The evening sermon is hard to focus on. Not because it's boring or droning. In which case, I'd be on the edge of lethargy by now.
Our church welcomed a new priest just days ago, and tonight is his first full address to the congregation. He's the youngest I've seen, probably close to my age. Dark hair, boyish charm, blue eyes clear as the morning, a beard that looked well-groomed and soft, and - sweet Jesus in a onesie - a pairing of timbre and accent that made old women blush and little girls giggle when he spoke.
I don't need to tell you what it does to the other women - perhaps even a few of the men - whether they would admit it or not.
They're probably thinking it right now. Hard not to when the sermon is on the Song of Songs - poetic expressions of love and sex that were exchanged between Solomon and his lover, though many like to teach that it's all just flowery allegory for God speaking to his beloved church. Father Finn was basically explaining that both views were right, and there was nothing wrong with how we chose to interpret it, for both were true in His eyes.
But I couldn’t focus entirely on the message. Because the way those verses poured from his mouth filled my ears with all manner of sin.
“My beloved spoke and said to me, ‘Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me.’ See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone…”
His voice as he read the passage flowed like dark chocolate over ripe cherries - bold but not overwhelming in its sweetness, with a hint of bitters and incense smoke.
“Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.”
If he kept saying it that way, I just might.
No! No no no…
No, I shouldn't think that about a priest! Least of all, Father Finn. Especially not Father Finn.
I shouldn't think about gripping those broad shoulders, or those large hands gripping my waist as he takes me against the altar and whispers litanies of dirty thoughts in my ear and…
Shit. He's looking right at me. He's looking at me?!
“...’show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.’”
I'd never blushed so hard in my life.
Yup. One-way ticket to Hell in a gasoline Snuggie for me, thanks.
_ _ _
Last in the short line to the confessional booth, and the majority had left long ago.
I sat on the wooden bench in the dark room, waiting for Father Murphy to appear. He never failed to show up for confession, and was quite kind and comforting.
“Welcome, my child.”
Oh. Oh. Oh no.
“Uh...Um... Father Finn! I, uh, I…”
A rich chuckle came from the other side of the screen. “Sounds like you're a bit tongue-tied tonight. Are you alright?”
“Um, ah...yes, Father! Just, uh... I thought Father Murphy conducted confession after evening mass.”
“Oh, of course! He had a family event to get to, so he asked me to take over for him. If you're more comfortable with him, I understand-”
“No, no! Well... yes, but… it's fine, Father. I can confess to you.”
“Take all the time you need, lass.”
I took a shaky breath to steady myself. “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It has been eight days since my last confession.”
His voice was decadent, generous in its patience. “How have you sinned?”
How do I say this without letting on the role he played in my sin? “I...I had lustful thoughts about a man during mass tonight. They came suddenly, and I tried to block them out, but they were... distracting.”
“Mm-hmm. And these thoughts...were they of a graphic, possibly disrespectful nature?”
“Y-yes, Father. And the man, well...He isn't married, that I do know but...he’s someone I've never really spoken to, in fact. Not at length. So I don't know him well. And I know I have no chance, but...but the thoughts I have are still there.” None of that made sense. I was babbling, I knew. I couldn’t stop myself.
He just chuckled warmly. “Having those kind of thoughts are not a sin in themselves unless they are expressed outward and violate an existing bond - say, that of marriage. Yes, God calls upon us to be holy and pure in both thought and in deed, but in tonight's message, I stressed that those feelings are part of our humanity. We will struggle often, but only because we have yet to meet one who echoes those feelings. Your thoughts harm no one as long as you keep them under control. At least until you know how they feel.”
I hadn't thought about it that way before. This church really is becoming progressive.
He had me recite two Hail Marys. I was contrite (as much as I could be, anyway) and he prayed absolution over me.
“The Lord has forgiven you. Go in peace.”
“Thanks be to God.” I added quietly as we stepped out of the booth, “Thank you for listening, Father Finn.”
“My pleasure.” With a soft smile, he wrapped me in a firm embrace. His scent was soothing, his beard actually was soft and, sweet baby Jesus, this really wasn't helping my resolve but his strong arms around me felt wonderful. As I drew back and turned to take my leave, I heard him call my name.
When I looked back, he said, “Hope I'll be seeing you here on Sunday morning.” A glint in his eye and a knowing smile on his lips, he turned toward the altar.
I couldn't take my eyes off him. I couldn't breathe.
Oh God...did he know?
What did he mean about Sunday morning?
And how did he know my name?