Father Frederic, our Parish priest, is away for two weeks and has been replaced by Father Gaston, a priest of French origin, until our regular priest returns.
Father Gaston doesn’t say much, maybe because he hasn’t much to say to us. Who knows! He is tall and thin and looks very severe. He has one of those unfortunate white skinny faces which look like a skull. A long oval shape with sunken eyes and boney features revealing the contours of his jaws as he grins benignly rather than smile. I bet he could turn someone into a pillar of salt by just thinking it.
I don’t mean that he is nasty or evil in any way; he just looks that way and would frighten any cat out of its nine lives. Maybe I should introduce him to mine.
Last Saturday I went to confession. Father Gaston was in attendance.
We have one of those wooden confessionals which consists of a compartment in the middle which the priest enters and sits on a bench, and we genuflect on either side, pulling the curtain behind us so no one sees us, and tell him all our wrong-doings. We have to whisper, of course; otherwise everyone in church would hear our sins. If they were to hear mine they would no doubt be in hysterics of laughter!
I knelt down and whispered closely to the opening in the confessional: “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned …”
“I cannot hear you!” said Father Gaston in his strong French accent loud enough to be heard in Paris.
“Ehmmm…” I cleared my throat as I got nearer still to the little window opening in the confessional. At that point my knee slipped off the kneeler on the floor and I crashed forward hitting my face hard against the panel behind which the priest was sitting. He must have jumped out of his tightly stretched skin dropping his jaw to the floor in the process. I know that the rest of the penitents in church must have been startled out of their meditations too as I heard murmurs echoing behind the confessional curtain.
I straightened myself and soon realized that the knock to my face had started a nose bleed. I took out a handkerchief quickly and said in a loud enough voice to be heard by everyone “We’ll have to continue this conversation at another time …”
I got out of the confessional holding my head back and covering my face with the now red handkerchief.
As I made my way to the exit I heard a lady say to another: “I’m not going to confession today. This new French priest is rather violent with his penance!”