Free Study Guide: Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya - Free BookNotes|
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BLESS ME, ULTIMA BY RUDOLFO ANAYA: ONLINE STUDY GUIDE
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 mockery of the sacred occurs when Horse gives his fake 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 ridicule 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.
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