A Prayer of Contrition
Six hours into her 80th birthday, and six hours before she died, Sister Mary Frances experienced her first orgasm. She awoke in the half-light, confused and open-mouthed, and with a thundering heart. After a few moments, her breathing still laboured and her muscles still tensed. Even her breasts betrayed her as they ached in time with the pulsing of her pelvic floor.
On becoming more aware, she looked up to the small wooden figure judging her from the Cross above her bed. The carved Saviour, splayed open in his own agony, sent down waves of shame. For the Lord knew hers was not the sanctioned ecstasy of Bernini’s Saint Teresa. This was something more carnal; even though it had come to her unbidden and against her will.
Throughout her life in Christ, Sister Mary Frances had done as she had been taught. She’d pushed away all sensual, Earthly thoughts by keeping herself active in the community. When she returned to her cell at night, after teaching and tending, she was ready for nothing but sleep. Never once had she reached her body’s greatest heights. So, it was in times like these that she knew she was truly sick. The disease had won.
Still, she consoled herself that the event had not occurred through her own tremoring hands. It was another test of faith, another of the Heavenly Father’s plans, since her forced retirement. However, absolution would come through confession and her trusted Sisters would understand this burden when she shared it with them over breakfast.
It took Sister Mary Frances another few moments to process why this would not happen.
Still lying in her long, white nightdress, Sister Mary Frances wished herself out of bed. Still muggy between her thighs, she imagined pulling her beloved black wimple onto her head, just as she had done since her confirmation. She imagined stepping, unaided, into her black gown and blessed scapular. Then, she imagined herself kneeling below the Cross, holding her own rosary again.
But, instead, all she could do was pray from bed.
‘In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen,’ she said, performing a trembling sign of the Cross, and then, ‘Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem…’
She looked up with contrition at her dying Saviour. However, her meditation was soon broken by the image of Dali’s Christ of Saint John storming into her mind. She glimpsed the curves of Jesus’ shoulders and his smooth, taught stomach and she fought to start all over again.
‘In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti…’
When Tintoretto’s Jesus came, Sister Mary Frances lingered over the deep V of the pelvis muscles pointing to below His white raiment.
She tried again, ‘In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti…’
Then Cranach’s Trinity tormented her with the thick, firm thighs of the sixteenth-century Saviour. She pictured the powerful erection hidden beneath the mound of billowing, white cloth.
This time, she got as far as, ‘In nomine Patris…’
Sister Mary Frances longed to journey away from this purgatory. She had given her life to the Church after all; just as her mother promised she would. Surely, she deserved better than this?
Sister Mary Frances closed her eyes in contemplation as the last of her impure moisture soaked through her nightdress and blessed the nursing home’s stiff, cotton sheets. For this moment, at least, she knew where she was.
When the call for breakfast rang out an hour later, she had completed her last morning prayer.
Photograph by juanarreo at Morguefile.com