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Submarine Catholic



A Cardinal Sin
I’d best describe myself
       as a submarine catholic
but fifty years ago
       well after my baptism
       my first holy communion
& my confirmation
       i would have likely said –
practising catholic
most friday nights back then
i’d find myself with Father
       kneeling before him
on the carpeted step of the
confessional box
       my little red face
pressed upwards to the grille
& even with that flimsy black
fabric shrouding the grille
       i knew that he knew
who i was
       as much as he knew
that i knew who he was
& after he’d dissolved a few
easy one’s like      i swore
       (he never asked what
particular words i’d used)
& after i’d admitted
i’ve been rude to my mother
       (he never asked what
my behaviour had been)
& after i’d mumbled
i missed mass last Sunday
       (he never asked
if i’d been to mid-week mass)
but always after i’d told him
i’ve had obscene thoughts again
       he questioned me at length –
& lingered over this . . .
       wanting to know each
& every detail
& by george
       i think i’ve finally
worked out why.
– Geoff Goodfellow

Father Tom
Or here’s a small story that isn’t small at all.
An old friend of mine who is now a chaplain
Didn’t get along with his dad too well when
My buddy was a teenager. His dad was hard
And my buddy was hard-headed, is one way
To explain it. One winter night they get into
It big-time, shouting and smashing furniture,
Almost but not quite exchanging serious fist.
Something keeps them from the final frontier,
As my buddy says quietly – God knows what.
A couple days later the dad has a heart attack,
And dies in the kitchen right by the dog bowl.
That was forty years ago, man, says the priest.
Forty years of me thinking maybe I killed dad.
No matter how many times my mom and sister
Said I didn’t I couldn’t stop wondering if I did.
Who knows why a guy becomes a priest? Man,
Whatever reason you say isn’t a reason enough.
One great thing about being a priest, though, is
That your ego gets hammered regular. So after
A while I quit wondering about me and started
Remembering him; there were some cool days,
Real good days. Remembering those is praying.
– Brian Doyle

The Dark Box
The queue before the Mass dwindles,
the Dark Box opens empty.
Ready am I, a-confession-to-make.
Fumbling the 'Bless me Father I have sinned' bit,
envying the confidence of penitents quick
to the point, rolling off instances of pride, gluttony,
betrayal, illicit sex. Sex, mostly, you would expect,
our Church is preoccupied with that.
Lust for moral destruction is the problem faced,
pared by some measure of atoning grace.
I have mortally sinned many times
whisper chimed, never getting the words off pat.
The confessional exchange begins apace
in a dimly lit, enclosed space,
where the priest’s barely perceptible face is seen
via grille and sliding screen.
Alone at last, facing my past
in a divided cabinet, a sanctuary,
where sinners in privacy
seek forgiveness, penance, and contrition.
How odd that pride and inhibition
cause resistance to confronting behaviour,
improvement of our inner nature,
through intercession with the Creator.
There is relief, quietly sharing transgressions,
unburdening guilty oppression
buoyed by principles to respect,
and the discretion you expect.
– Michael Easson

Geoff Goodfellow

Geoff Goodfellow's most recent poetry collection is Opening the Windows to Catch the Sea Breeze: selected poems 1983 - 2011 (Wakefield Press 2014).





Brian Doyle

Brian Doyle is editor of the Portland Journal in Oregon.





Michael Easson

Michael Easson was active in? the Australian trade union movement and is now pursuing a career in property investment management.





Submarine image by Shutterstock.

Topic tags: Geoff Goodfellow, Brian Doyle, Michael Easson, modern poetry



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Existing comments

Gutsy powerful stuff, Geoff.

darby | 25 May 2015  

Could there be an elephant in the room of Geoff's suggestive poetic enterprise? Yes, there would be connective tissue between this arena of confessional activity and the perpetration of abuse. Perhaps it's old hat these days but this questioning element had its genesis in the juridical model of the priesthood, that with the cultic model has been highlighted a having some causal sway in the power components of the pathological behaviour that has so hurt and harmed the fabric of church life. As we look to understand and gather insight into these issues that have so fatigued us may we continue to have a mind as to how these dominant theologies got to trump the more wholesome sensitivities of pastoral care and concern. I thank God for those pastoral priests that cared for me in my younger years.

Paul Goodland | 27 May 2015  

Submarine catholic? I know of that little boy in the confessional who become an old man. Approaching death, he reflected on his catholic progression through life. He reflected that in the beginning he was a 'practicing' catholic, As an adult he became a 'lapsed' catholic. He lamented that, finally, as an old man he became a 'collapsed' catholic.Now deceased, I wonder would he describe himself as a 'submarine' catholic. TonyB

Tony Bland | 29 May 2015  

Geoff Goodfellow's poem reflects a conventional socialisation by means school catechetics in the 1950's, whereby a dispensary model of "Confession" (even the name suggests a truncated theology} and a banking mentality of grace prevailed, at least in Ireland and Australia. Formulae and rules,yes, with an unhealthy dose of fear and, in effect, the image of God as overseer and boss, meting out punishment. Little to nothing of our relationship with Christ, growth in the character of our baptism and our mission. No surprise, then, that when the 60s arrived with the winds of change (not all desirable) so many Catholics 'caved in' and 'gave the games away', Thankfully,there are signs today of a recovery of the relational and celebratory foundation of the sacrament of reconciliation and, hopefully,when word of this circulates among the 'lapsed', they might be persuaded that the childhood image of Church they have experienced and rejected as "irrelevant" is, in fact,the living sign and bearer of Christ's presence in the world.

John Kelly | 31 May 2015  

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