Thy Neighbor’s Wife (a short story)

by Arnold Snyder

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. This is my first confession. I disobeyed my parents twice last week. I talked back at my mother yesterday and didn’t clean my room when she told me to. I stole fifty cents from my father last summer. And I committed adultery… a whole lot of times. I’m sorry for these and all the sins of my past life, especially for the sin of adultery.”

“Adultery, son?”

“Yes, Father.”

“And this is your first confession?”

“Yes, Father.”

“How old are you?”

“Seven, Father.”

Patrick could see only the silhouette of Father Danielson through the mesh screen that separated them. He saw the priest shift in his seat and heard the sound of creaking wood.

At the age of seven, Patrick was not a brave kid. He was smart and headstrong. He thought for himself. But this confessing of sins was not easy for him. Sister Mary Theresa had said that adultery was a sin that only adults could commit, so Patrick had been afraid to confess it to the priest. He knelt there in the small dark cubicle waiting for Father Danielson to give him his penance so he could leave the confessional and be done with it.

At last, the priest cleared his throat and said, “You say you’ve committed this sin of adultery a whole lot of times?”

“Yes, Father. Every day. Some days, two or three times.”

“And when did you first start committing this sin?”

“I don’t remember, Father. A long time ago.”

Father Danielson’s hand was at his mouth. Patrick was afraid the priest was angry with him for committing such a terrible sin.

“Do you know what adultery is, son?” the priest said at last.

“Yes, Father.”

“And where do you commit this adultery?”

“Next door, Father.”

“Next door to the church?”

“No, Father… Next door to my house. In the garage next door.”

“And who do you commit this adultery with, son?”

“Mostly… with Carla, Father.”

“Mostly?”

“Yes, Father.”

“You mean there are other girls besides this Carla?”

“Yes, Father.”

“And how old is Carla?”

“I don’t know, Father. About twenty, I think.”

“Twenty! And how many other girls besides Carla?”

“I don’t know, Father. Lots.”

“How many lots?”

“I don’t remember, Father. Maybe a hundred or even more.”

Father Danielson just sat there without saying anything and Patrick began to feel panicky. In catechism class, Brother Anthony had said this first confession would be fast and easy. Not to worry. This grilling on the details wasn’t supposed to be part of it. Patrick thought he might have to run from the confessional and out of the church, maybe just keep running. What if Father Danielson called his parents?

“I think you must be wrong about this adultery, son,” Father Danielson said at last. “We have to discuss this to find out what it is you’re doing…  Are there many people waiting outside in the chapel for confession?”

“Yes, Father. The whole catechism class, about three or four pews.”

“Well, they’re just going to have to wait… Now you say you’re meeting with your next door neighbor, Carla, every day, to commit adultery in her garage. And Carla is twenty years of age. Is that correct?”

“No, Father.”

“Didn’t you say Carla lives next door to you?”

“No, Father. I don’t know where she lives.”

“She just meets you in your neighbor’s garage?”

“No, Father.  It’s just… It’s just her picture, Father. In some of the magazines in there. She’s my favorite.”

“I see… You’re committing adultery with her picture. A magazine photograph. You don’t actually know her… And all of your adultery is with photographs?”

“Yes, Father.”

Patrick could see the silhouette of the priest’s hand coming up to rub his forehead.

“Now, the sin you’re committing is not adultery, son. The sixth commandment refers to a sin with a real person, not a photograph. You are actually violating the ninth commandment:  Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife. Now, Carla may not be your neighbor’s wife, and in fact, she may be nobody’s wife. But you’re committing a sin of thought, not of action. The next time you confess this sin, just say ‘impure thoughts.’ Do you understand?”

“Yes, Father.”

“And were you touching yourself when you had these impure thoughts?”

“Yes, Father.”

“And you say you’re doing this every day? At the age of seven?”

“Yes, Father.”

“Why do you keep committing this sin?”

“It feels good, Father.”

“You’re going to have to stop doing this, son.”

“Yes, Father.”

“Do you think you can stop?”

“No, Father.”

“But you do want to stop, don’t you?”

“I… I don’t think so, Father.”

“But you must try to stop.”

“I already tried, Father. I tried a bunch of times. Sister Mary Theresa said it was a mortal sin to do adultery and whoever does a mortal sin has to go to Hell. I don’t want to go to Hell, Father. But I can’t stop.” Now, Patrick’s eyes welled up. His nose was running, but he didn’t want the priest to hear him crying.

“Now, you seem like a very honest boy, and that’s good. Honesty is very important to God. And I know you came in here to make a good confession, didn’t you?”

“Yes, Father.” He sniffled. He didn’t have a handkerchief in his pocket, so he wiped his nose and eyes with his shirt sleeve.

“And will you be receiving your first communion on Sunday?”

“Yes, Father.”

“Now you know your soul must be free from sin in order to receive the body of Christ.”

“Yes, Father.”

“So I want you to promise me you’ll try and stop entertaining these impure thoughts. Do you think you can go until Sunday without entertaining these thoughts so that on Sunday morning you’ll still be in a state of grace sufficient to receive communion when you attend mass?”

“I don’t know, Father.”

“You don’t think you can go just two days, son?”

“No, Father. I don’t think so.”

Again, an uncomfortably long silence. Why couldn’t Father Danielson just give him his penance? None of the other kids in his class had taken this long. They must think he killed somebody.

“Let me ask you something, son. When you entertain these impure thoughts, do you feel ashamed of yourself afterwards?”

“I don’t think so, Father.”

“If God were to walk right in and ask you what you were doing when you were having these thoughts and touching yourself, would you be embarrassed to tell him?”

“Yes, Father.”

“Does that seem to say to you that deep inside your heart, you know it’s wrong to do what you’re doing?”

“I don’t know, Father.”

“Why else would you be embarrassed to do it in front of God?”

“Well…” Patrick thought about this for a minute, then said, “I wouldn’t want to go to the bathroom in front of him and that’s not a sin. It’s just private.”

“I’m very concerned, son, that if you can’t go two days without entertaining these thoughts, you’ll never be able to receive the Eucharist. Doesn’t that sadden you?”

“I don’t know, Father.”

“Do you understand the concept of sin?”

“I think so, Father.”

“What is sin?”

“Doing something bad.”

“If you punch somebody and hurt them, is that a sin?”

“Yes, Father.”

“If you steal money from somebody, is that a sin?”

“Yes, Father.”

“When you entertain impure thoughts, is that a sin?”

“Yes, Father.”

“And why is that a sin?”

“I don’t know, Father.”

“Do you see that when you entertain these thoughts, you’re hurting someone?”

“No, Father.”

“What do you think of the women in those pictures you look at?”

“I think they’re pretty, Father.”

“Do you think they’re being hurt with everyone looking at their nakedness?”

“I… I don’t think so, Father.”

“Do you like being naked in front of people?”

“No, Father.”

“Nobody likes to be naked in front of people, son. It’s embarrassing. It’s degrading. We all want to put our pants on before we walk outside, don’t we?”

“Yes, Father.”

“So, when you look at pictures of naked women, you’re hurting those women. You’re degrading them. Perhaps you weren’t the one who took those pictures, but someone else degraded those women and when you enjoy looking at those pictures, you’re enjoying their suffering. Do you understand, son?”

“I think so, Father.”

“What if you saw a little three-year-old child getting beaten up by a bigger boy, a boy your age? Do you think it would be a sin for that boy to beat up a little three-year-old?”

“Yes, Father.”

“Now, what if you were watching this three-year-old child being beaten and you enjoyed watching it—would you be committing a sin just like the boy who was doing the beating?”

“I don’t think I would enjoy that, Father.”

“But what if you did? Would that be a sin?”

“Yes, Father. I think so.”

“What if a man took pictures of you naked, and he put these photographs in the newspaper for everyone to see. Your mother, your father, all of your classmates. Would that embarrass you?”

“Yes, Father.”

“So, would that man who took those photographs be committing a sin?”

“Yes, Father. I think so.”

“Now I think we’re getting somewhere, son. Are you starting to see how entertaining impure thoughts and looking at pictures of naked women can be sinful in the eyes of God?”

“I think so, Father.”

“And do you think now you can stop touching yourself and giving yourself that pleasure that comes from that impure touching?”

“No, Father.”

“But can you at least try to stop doing this, son?”

“I already tried real hard.”

Father Danielson sat quietly for a long while. It was so quiet, Patrick could hear his breathing.

“You say you’ll be receiving the Holy Eucharist with your class on Sunday?” Father Danielson said at last.

“Yes, Father.”

“And you know you can’t take communion with this sin on your soul, don’t you, son?”

“Yes, Father.”

“So if you commit this sin, will you just sit and pray, while your class goes up to the communion railing to receive the body of Christ?”

“No, Father. I don’t think so.”

“Will you take communion even if you have this sin on your soul?”

“Yes, Father.”

“But you can’t do that, son. That would be another sin.”

“Yes, Father.”

“I want you to tell me that you won’t take communion if you commit this sin.”

“I have to, Father.”

“Why do you have to?”

“Because we practiced all week how we would go single file, Father. I can’t get out of the line. And my mother bought me white pants and a white necktie. And my Uncle Bob is coming and he’s my Godfather. I have to, Father.”

Father Danielson sat quietly again for a few moments, then said, “I really don’t know what to do with you, son. Let me ask you something. What would you tell God if he asked you why you were enjoying this sinful pleasure?”

“I don’t know, Father.”

“Think real hard about this, son, because it’s God you must answer to for all of your sins in the end. How will you explain yourself to God?”

Patrick tried to imagine Jesus standing in front of him and demanding an explanation. He knew what he would say to Jesus. “I would tell him I thought it was the best thing he ever invented, Father. It’s better than ice cream. It’s better than Christmas. I would tell him that.”

Father Danielson let out a loud breath, then another. When Father Danielson next spoke, Patrick could hear the sadness in his voice. “Here’s what I want you to do, son. When you look at those pictures, always thank God for making women so beautiful. Will you do that?”

“Yes, Father.”

“Always. Every time.”

“Yes, Father.”

“For your penance, son, say two Our Fathers and two Hail Marys and the Act of Contrition. And thank God for making women so beautiful, and for making you such an honest boy. And try harder to obey your parents. God the Father of Mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has brought forgiveness of sin to the world. Through the ministry of the Church, I grant you pardon and absolution for your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Go in peace, my son.”

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