Thinking maybe I was over medicated, I bought more water. When my tour was called, the guide basically just walked us past the rest of the long line waiting to get into St Peter's Basilica that lines St Peter's Square. We basically got a fast track, head of the line accommodation.
Then we were assigned out audio guides and released to our own devices. Another solo traveler I had been talking with went directly to climb the cupola and see the city from above. I knew with how I was feeling, I wouldn't be in good shape to climb. Instead I ducked into the little room, seemingly carved into part of the building. If you aren't careful, you'll miss it.
It was crowded but it had a nice Filipino nun who told me that because there are so many pilgrims who come to the Vatican, they bless all the religious items before they sell them because people want their rosaries blessed.
Having checked out the main priority of coming to Rome, I went into St Peter's Basilica. I'm not a fan of crowds and this was the biggest crowd I had seen in Europe so far. I think the confined space of even something as big as St Peter's just made it even more crowded.
I knew this place as a place of worship, being a Catholic and yet it felt more like a museum. People gawking, tour guide talking, one even mentioned how you would take a child to a museum and tell them not to touch anything but there is one statue that you are supposed to touch. And looking at the statues feet, millions of hands must have touched it to smooth the foot out.
They allowed photographs and yet it was like a circus. I was trying to find the sacrosanct. So when I saw an area with few tourists and a guard warning people not to take picture, my curiosity was peeked.
It was the confessional area, I asked and was told that I could make my confession. To be honest, I thought it would make my mother happy knowing I took the time to confess at St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.
Then as I knelt there, I grew excited, I was sincere about getting absolution. I have no idea why I quit my job, left a good life and ran off to Europe. Perhaps I thought, this was why, maybe I was being led here to gain absolution, cleanse myself of sin and doubt.
Instead, it started off badly. I didn't hear the priest, he was mumbling and normally there is a sliding window that would slide open when it was your turn and be slid closed when it wasn't. It was never closed.
Instead he kept starting the opening lines and I was suppose to answer "Forgive me father, for I have sinned my last confession was..."
Instead I asked "Father, is it my turn?" I was very respectful. "Yes."
So I took a deep inhale. "Forgive me father, for I have sinned and my last confession was a very long time ago."
"How long ago?" He asked
"When I was a kid." Ok, that was vague, granted.
"How many years?" He insisted.
I pulled out "Thirty years."
"Are you ready to confess?"
"You have prepared yourself?"
What, was I supposed to flagellate myself?
"You know the Ten Commandments?"
"yes" that was an odd question
"Go on then."
I gathered myself and said,
"Forgive me father for my impatience..." I was trying to say "...with my family, sometimes I'm not kind, quick to anger, etc. I react badly to stress and I know I take it out on my family. But I wasn't allowed to finish. The priest interrupted me.
"No, impatience is not one of the Ten Commandments. When you are ready to prepare yourself then you go and think about it and come back when you are ready."
I was stunned. He cut me off and resorted to dogma, "not one of the Ten Commandments". I said the only thing I could say.
And I straightened out from my painful kneeling position and walked out. The more I thought of it the more upset I was. The last time I had gone to confession at my local parish church, I had been going through a crisis of faith and my voice cracked in the confessional and anyone could tell I was crying in pain and the priest at that point simply told me to think about it and say 5 Hail Marys and 10 Our Fathers.
It was like telling someone with a missing arm, "take five aspirins". THAT is why I hadn't gone to confession for decades.
But I expected, no hoped for more from the center of my religion. And I got worse. Does dogma truly drive this religion? I was upset, visibly upset. I spoke to a guard who unfortunately could not find enough English words to comfort me, he said to find another priest to confess.
I walked away, and wandered into a mass that was being held directly across from the confessional nave. They were now conducting communion. I still take communion. It is my one consolation from a religion that has disappointed me and many other people. So I stood in line, the priest was speaking in Italian and there was one young woman who had taken the wafer and walked away without putting it in her mouth, the priest called her back with a hiss and gestured for her to eat the wafer before going any further and she did. That was a bit odd, I'd never seen that before either. Then when it was my turn, I was the only one who got a chipped and broken wafer. He held it higher than he had held it to anyone else and waited until I answered "Amen" before he lowered the wafer into my hand. I was starting to get a complex.
Instead, I genuflected before I took a knee and prayed at the seats. I prayed and wondered what was I doing wrong. I prayed for guidance and an explanation of why this sacred moment was being taken from me.
Then it all flooded into a realization. I thought about it, of the Ten Commandments, I have not broken anything in a while. I respect my parents, my neighbors ain't got nothing on me, and I haven't killed anyone. So maybe, I was looking for something I didn't need, maybe the only forgiveness I needed was one from myself. To let go of past mistakes and move forward. Because in the end, no one man will make a difference in my life, God will be my judge and he and only he will decide. Of all the things I have done, I know above all, I have been very blessed with the love and support of family and friends, what does it mean that a stranger dismissed me? It didn't.
Maybe because there are so many visitors to the Vatican that maybe some tried things they shouldn't have and not shown the respect the Vatican required? Maybe the old priest was just having a bad day.
But upon communion, I felt better, the prayer relieved me and it wasn't until hours later that I realized that once I got communion, I had stopped coughing.
I was now able to enjoy the rest of my day and perhaps that was just a lesson of not allowing someone else to ruin my experience.
This is a much more personal blog post than I have ever written and I hope I haven't bored you, but this is more about me. I post here because there might be a time when I forget these moments of grace and here is the chance to write them down and tell my story. Perhaps the children in my life will get the chance to read this and learn something from my experiences. Or maybe if I get to the point when all I can do is drool in my cups, they can be assured, I lived a full life and had my moments of grace.