist. That’s not what I mean. I’m talking about the kinds of thoughts. They weren’t thoughts about what’s common.”
“What? What uncommon sins can one hear?” asked Kilba.
“Look. I just want to confess that I envisioned myself hurting—forcing a woman.”
Kilba understood what Cruz was saying and stared at him intently. The Monsignor remained quiet for a while before whispering, “I see.”
“Don’t…say anymore,” said Kilba, gently placing an open hand on the table. “You’ve confessed it. Don’t go any further.” The men sat quietly and Kilba finally said, “We should absolve the sins.”
Cruz nodded and the men made signs of the cross over each other while mumbling the Rite of Absolution. “What penance shall we give?” asked Kilba.
“I think we should fast.”
“Two days,” suggested Cruz. “Starting midnight.”