I know about the excitement and I know it's a sin but how can it be a sin if it comes to me in a dream where American girls pose in swimming suits on the screen at the Lyric Cinema and I wake up pushing and pumping? It's a sin when you're wide awake and going at yourself the way the boys talked about it in Leamy's schoolyard after Mr. O'Dea roared the Sixth Commandment at us, Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery, which means impure thoughts, impure words, impure deeds, and that's what adultery is, Dirty Things in General.

One Redemptorist priest barks at us all the time about the Sixth Commandment. He says impurity is so grave a sin the Virgin Mary turns her face away and weeps.

And why does she weep, boys? She weeps because of you and what you are doing to her Beloved Son. She weeps when she looks down the long dreary vista of time and beholds in horror the spectacle of Limerick boys defiling themselves, polluting themselves, interfering with themselves, abusing themselves, soiling their young bodies, which are the temples of the Holy Ghost. Our Lady weeps over these abominations knowing that every time you interfere with yourself you nail to the cross her Beloved Son, that once more you hammer into His dear head the crown of thorns, that you reopen those ghastly wounds. In an agony of thirst He hangs on the cross and what is He offered by those perfidious Romans? A lavatory sponge plunged into vinegar and gall and thrust into His poor mouth, a mouth that moves rarely except to pray, to pray even for you, even for you, boys, who nailed Him to that cross. Consider Our Lord's suffering. Consider the crown of thorns. Consider a small pin driven into your skull, the agony of the piercing. Consider then twenty thorns driven into your head. Reflect, meditate on the nails tearing His hands, His feet. Could you endure a fraction of that agony? Take that pin again, that mere pin. Force it into your side. Enlarge that sensation a hundredfold and you are penetrated by that awful lance. Oh, boys, the devil wants your souls. He wants you with him in hell and know this, that every time you interfere with yourself, every time you succumb to the vile sin of self-abuse you not only nail Christ to the cross you take another step closer to hell itself. Retreat from the abyss, boys. Resist the devil and keep your hands to yourself.

I can't stop interfering with myself. I pray to the Virgin Mary and tell her I'm sorry I put her Son back on the cross and I'll never do it again but I can't help myself and swear I'll go to confession and after that, surely after that, I'll never never do it again. I don't want to go to bell with devils chasing me for eternity jabbing me with hot pitchforks.

The priests of Limerick have no patience with the likes of me. I go to confession and they hiss that I'm not in a proper spirit of repentance, that if I were I'd give up this hideous sin. I go from church to church looking for an easy priest till Paddy Clohessy tells me there's one in the Dominican church who's ninety years old and deaf as a turnip. Every few weeks the old priest hears my confession and mumbles that I should pray for him. Sometimes he falls asleep and I don't have the heart to wake him up so I go to Communion the next day without penance or absolution. It's not my fault if priests fall asleep on me and surely I'm in a state of grace just for going to confession. Then one day the little panel in the confession box slides back and it's not my man at all, it's a young priest with a big ear like a seashell. He'll surely hear everything.

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned, it's a fortnight since my last confession.

And what have you done since then, my child?

I hit my brother, I went on the mooch from school, I lied to my mother.

Yes, my child, and what else? I-I-I did dirty things, Father.

Ah, my child, was that with yourself or with another or with some class of beast?

Some class of beast. I never heard of a sin like that before. This priest must be from the country and if he is he's opening up new worlds to me.

--- From Angela's Ashes
(c)1996 Frank McCourt

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