This story is fiction. The city of Clifton, and the University of Clifton, exist only in my imagination. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. These stories have as their main character a sexually active gay college student. If this is offensive to you, or if it is illegal in your area, or if you are under age, please leave now.
This story involves a search for personal acceptance, worth, and meaning. There is a religious element in these stories. If you don't like that, maybe now is a good time to leave.
My stories develop slowly. If you're in a hurry, this is probably not for you.
Thanks to Colin for editing.
Constructive comments are welcome on my e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bryce, Chapter 40 - Confession
Sunday, 21 November, was Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday in ordinary time before the beginning of the new liturgical year with Advent. After their 'coming out party' the night before at Mike's fraternity, Bryce and Damon had made love for several hours before falling asleep in Bryce's bed. When they awoke on Sunday morning, without an alarm clock and without water pistols, they again made leisurely love. After breakfast at the University Center, Bryce was again prepared for the unpleasant but necessary parting when Damon surprised him by declaring his intention of accompanying him to St. Boniface.
"Damon, this is a Father Payne Sunday," Bryce protested.
"So? If you walk out, I'll be there with you," Damon replied.
And so it was that Bryce and Damon appeared together in the parking lot at St. Boniface. There, as expected, they encountered the Sandovals. Accompanying Mike once again was David Simpson. With a grin, David stated, "After Mike danced with me last night, the least I could do was be here with him this morning."
"Yeah, me too," Damon agreed.
"You're a good man," Bryce said, punching David on the shoulder.
The entire group entered and sat together. The choir was performing a motet by Orlando Gibbons as they took their seats. To the disappointment, but not the surprise of Bryce, Father Payne was vested for Mass in the rear of the church. Trying to be as positive as possible, Bryce prayed that no one at all understand a thing Father Payne said in his sermon that morning. Whether it was his prayers or mere coincidence, when Rev. Charles H. Payne mounted the ambo he delivered a truly amazing jumble of clichés, which sounded impressive, but said absolutely nothing. It was impossible even to find a subject and verb in some of his combinations of words. No one could take offense at it, because no one could understand it. Bryce was reminded of a line from MacBeth: a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Breathing a sigh of relief, Bryce glanced at Mike, who was looking at him and grinning like the Cheshire Cat. Bryce almost lost it, having to cover his mouth to keep from breaking out laughing. After that, they got to the serious part of the Mass, the consecration followed by the communion. Damon and David both decided to go up for a blessing this morning, especially as they were in a position to be blessed by Deacon Jeffers. After receiving, Bryce knelt and devoutly thanked his Lord for the deliverance they had been granted that morning. In the parking lot after Mass, there was jubilation and many high fives. Everyone seemed to share the feeling that they had escaped some kind of horrible fate. On an impulse, Bryce invited everyone to lunch as his guests. A short consultation resulted in the Sandoval contingent accepting.
"Where do you want to go?" Bryce asked.
"Anywhere except the salt mines where we have to slave away," Kyle responded, to general laughter.
A brief consultation resulted in agreement on the Olive Garden, but not the one near the Interstate, as it would be too crowded at this hour, but rather one in town that Bryce and Damon had not known about. They followed the Sandovals, and found themselves seated in an alcove where they could enjoy their midday repast. Remembering that they would be in Nebraska next Sunday, Damon mentioned the plight of Deacon Jeffers and DeShawn. Without blinking, Isobel Sandoval volunteered to take their place, and to pick up DeShawn. She knew where the apartment complex was which Bryce described to them. Her children immediately fell into line, so there would be even more volunteers next Sunday than usual. Isobel said La Rincon Latina would just have to get along without them for one Sunday. That induced a joyful atmosphere all round, so that at lunch not only good food but also good cheer was everywhere. Exiting to laughter and hugs, they took their departure.
Back at the dorm, Bryce found that, as they had taken much longer than usual over lunch, he had missed the weekly call from his mother. His phone was in his jacket, which had been draped over the back of his chair, so he had not even felt the vibration, and it was only when he removed it from his jacket pocket that he noted the missed call. Consequently, he immediately returned the call. As mothers are wont to do, Martha Winslow was worried that something had gone wrong, and much relieved when her son assured her that quite the opposite was the case. He told her about the Sandovals volunteering to cover for Damon and him at the soup kitchen the following Sunday, which pleased her to know they had such civic spirited friends. Of course, there was much repetition of details of the flight on Wednesday, and assurances that Bryce and Damon could make their way home without getting lost. Then Martha asked to speak to Damon, and repeated everything she had said to Bryce, it seemed.
When Damon at last surrendered the phone to Bryce, and he signed off, Damon observed, "You know, being mothered to death might not be the worst way to go."
Bryce broke out laughing. "You might as well get used to it. As far as Mom is concerned, I'm still about four years old, and I suspect you fall into the same category."
"I," Damon declared, "was never four years old."
Still laughing, Bryce said, "Here's a chance to make up for something you missed, then."
Not long after, it was time to go out to the soup kitchen. They went by the apartments, and again found DeShawn and Malcolm both awaiting them. Bryce kidded Malcolm about having become public spirited, when he knew it was most likely hope of receiving another twenty dollar bill which lay behind his appearance. Still, it was good for the boy, and it was good for DeShawn to have company, and to have the opportunity to eat his dinner inside where it was warm. Bryce made a mental note to let Isobel Sandoval know there might be two boys next Sunday. He informed the two that he and Damon would not be there next Sunday, as they would be going away for the Thanksgiving holidays. However, a lady named Mrs. Sandoval would pick them up instead. They seemed content with this arrangement.
At the soup kitchen, Bryce delivered a similar message to Deacon Jeffers. He was grateful to know that next Sunday, at least, would be covered. Thanksgiving was a particularly busy time at the soup kitchen, and also a time when volunteers would be missing, like Bryce and Damon. He had coped in the past by rousting out parishioners and friends to cover the holiday, and would do so again this year. With cooler weather, too, many of the 'guests' tended to stay longer, so the facility was crowded and noisy. They agreed on the same arrangement as last week for the two young boys to have their dinners inside, and got to work. By seven o'clock Bryce and Damon were fed, but also exhausted, as were the other workers and the Deacon himself. It would be even more hectic on Thanksgiving day.
On the way back, Bryce told the boys he did not know whether Mrs. Sandoval would want her car looked after next week. So, he told them, they were not to expect anything from her, but they were to look after her car anyway. The following Sunday, he would pay them double. Both boys agreed to this arrangement. As soon as the boys exited the car, Bryce handed Damon his cell phone and told him to call Mike. He did not have Isobel's number, but Mike could deliver the message that there would be a second boy to transport next Sunday. Of course, being a responsible driver, Bryce would not use the phone himself while driving. Mike commented that they sure knew how to collect some strange friends. Damon responded with a comment about a whole family of wetbacks, which Mike would have resented coming from most other people.
Back at the dorm, Bryce performed a valuable service for his friend. He proof read all the term papers Damon was working on. Damon also commented on Bryce's papers, but except for a couple of questions about what something meant, and catching a few typos, had little to contribute. While Damon had mastered spoken English fairly well, he still had some problems with the written version. Hence, Bryce took his task seriously, and was absolutely ruthless, not only correcting spelling, grammar, and punctuation, but also logic and word choice. That resulted in a few frayed nerves, which were soothed by kisses. Then Damon thanked his boyfriend, and they both departed for Pat's Tavern. There was still time for one or two before bed.
Monday began as usual for Bryce, arising a little after six and making his way to the gym by the time it opened at 6:30. He had become accustomed to his workouts, and was pleased, not only in that he thought he looked pretty good (and Damon seemed to agree), but he found his health seemed to benefit as well. Two years ago, when he had neglected himself, he had been subject to colds and flu all winter long, and found that an annoying experience. Mens sana in corpore sanis, he thought. He was musing on the fact that the word 'sane' comes from the Latin word for 'healthy' when Curtis appeared.
Curtis teased that he would have to take advantage of the fact that only two more weeks remained in the pledge period. At the SAT business meeting on December 8 the brothers would vote on the admission of the current pledges to brotherhood. He joked that he would have to get in all the harassing he could between now and then. Bryce responded that there had been very little harassing, actually, once the situation with Mack was taken care of. Becoming serious, Curtis told Bryce that, years ago, it had indeed been the practice to make the lives of pledges miserable, with some activities which were definitely dangerous involved in hazing. However, as a result of some serious accidents, not in SAT so much as elsewhere across the country, the situation was very different now. In SAT, which, after all, prided itself on the academic standards it set for members as well as other criteria, they found they could test the determination of a pledge to become a brother, and his compatibility, without engaging in such questionable tactics. There were rumors some other fraternities were not as enlightened, but, of course, such matters were kept secret unless a disaster occurred.
Bryce mentioned the soup kitchens. As he expected, most brothers would be gone for the break. However, Curtis knew of several who would be staying around for a variety of reasons, and said he would mention to them that the kitchen could use their help on Thanksgiving day.
Even though they had slept together, rousing Damon was no easier once Bryce returned to the dorm. It was obvious that, by this time, Damon had fully recovered from his attack. He griped and complained as much as ever. Over breakfast, Damon mentioned that he was scheduled for a check-up at the hospital after his last class, which he expected to be the last. He would get the dressings off his left arm. Bryce told him he was as handsome as ever. Damon hit him, but was obviously pleased with the compliment. In fact, there were no visible consequences of his attack, now four weeks past, other than a long scar on his arm.
In French, Dr. Anjot was discussing the coterie of writers and thinkers around Baron d'Holbach, which represented the most extreme wing of the Enlightenment. They were atheists and libertines supported by Holbach's immense wealth. His Système de la Nature presented a completely materialistic view of the universe. Naturally, it was published under a pseudonym, and even Voltaire hastened to distance himself from something so radical. In his later writings, Holbach attempted to arrive at a system of politics and ethics totally divorced from religion, but was not very successful.
In their Freshman Orientation class, Bryce and Damon both were pleased to learn that this would be the last class of the semester. The TA in charge informed them that it was because he wanted them to be free after Thanksgiving to prepare for their final exams, but they suspected it was the TA who needed to prepare. As the grade depended entirely on attendance, there would also be no final exam, and since both men had perfect attendance except for the excused absence after Damon's attack, they were guaranteed an A.
In Psychology, Bryce took notes, putting some items in quotation marks, but restrained himself. He did not feel like controversy just before the Thanksgiving break. He and Damon enjoyed lunch together, comparing notes on their classes. Biology presented no problems for the two men, who were now doing very well in that class. They studied together, and regularly attended class. This was a consequence of Bryce's influence, as Damon admitted he would not have been as assiduous in attending without his boyfriend's constant pressure. No matter what anyone said, attendance did matter, as it helped to understand what was contained in the textbook and in the notes of anyone else on those occasions when attendance was not possible.
Dr. Dickinson lectured on the influence of Mrs. Masham during the reign of Queen Anne. Anne was quite devoted to the Church of England, and the old Tory party was now called the Church party. Mrs. Masham was a steady influence in favor of that faction. It was the influence of this seemingly insignificant cousin of the Duchess of Marlborough, Abigail Masham, née Hill, which led to the dismissal of Marlborough from his command in the field, and to the loss of office by the Earl of Oxford and other members of the Whig party. By the time Anne died in 1714, it was only the refusal of James Francis Edward Stuart to abandon his Catholic religion which prevented a second Stuart restoration. With the Hanoverian succession, Mrs. Masham perforce retired to private life.
Leaving his history class, Bryce met Damon briefly as the latter went to his least favorite class, Mathematics. After Math, Damon would go for another check-up at the hospital. Bryce, as usual on a Monday, would be closeted with Father Miller at that time.
Bryce made his way to the Newman Center, where he again engaged in repartee with the student receptionist, Patricia Murphy.
"Hello, Patricia Murphy. And what will you be doing during the Thanksgiving break?" Bryce greeted her.
"I'll be going home to Chicago to have a feast with my family," she replied. "And what about you?"
"I'll be doing the same, except it'll be in Nebraska."
"Oooh, I don't think I know anyone else from Nebraska," Patricia replied.
"We're a rare species, so treasure us," Bryce countered.
"Yeah, right!" She let him know what she thought of that.
"Seriously, there are probably more people in Chicago than in the whole state of Nebraska, but if they were all as beautiful as you, it might be worth it to jumble so many people in one place," Bryce sort-of complimented her.
"I do believe you've kissed the Blarney Stone," Pat responded. "Are you Irish?"
"Not as far as I know, but one can never be certain about such things," Bryce responded, crossing his fingers that his mother never heard of this conversation.
"Oh, you!" Patricia commented. She was saved from further embarrassment by the arrival of Father Miller.
Once in the chaplain's office and settled in their usual seats, Father Miller admonished Bryce, "You be careful. I think Pat's half in love with you."
"Just being friendly," Bryce responded with a blush.
"Going home for Thanksgiving?" the priest asked.
"Yes. Damon and I will be flying out on Wednesday. My mom sent us the tickets."
"Good. You can expect a warm welcome, then. Now, what shall we discuss today?" Father Miller asked.
"Conscience. How does my individual conscience fit into all the rules and regulations we have been talking about?" Bryce responded.
"Okay. I think we're ready for that now," his spiritual advisor responded.
"So, how does my individual conscience fit into this tangle of teachings we've been talking about? I do recall you said I could not simply ignore the bishops when I wanted to," Bryce began.
"You also recall that we very carefully distinguished between doctrinal and disciplinary teachings, I hope," the priest reminded him.
"Yes. I think I have that down. And if I remember correctly, you said anyone who disagreed with a matter of doctrine was not really Catholic," Bryce replied.
"The Church is an assembly of believers. If one cannot believe what the Church teaches on something defined as doctrine, one in effect puts himself outside the Church, whether or not there is an official excommunication."
"But we also agree that there was nothing in those doctrinal teachings which expressly banned homosexual love, gay sex," Bryce pressed.
"Yes, that is true," Father Miller agreed. "Now, about those disciplinary teachings, they are there as guidelines for the faithful. They are not merely arbitrary."
"But not absolutely binding," Bryce insisted.
"No, not absolutely. We might say matters of doctrine are binding in conscience, i.e., if you cannot conscientiously accept them, you are not really a practicing Catholic, but matters of discipline, to the extent that they are binding, are so in obedience, not in conscience."
"What does that mean?"
"Put bluntly, under ordinary circumstances you should go along with them, even if you disagree."
"But ..." Bryce began.
Father Miller held up his hand, asking for patience. "Yes, there is a 'but.' But in some cases it becomes a matter of conscience to ignore or even disobey a disciplinary teaching. On such matters, it is the teaching of the Church, as found, for example, in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, item #1800, that we "must always obey the certain judgement of conscience." In your case, you have decided, after much searching, prayer, and inner turmoil, that you are gay and cannot live a celibate life. You have rejected as inappropriate, marriage to a female as incompatible with the human dignity of both you and the female, and I concur in that judgement. Without a meaningful and loving union with another male, you would most likely descend into the inhumane and degrading practice of promiscuity, which would be a far greater sin, consisting of treating God's creatures, your fellow humans, as mere things. Therefore, I agree that you may in good conscience continue your union with Damon."
"Wow, Father! That's what I wanted to hear all along," Bryce exclaimed.
Father Miller grinned. "I know it is, but if I had simply told you that on the first day you came here, you would still be uneasy in your conscience, not knowing why I made that decision. Besides, I could not render such a decision until I came to know you better, and to know that you were in fact acting in good conscience."
"Yeah. I guess working for it makes it all the more valuable. That's one of my dad's favorite sayings," Bryce conceded. "But wait, isn't there something in the bishops' statement about not receiving Our Lord in communion if I engage in gay sex?"
"I know how much you prize your personal relationship with Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, Bryce, so I'm prepared to answer that question," Father Miller assured him. "Do you recall what is necessary for the worthy reception of the Sacrament?"
Bryce hesitated, searching his memory for something from an early religion class. "All I can think of," he eventually said, "other than being Catholic and believing in the real presence of Our Lord, is being free of mortal sin."
"That's right, and that's sufficient. Now, let's go one step further. What is necessary to commit a mortal sin?"
Bryce worked on that one for a while longer, but was unable to come up with a complete answer. "The only thing I can remember now is that it has to be something you do voluntarily. I mean, if someone forces you, like rape, it's not your fault, so there is no sin."
"That's correct, but that is not sufficient. There are two other conditions which make sin mortal, i.e., which cut off the sinner from God. One of those is especially relevant to your situation, Bryce," Father Miller hinted.
Bryce thought again, but was still uncertain. "I guess it has to be something serious, then."
"Yes, that's another criterion. In theology, that is called 'grave matter.' You cannot sin mortally on something trivial. I once had a penitent who thought he had sinned seriously because he said the words to the Act of Contrition incorrectly through inattention. God is not so easily offended. After all, he made us, and knows our weaknesses," the priest told him.
"Well, I'm sorry, Father, but I can't think of anything else," Bryce confessed.
"Here," the priest said, again reaching for a volume on his shelves and extracting a paperback copy of the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, "this is a kind of summary of the more official Catechism of the Catholic Church, approved by the bishops for use in advising adults, such as yourself. I've marked a place on page 313. Read the first sentence of the second paragraph."
"There are three conditions for a sin to be a mortal sin: grave matter, full knowledge, and deliberate consent (freedom)." Bryce read. "Okay, the one I missed is 'full knowledge,' but what does that mean? After all, I know that the bishops think gay sex is sinful."
"Yes. That's where conscience comes into play. Without going into excessive detail, 'full knowledge' in this context not only means you have to know the bishops, or what we usually call the magisterium of the Church, think something is gravely sinful, but you have to think so, too. Do you think sex with Damon is sinful, Bryce?"
"No! Absolutely not!"
"And you have carefully considered this? You have studied what the magisterium has to say on this subject? You are not simply indulging a whim or seeking personal pleasure?" Father Miller pressed.
"Yes to all that. You know this. We've been over it before," Bryce protested.
"I know. But I'm making a point. You have fulfilled the requirements for forming a certain conscience by carefully considering the teachings of the Church, praying over it, and giving it serious and extended thought. You are required to follow a certain conscience. Your conscience tells you there is no sin involved in your relationship with Damon, despite the disciplinary teaching of the Church. Therefore, in theological terms, you do not have 'full knowledge' of the sinfulness of gay sex with someone for whom you have a special love. In such a case, you are free to follow your conscience. In fact, you are required to do so," the priest assured the student.
"And so, since 'full knowledge' in this sense is not present, there is no mortal sin, and I am free to receive Our Lord in communion," Bryce concluded.
Bryce gave a huge sigh of relief. "I think, Father, this resolves one of the major problems with which I have been wrestling for the past year and a half, or maybe even longer if we consider my lost junior year to be part of that struggle."
"I think it would be appropriate to do so," Father Miller assured him.
"Only one thing remains to make me completely satisfied now," Bryce said.
"And what would that be?"
"Will you hear my confession?"
"Of course," the priest said, opening a drawer and extracting a small purple stole, symbol of his priestly office. "That is one of the reasons Christ instituted the sacramental priesthood. You recall that, when he appeared to his followers on that first Easter evening, he told them whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven, and whose sins you retain, they are retained."
Bryce knelt and began the familiar formula, "Bless me Father, that I might make a good confession. My last confession was shortly before Easter ... but I'm not sure it was a good one. I ended up in the line for Father Flannigan, my home pastor, who is a lot like Father Payne here in Clifton. I confessed my temptations towards gay sex. I had not actually done anything at that point. He reamed me out and told me that if I didn't overcome those feelings I would go to hell. I was so angry when I left the confessional that I don't feel I gained anything by it."
"Probably not," Father Miller said. "First of all, temptations are not sins. It's only a sin when you actually do something, and we just talked about what is needed for mortal sin. I think it would be wise for you to avoid confessing to Father Flannigan in future ... or Father Payne either, for that matter. They're not prepared to deal with someone in your situation."
"Yes, I agree."
"Well, I don't claim to be perfect. Let's see. I have quite an ego, which sometimes I do not control"
"Sin of pride, okay," the confessor said.
"That leads me on occasion to be nasty to others. You know, kind of condescending," Bryce confessed.
"Sin against charity," the priest agreed.
"Anger," Bryce mentioned.
"Even Our Lord was angry. Remember he chased the money changers out of the temple with a whip," the priest reminded him.
"Okay, I guess sometimes it was justified, but not always. Sometimes I get angry with people who are just stupid and can't see my point, or who take too long to do whatever I want," Bryce insisted.
"All right, sin of anger and lack of patience. And maybe another sin of pride in classifying those who do not respond to your wishes right away as 'stupid. Anything else?"
Bryce blushed at that admonition. "I think some pride was also involved in the way I passed judgement on the Newman Center after my only visit for Mass back at the beginning of the semester," Bryce hesitantly admitted.
"Noted, but it could not have been a mortal sin, since you appreciated my sermon," the priest replied with a grin.
Grinning back, Bryce concluded, "I think that's everything, except of course general repentance for all the sins of my past life."
"Nothing about Damon or gay sex?"
"No," Bryce stoutly said, "nothing."
"Very well. I think this is a good confession. You know that you need to be more considerate of others in the future. For your penance, say an entire rosary sometime between now and the time you leave for Thanksgiving. Now, please repeat some version of the Act of Contrition."
Bryce did so, and the priest then administered the formula for absolution, ending with the words, "I absolve you from all your sins in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Go in Peace."
Bryce arose from his knees feeling like a burden had been lifted from his shoulders. He took a deep breath. "I can tell when I've made a good confession. It's like a new beginning, another chance."
"You said before that this resolved the problem which brought you here in the first place. Will you be back next week?"
"I don't think so, Father. I think I need some time to just let all this sink in," Bryce said.
"All right. You're on the right track, Bryce. I'm here should you need me. Do you remember what my sermon was about on that first Sunday of the semester?" Father Miller asked.
"Yeah," Bryce grinned. "Our understanding of the Faith should keep pace with our overall intellectual development. It's never finished."
"You keep that in mind, and you'll do just fine," the priest said.