A young blond man knelt in the confessional.
" Bless me, father, for I have sinned," he said, crossing himself with his left hand, " It has been twelve years since my last confession."
" And what are your sins?" The priest said mechanically, in no way prepared for what he was going to hear.
" I confess the sin of pride—I think myself better than the scum that run this country, and the indifferent bourgeois bastards who do nothing for it." The young man began, " I confess the sin of anger—for I am always angry at the government, at injustice, at indifference-- and I have put that anger to good use. I confess the sin of sloth—for I am not doing as much as I can for the betterment of my people. I know that despite all I am doing, there is always more to be done, and even I can get distracted." He paused for a moment, but he was nowhere near finished.
"I confess the sin of lust—though I must admit, I control it well, but isn't there something in Matthew about ' he who looks at a woman with lust in his eye has already fornicated with her in his mind?' I try to avert my eyes from all distractions, but I cannot be perfect. I confess the sin of greed—Combeferre says I want too much for my country, and I want what I cannot have. Does this qualify as greed? I also confess to feeling greed for Combeferre—there are times when I want him all for myself, and cannot stand the fact that he has other acquaintances besides me, and other interests besides mine. I confess the sin of envy—I envy those who are in power, for I wish I could be them. And I envy the martyrs of times past—Robespierre, Saint-Just—him most of all—Demoulins, Danton. I envy that they did so much good, and shall always be remembered for it—"
The priest cut him off.
" My boy—those are six out of the seven deadly sins! I don't suppose you intend to confess to all of them!"
" No, Father." The young man said. " I do not possess the sin of gluttony. But allow me to finish?"
" By all means, my son." The priest said, disturbed slightly at the turn this confession was taking.
" Most of all, I confess the sin of Lucifer himself—the sin of rebellion. I confess to you, and to Almighty God, that I am a revolutionary. I confess that I am actively planning and preparing to violently overthrow the government." He stopped for a moment, and swallowed the tears that were beginning to form in his throat.
" And because I perhaps will not get a chance to after I commit them, I confess these sins as well. The sin of murder, father, for doubtless I will kill many before a bullet takes me down. The sin of theft, for we will be taking what does not belong to us to build our barricade. The sin of harming my friends and family with my eventual death. Perhaps this is not a sin, but I confess the guilt I feel that so many are to follow me into death—yes, I know that they are there because they have to be, just as I am, but the guilt is there all the same. The sin of violence, the sin of rage, the sin of taking the law into my own hands, the sin of judging others, and condemning them to death—doubtless all these things will occur, and I don't think I will get another chance to confess them." The man stopped. The priest stared off into the distance. " Those are all my sins." The man said, pointing out the obvious. The priest was quiet. Most young men that boy's age confessed the sins of fornication—that was almost a guarantee—drunkenness, sloth, anger at their parents, the occasional bousingo practical joke. He had never heard a man so young and handsome, with his whole life ahead of him, confess the sin of revolution.
" And are you sorry for your sins?" the priest said, once his mind had returned to earthly matters.
" Some of them, father." The man said, shifting uncomfortable on the kneeler, "Anger, sloth, lust—those I am sorry for. But I confess that I am not sorry for the sin of rebellion, I am glad—even proud--that I am going to do what I must do, and that I am going to die for my country, and for my people. I am sorry for the means I have chosen to take—sorry that I will kill for my country, but I am not sorry for the fact that I must." The priest was silent once again. The young man's rhetoric was truly impressive, even in the intimacy of a confessional. He seemed to be trying to persuade God.
" Say your act of contrition, my boy." The priest said.
" I don't think I remember it, father." The young man admitted.
" Try your best." The priest said. There were very few middle-class men who had not been taught the act of contrition. That sort of thing does not leave the memory easily
With some hesitation, the young revolutionary began the prayer. As the priest had speculated, he had not forgotten it; it came back as easily as if his last confession had been last week, and not twelve years ago. When he had concluded, the priest only stared at the young man's bowed head.
" May I ask you a question?" the priest asked.
" Ask away, father."
" You are not a religious man, are you, my son?" The revolutionary smiled.
" No, I am not. How did you guess?"
" Twelve years without a confession."
" Perhaps I am just lapsed. I wouldn't be the only one to have forgotten their morals once they moved to Paris."
" I did not mean that. I mean, are you one of the—what was the word they used back in '93?"
" The Cult of the Supreme Being? Is that the phrase you are searching for?" The revolutionary seemed to truly be grinning now, but his head was bowed over his folded hands, so it was difficult to tell.
"I was born Catholic. As I got older I turned to Voltairian Deism. Now I find that God and I have no quarrel, but we have little to discuss. Republicanism is my religion, though I am not, as some would imagine, against the Holy Father." The priest was stunned.
" If this is so, why come to a Catholic church to confess your sins?" For the first time the revolutionary lifted his head. Even in the darkness of the confessional box, the priest could see his eyes were blue.
" This is not a time to make enemies, is it, father? I don't have very long to live—days, perhaps. One can turn away from one's fathers—" and the priest noticed he used the plural. " –but one cannot stay away. Isn't there something in Matthew about a prodigal son?" The priest was suddenly moved. He found himself staring very earnestly into the eyes of the revolutionary, who could not have been a day over twenty-five.
" Please, my son, do not do this. Do not get yourself killed—it is not worth it. The ways of God are not the ways of man, and progress takes time—" The revolutionary held up a hand. The priest fell silent.
" I have already made my mind up. I must do what I must do, and you are not going to convince me otherwise." He smiled, " Don't worry about me, father. I go to my grave, but I go bathed in the light of dawn. If I did not have some doubts, I would doubt my humanity, but even Christ had his moment of doubt. Isn't there something in Luke about 'let this cup pass before me—'" He trailed off, as if trying to remember the end of the verse.
" 'But yet not as I will, but as You will.'" The priest completed.
" That's it." The revolutionary said. " We all have doubts. But when we know what must be done, the truly strong among us do it." The revolutionary unfolded his hands, and reached into his shirt, revealing a small crucifix on a chain. " And I go to my grave with Him beside me—the greatest of all martyrs." The priest nodded, transfixed. He forgot at that moment that he was in a confessional box, that there were others waiting, that he had to lock the church for the night when he was finished. He was transfixed by the young revolutionary and his crucifix.
" And penance?" the revolutionary asked. The priest at first did not seem to hear those words. " My penance, father?" the revolutionary repeated.
" Do you want it?" The revolutionary nodded gravely.
" Please, father. I do not want to meet my Maker and have Him say to me ' Good work, Enjolras; you've done your duty to France, but where was your duty to me?'"
" Penance…ah…" The usual Pater Nosters and Ave Marias did not seem right for this occasion. " When you are…when you are fighting, you must let one go."
" Excuse me, father?"
" Yes, you heard me, son. You must save one life when you are there. If you must fight, then you must. Doubtless, as you said, you will kill many people. But as your penance, save one life. One of your friends, perhaps. A married man, or a supporter of a family." The revolutionary looked worried.
" That is my penance, father?"
" That is it, my son."
" I am not sure if I am capable of that, father."
" You will be capable of it, son. It is easier to be kind, that cruel. Man's basic nature is to be kind."
" I thought man was basically sinful?"
" Sinful, yes. But kind. Do you accept this penance?" The revolutionary thought for a moment, but then he nodded.
" Yes. I am their leader. They will listen to me. I can save one." There was silence in the confessional.
" Aren't you going to give me absolution?" The priest nodded, and pronounced the words of absolution that he had said so many times.
" Amen." The revolutionary said, crossing himself with his left hand once more.
" You may now go to the altar and recieve communion."
"Thank you, father."
" And say a prayer for me." The priest added, as was customary. " And I will say a prayer for you." That was not customary.
" You might join us, father." The revolutionary said, almost as a reflex. " The streets are free to all." The priest shook his head.
" The ways of God are not the ways of man. I'm afraid my place is here." The revolutionary nodded, as he got up from the kneeler.
" I will tell the Holy Father you said that. I'll put in a good word for you on the other side." The revolutionary left the confessional.
The priest's mind was not with him when he heard the last few confessions before closing the church. As he locked the church doors, extinguished the candles and gathered the flowers left by the statues of saints, he thought of nothing but the revolutionary—the young boy so absolute in his beliefs.
He tried to shake the boy from his thoughts but found it difficult. He plagued him even as he retired to bed. The priest scolded himself for thinking so much about him; after all, many young boys were political when they entered the university. They generally lost interest in their lofty goals when they found a pretty mistress or a steady job. There was no reason to think this one's violent sentiments would ever come to fruition. The priest tried to dismiss the boy from his thoughts and sleep. After all, he had to be up early the next day, it was General Lamarque's funeral mass, and he had to be there to help give out communion.