SMITTEN: Baltimore Catechism By Terry Rainey

Word Count 500

Baltimore Catechism
By Terry Rainey

On Fridays, Father Badassari taught confirmation preparation, mostly by rote repetition. He let us choose our seating, while he perched on a stool, relaxed, with a knowing wink in his eye. I sat in the back with Herman and Martin, Baltimore Catechism books in our laps.
Susan Timberlake nestled in the second row, third from left, and I had a good angle to watch her for an hour, free of SisterX.
FatherB began: “Mortal and Venial Sin: …God is not a tempter of evils, and he tempteth no man. But every man is tempted by his own concupiscence, being drawn away and allured. Then when concupiscence hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin. But sin, when it is completed, begetteth death.”
FatherB ended the TH words — except elongated death — with a New York twist: temptit, bringit, begettit. I expected “fuhgeddaboutit.” But what really struck me was how FatherB said “concupiscence.” The word made me fidget. I’d looked it up in SisterX’s monster Dictionary. “In Catholic theology, concupiscence is seen as a desire of the lower appetite contrary to reason.”
Concupiscence. Concupiscence was too big for me to even spoof Herman. I had to deal with it myself, alone. It was my cross to bear.
Mostly, FatherB would read catechism questions, and we’d answer in unison. He continued: “What is sin?”
We answered “Sin is any thought, word, desire, action, or neglect prohibited by the law of God.”
Susan twirled one strand of hair while she recited. I was smitten: struck, as with a hard blow, and I wondered about her, how her day was going, her trip to school, did she like the Three Stooges?
FatherB explained the difference between mortal and venial sin. He intoned “Where will you go if you die with venial sin on your soul?”
We answered: “You will go to Purgatory.”
Purgatory sounded brown and dusty, partly because I’d found Purgatory, South Dakota in a story about odd town names. My mind wandered to Susan’s picture from seventh grade, which I’d taped under the clock radio next to my bed.
“Are you guilty of sin if you intend to do something wrong, even though you do not actually do it?”
“Yes, because even the intention to offend God is a sin.”
I gulped while Susan’s hair settled back in place, finger untwirling, and I thought about how I’d been checking her horoscope everyday in the Washington Post.
FatherB, a bit louder: “When are you guilty of sin?”
I wanted to shout “Right NOW!” To confess, to have it out with God and FatherB and my classmates, immediately. Save my soul from the flames of damnation, or perhaps, South Dakota. Susan crowded my mind even more than magical figure skater Peggy Fleming, 1968 Grenoble Olympics.
But I sat, afflicted, silent, vexed. I feared my venial sins had turned mortal, that there was no hope. I shuddered, smote by the perils of love, the dangers of sin, the thrill of concupiscence, the lash of eternal judgment.

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