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He looks at Antonio and yells out that he has not sinned. Antonio thinks his voice is like Ultima’s was when she challenged Tenorio, or Narciso’s when he tried to save Lupito. Florence says it is God who has sinned against him. Everyone is horrified at this blasphemy. Florence explains that God sinned against him when he took away his mother and father when he most needed them and made his sisters whores. They have all been punished without just cause. He took Narciso when Narciso never did any harm. The other children interrupt him and say they will now have to confess hearing all this. Lloyd says Florence shouldn’t be there since he won’t believe in their laws. The others gather behind Antonio and tell him to give Florence a penance. “They wanted me to be their leader; they wanted me to punish Florence.” Rita urges him to make Florence’s penance hard. Bones urges beating him. Someone says, “Stone him!” Another one says, “Kill him!” At that moment, Antonio loses his fear. He spins around and tells them to stop. He says he will give no punishment and no penance. All Florence’s sins are forgiven. He tells Florence to go in peace.
Antonio sees that the others are now directing their anger at him, but he doesn’t feel afraid. He says, “I stood my ground for what I felt to be right and I was not afraid. I thought that perhaps it was this kind of strength that allowed Florence to say he did not believe in God.” The others decide to punish Antonio. They tear their jackets off his back, defrocking him. They spread him out on the ground and pin him down. They give him what they call the “Indian torture.” They hold him while Horse jumps on his belly and pounds his chest with his fists. They torture him like this for what seems like forever until the priest calls them into the church. Florence helps him up, telling him he should have given him penance. Florence tells him he could never be their priest. Antonio agrees. He asks Florence if he will go in to confession. Florence says he won’t. Antonio says he has to. He stands in line and tries to concentrate on all his sins. He prays as many prayers as he can remember.
Inside the confessional, he kisses the feet of the crucifix hanging in the booth and thinks of the million sins that had been confessed inside the booth. Father Byrnes opens the confessional window and Antonio’s thoughts scatter. He asks for forgiveness and then says his confession.
Anaya devotes this entire chapter to the extremely important moment of the first confession in the life of a Catholic. He devotes the next chapter (19) to the even more important moment of the first communion. The tone of the description of the ritual of confession and of Lent which precedes it is reverential and solemn. However, this tone is interrupted by the voices of the other children. These other children seem to represent the common believers. Unlike Antonio who is special in his devotion to spiritual matters, the other children seem to be going along with the herd, following the rules for the mere sake of following the rules, and not questioning anything. They will also allow no questioning by others. They conform to the letter of the law while Antonio conforms to the spirit of the law, which is love. If he were to become a priest, it would be people like Floyd, Ernie, and Rita that he would be leading in spiritual life. They seem incapable of understanding that their judging others to the point of torture and banishment could be considered a sin.
In light of the competing systems of belief in Antonio’s life, it is no wonder that when Catholicism is prominent in his thoughts during his time before his first communion, he sees very little of Ultima, the representative of the ancient religion and curandismo, his mother, the representative of the Lunas, and his father, the representative of the vaqueros.
More carnivalization of the sacred occurs when Horse gives his mock confession. Instead of eliciting remorse, his confession of peeking at women going to the toilet arouses him and he rubs the front of his pants as if masturbating then explodes and falls limp on the ground as if he has ejaculated. Bones does him one better when he confesses to having seen people having sex. Again, he misses the point of confession, which is a contrite heart, and insists that he has a worse sin than Horse. The other children go along with these confessions, saying only that these two boys are bad. The carnivalization of confession does not upset them as much as Florence’s outright disbelief in the reality of sin.
Antonio’s faith in the validity of the Catholic doctrine of original sin is tested when he sees Florence defending his belief that he does not have any sins. He is reminded of other people who have stood up against those who were in the wrong, Ultima and Narciso. Florence, the atheist of the group, becomes a figure of honor as he refuses to sacrifice his beliefs to fit in with the group even when they torture him. He is placed in the company of Antonio’s other models of upright morality and righteousness, Ultima and Narciso. The absence of devout Catholics in Antonio’s group of righteous models is telling.
When he refuses to give Florence penance, he is defrocked by his peers. Florence tells him he will never be their priest and Antonio agrees. Nevertheless he goes to confession, saying he has to. He takes it quite seriously despite what has happened outside the church. This action is part of Antonio’s need to reconcile the opposing belief systems in his world. He cannot reject Catholicism because of the shortcomings of its doctrines or the faults of fellow Catholics. He must keep his faith in Catholicism, but at the same time find ways to reconcile it with other belief systems.