It was almost 7 pm on a Friday evening, and Fr. Michael was looking forward to returning to the church rectory and calling it an early night. Friday evenings weren’t the best-attended days for confession, which was why Msgr. Joseph had decided it was a better use of Fr. Michael’s time than his own.
He glanced at his watch and was just about to call it a few minutes early when the confessional booth door opened and someone slid inside, and Fr. Michael sighed. Almost he had made it out a few minutes early. Through the screen, he could see the parishioner cross himself and heard him mutter, “In the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.”
“May God, who has enlightened every heart, help you to know your sins and trust in His Mercy,” Fr. Michael intoned, but instead of the customary response of ‘Amen’, the parishioner paused.
“Michael Rossi?” the parishioner asked, something like incredulity in his voice. “Is that you?”
Fr. Michael paused as well, trying to place the voice, and it took him a long moment to locate the voice among some of his fondest high school memories. “Dominick Carisi? Or are you still trying to get people to call you Sonny?”
Dominick laughed loudly, and Fr. Michael grinned, the laugh even more familiar than the voice. “Still trying, but for some reason, no one seems to want to call me it. Although nowadays, everyone calls me Carisi.” He paused before asking, curiosity clear in his voice, “Where’s Msgr. Joseph? Doesn’t he normally do confession here? Or did he finally retire?”
“Retire?” Fr. Michael asked with a laugh. “C’mon, you know better than that. Nah, he just decided to pawn Friday nights off on me, not that I mind so much. I consider it continued penance for the way I used to spend my Friday nights when we were in high school.” Carisi laughed again and Fr. Michael cleared his throat. “If, uh, if you’re not comfortable confessing to me—”
“It’s fine,” Carisi assured him. “At least I know I don’t have to give you a rundown of my deepest, darkest secrets. And you can take down the privacy screen, if you want, since it’s not like I need anonymity right now.”
Fr. Michael complied, removing the privacy screen and smiling at one of his oldest friends for the first time in what felt like years. “It’s good to see you, Carisi,” he told him, honestly, before asking, “Haven’t you found a church in Manhattan yet? Or do you just miss Staten Island so much that you feel the need to truck all the way out here for confession?”
Carisi shook his head. “Nah, on Sundays when I’m not with my family I go to Mass just down the street from my apartment, but there’s something about coming out to Staten Island for confession.” He shrugged. “Like it’s penance in and of itself.”
Fr. Michael nodded slowly. “Well, traffic can be pretty punishing,” he joked. “And you’re lucky you made it on time, I was just about to say last call.” He settled back in his seat and looked expectantly at Carisi. “Speaking of, you better get on with it, or I have a feeling we’ll be here all night.”
“Oh, right,” Carisi said, giving Fr. Michael an apologetic smile, and he rubbed the back of his neck before starting, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been…” He trailed off, clearly trying to remember. “Um, like, six weeks since my last confession?”
He broke off, clearly looking for where to start, and Fr. Michael cleared his throat. “Have you committed any mortal sins since your last confession?” he asked. “Because if all you’ve got to confess is venial sins, I should tell you that there’s a Knicks game on in about a half hour, so you might want to limit yourself to the important ones.”
“Ha, ha,” Carisi said dryly. “I didn’t know priests were allowed to skip out on confession for basketball games, but I’ll keep that in mind.” He hesitated before asking, “Is envy a mortal sin?”
Fr. Michael took a moment before answering. “Envy is a deadly sin, which means it leads to greater, mortal sins. What kind of envy have you been experiencing?”
Carisi sighed heavily, and Fr. Michael echoed the sentiment, settling in for what was surely to be a story. Instead, Carisi offered only one word as an explanation: “Barba.”
“Beg pardon?” Fr. Michael said.
“Assistant District Attorney Rafael Barba,” Carisi sighed, and Fr. Michael noted but didn’t comment on the wistful tone of his voice. “He’s the ADA we work with a lot for SVU — uh, Special Victims Unit, I’m sure my ma filled you in on all the gory details…”
Fr. Michael winced. “Yeah, she did. It sounds…” He trailed off, looking for the right word. “Heavy.”
Carisi nodded. “Yeah, it is. But it’s also really rewarding.” He shook his head again. “Anyway, Barba prosecutes most of the cases we have, and he’s just — he’s perfect.” Something close to awe crept into Carisi’s voice, and Fr. Michael nodded, ducking his head so that Carisi couldn’t see him smile at the fact that Sonny sounded exactly like he had sophomore year of high school when he had a crush on Jenny Driver. “I mean, the clothes he wears, his confidence, his career — I’m sure my ma’s told you that I’ve been going to night school at Fordham Law and...I just want it all. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted.”
Now a note of jealousy was evident in Carisi’s voice, and Fr. Michael nodded again. “Tell me, do you want to reach the same level as ADA Barba, to also have the things that he does, or do you want him to lose the things he’s attained in his career?”
Carisi looked startled by the question. “I don’t want him to lose anything.”
“Then what you’re experiencing is not a mortal sin,” Fr. Michael told him, and quickly added, “And not just because the basketball game’s gonna be on soon. Envy can certainly be sinful, especially when we desire not just to possess what our neighbors have but also for our neighbors to lose what they possess. Solomon said that he who is glad at calamity shall not go unpunished. But envy is also natural, especially when it pushes us to achieve what we know we’re capable of. Just remember that God will judge us each of our own deeds.”
Though Carisi nodded, he still looked troubled. “But, like, isn’t envy what drove Cain to kill Abel?” he asked.
Fr. Michael blinked at him. “Are you planning on killing ADA Barba?”
Carisi grinned. “Can’t pretend I haven’t thought about it — confession for a different time, I guess — but it still seems pretty sinful, even though I’d personally rather see Barba alive.”
“Envy can turn prideful, which leads to greater sin. Envy can turn to hatred, which leads to greater sin.” Fr. Michael paused for a brief moment before adding baldly, “Envy can turn to lust, which leads to greater sin.” If the words affected Carisi at all, he didn’t show it, and Fr. Michael waited a beat before continuing, “Which is why it’s important that you confess it now, before it has the opportunity to manifest into something more.”
Carisi smiled, a slow, wide smile that stole across his face. “Manifest?” he said. “Look at you, still using your SAT words.” Fr. Michael didn’t dignify that with a response, so Carisi changed subjects, still grinning. “Alright, so I confess — I’m jealous of Barba and I want to be like him. What penance do you suggest, Father?”
Fr. Michael gave him an unimpressed look. “That’s really all you have to confess? And you drove all the way out to Staten Island for it?”
“You’re the one who told me to stay away from venial sins,” Carisi protested. “I mean, fine, I swear, like, fifty times a day, and I’ve had lustful thoughts and mouthed off to my ma last weekend, and I’m sure I’ve lied at some point in the last six weeks, and—”
“I get the picture,” Fr. Michael interrupted hastily. “Anything else major to confess?” Carisi shook his head, and Fr. Michael decided to press his luck. “Anything else you want to confess about ADA Barba?”
Now Carisi just looked confused. “I don’t think so?” he said, his voice pitched like a question.
Fr. Michael considered pressing him on the issue, but only God truly knew whatever was in Carisi’s heart that he wasn’t ready to confess, and besides, the Knicks game was on in just a few minutes. “And are you sorry for all your sins?”
Carisi straightened, his expression serious. “I am sorry for these and all my sins,” he said solemnly.
“Then as an act of penance, say three Hail Mary’s and, as soon as convenient, donate an item of clothing to a charity drive to remind yourself that there are those who would envy what you have achieved in your life.” Carisi nodded, his expression still somber, and Fr. Michael told him, “Now — the Act of Contrition.”
Carisi bowed his head and murmured the words he had memorized growing up as a child, just as Fr. Michael had: “My God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you, and I detest all my sins because of your just punishments, but most of all because they offend you, God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen.”
Fr. Michael nodded his approval, straightening his back as he gave Carisi his absolution. “God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to himself, and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He made the sign of the cross and Carisi followed suit, both murmuring, “Amen” in unison.
When Carisi looked back up at him, his usual grin was back in place. “Well, Father, I’ll keep in mind that Fridays are your nights in the confessional booth. And I’ll try to bring a more interesting sin next time.”
“For the sake of your mortal soul, I should tell you not to do that,” Fr. Michael told him.
Carisi cocked his head slightly. “Should?” he asked.
Fr. Michael shook his head. “You’re gonna do what you’re gonna do, and besides, at this rate, at least I get a story out of it.”
Carisi laughed loudly. “Goodnight, Father,” he said, grinning. “Enjoy the game.”
“Enjoy your Friday night, Carisi,” Fr. Michael told him. “Tell your ma that I say hi.”
“Tell her yourself when you see her on Sunday,” Carisi said easily.
With that, he gave Fr. Michael an awkward wave before disappearing outside of the confessional. Fr. Michael sighed and glanced down at his watch. He had minutes to spare before the game started, but more importantly, he had a feeling that he was going to end up seeing a lot more of Sonny Carisi.