Associate Professor Tom Nelson writes in a newspaper column how a recent visit to NYC reminded him of his late mother's dying confession.
In My Words: Easter season resurrects Mom’s mystery
By Tom Nelson – firstname.lastname@example.org
Easter is my favorite religious holiday. The idea of an afterlife appeals to me and I believe in the “Easter Promise.”
New York City is the place of my birth. I am in town this week visiting family, and though I’d like to tell you my mother is among that family, she is not. Long dead, Mom is now part of that Easter Promise, one that is stirring inside me right this moment.
It all began this week as I stepped out of Pennsylvania Station. A block east is the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi. Decades have passed since I was last there in 1966. We were a Catholic family and for some odd reason my mother insisted on going to the sacrament of confession at Saint Francis once a month even though it was miles from our neighborhood church.
My mother was quite mysterious as she dragged me to Manhattan from where we lived on Staten Island so she could go tell a priest her sins. Don’t get me wrong. Saint Francis is a nice enough church but we had plenty of Catholic churches on Staten Island. Why haul off to Manhattan? I would question mom on the point and she would hem and haw and never really answer.
Until Mom was dying, that is. The priest was called. The confession was made. It is a Roman Catholic scene played out by heaven knows how many dying people during the two millennia of the church. After the priest left the room, knowing my mother was in a confessing sort of mood, I asked her yet again.
“How come we trooped into Manhattan all the time when I was a kid so you could go to confession?” I wanted to know.
Mom was in a frank mood. “Birth control”, she said to me. “I was using birth control and that was the only church in town where I could tell the priest and he would understand.”
I am a modern guy and figured anyone, Catholic or not, would find it silly to call birth control a sin. But it was not a silly matter to my mother as evidenced by the length she went to minimize chastisement for her action.
Strange as it may seem, there was my memory as I stepped through the entrance of the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi in Manhattan this Holy Week. My mother filled my heart as I stood before an altar bedecked in the liturgical colors of Lent, the purple a reminder of Christ’s promise of Resurrection.
You know what I did next? I went to confession. I hadn’t been to confession in decades. I told the priest my sins then I told him the story about my mother. The priest laughed and told me to go and sin no more.
I walked out the door into a busy midtown Manhattan and felt my mother walking with me. Suddenly it was 1966 again. My mother was very alive.
Easter certainly gets to the heart of the matter.
Tom Nelson is an associate professor of communications at Elon University.
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