King of Kings by Frank Scoblete
He was 10 years old and in the fifth grade at Our Lady of Angels in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and it was Lent, the time Catholics gave something up to show God that they loved Him with their whole hearts and souls.
He had given up candy last year and he had stuck with it for the entire Lent. It wasn’t easy, but he showed God that he loved Him and his Son, Jesus Christ, the savior who had died for the sins of the world.
He knew he was a sinner. The nuns and priests had made that clear; man was born in sin and had to work hard to stay good. Nuns had made it clear that boys were bigger sinners than girls, so it was even harder for boys to stay clean of sin.
God the Father was a man. God the Son was a man too. So, men could be good too.
He did have guilt though. He really didn’t get the Third Person of the Trinity, named the Holy Ghost. He couldn’t grasp that at all. Why do we worship a ghost he asked Sister Jerome Drake when he was in second grade. She yelled at him that he had better believe or it was an eternity in Hell. So, he believed even though he didn’t understand why he believed. Better to believe than not believe, considering Hell.
It was the day before Ash Wednesday and they were all being brought to the church for a pre-Lent confession to wipe away their sins. On this day he should tell God what he was giving up.
“What are you giving up for Lent, young man?” asked the new priest, Father Sullivan.
He had struggled with this for several weeks. He didn’t just want to give up something that was easy like his friends did. His friend Stevie was giving up “torturing my sister” but Stevie had a big hole in that because he defined torture as dumping water on her. All else was not torture.
Jimmy was going to help his father more. Jimmy’s father was the custodian of an apartment building.
But you should give up something that showed God how much He was loved. It had to be something important, something that meant something.
“I am giving up television,” he said. “I am giving up television for Lent, father.”
“Very good,” said Father Sullivan. “You are a child of God for doing that.”
Now, he felt good. It was good to feel good. Not all boys were big sinners. God would see that in him now. He was thrilled going home because he was a “child of God.” He was far, far away from Hell now. He was clean.
For two weeks he did his Lenten duty and he felt so good.
And then King Kong: The Eighth Wonder of the World was announced as the movie on Million Dollar Movie for next week.
King Kong? King Kong!
He could hear the announcement because his mother and father watched the Million Dollar Movie every week.
Million Dollar Movie showed the same movie twice a night at 7 o’clock and 10 o’clock all week and usually four times a day on Saturdays and Sundays. It was like going to the movies. You didn’t have to pay. All you needed was a television set.
And now King Kong. Every night and weekends too.
But he had given up television for Lent. He had done it for two weeks already. He was a good Catholic. God liked him. Jesus liked him. And he assumed that that Holy Ghost liked him too, whatever that Holy Ghost was. Now? King Kong on the Million Dollar Movie.
He and his friends had talked about how they would love to watch that movie. All three of them had monster scrap books where they kept clippings of horror and science fiction movies. These clippings came from the newspapers when a new movie was coming out.
“King Kong. The greatest monster of them all,” said Jimmy.
“King Kong! Yeah!” said Stevie.
“Didn’t you give up T.V.?” asked Jimmy.
“Yeah,” he said.
“You’re gonna miss King Kong?” asked Stevie.
“No big deal,” he said.
“We’ve waited our whole lives for this,” said Jimmy.
“No big deal,” he said.
“Screw that,” said Stevie. “Just watch it.”
But he had given up television for Lent. He told Father Sullivan that too. His friends would get to see the greatest monster of them all. And he wouldn’t. Why couldn’t he have just given up candy or tormenting his sister Susan? Did he really have to give something up as important as television?
But he was trying to please God. And God had destroyed whole cities and He even drowned the whole world except for Noah’s family. God made everyone on Earth have to die, too, when Adam and Eve ate a fruit and were running around naked. Kong couldn’t do any of what God could do. God was more powerful.
It was now Friday. In three days, King Kong would be on Million Dollar Movie. Other kids were talking about it at school now, not the girls because they must have something wrong with them. But the boys were. It seems that’s all they talked about.
“I heard King Kong is bigger than a building.”
“He destroys a plane!”
“He kills dinosaurs.”
“He climbs up the Empire State Building.”
“He’s coming. He’s coming right into our lives!
That Friday afternoon after school he went into the church and sat in the back.
Our Lady of Angels church was on Fourth Avenue extending from 72nd to 73rd Street. It was a huge church with immense lights hanging from a high ceiling. It would be hard to hit that ceiling with a baseball, that’s how high it was. When there weren’t many people in the church, everything echoed.
There were always the ladies wearing black praying and lighting candles. They had their stockings rolled under their knees with a big rubber band holding them there.
The school was behind the church. The priests would walk in the area behind the church reading the bible. It was all concrete. You never saw the nuns, except in school or if you were in trouble and you had to work in the convent by scrubbing floors or cleaning the basement.
The nuns stayed in the convent. He didn’t even know if they had a television. What did they do when they weren’t teaching or praying?
He made the sign of the cross. In his head he said, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of, uh, the Holy Ghost.
“Dear God, you know I am a good kid… I hope… and that I do not want to go to Hell with the bad people in the world. I haven’t done too much bad, not like some of the other kids. I hope you know that because you know everything, right? So, you do know that, right?
“I am going to get right to the point. You must be very busy watching everyone to see what to do with them when they die. I don’t want to bother you so I will be quick.
“You see, King Kong is on next week on the Million Dollar Movie. I don’t know if you follow television. It is a movie I have wanted to see my whole life. I have pictures of King Kong in my scrapbook. But now the movie is going to be on.
“I have a problem. I gave up television for Lent. That was to make you and Jesus happy at my sacrifice. Maybe the Holy Ghost would be happy too. I don’t know him that well.
“Father Sullivan…I am sure you know him…was very happy too when I told him.
“I want to see the movie. If I see it, will I go to Hell? Sister Jerome Drake says that anyone who breaks their vows to God, to You, I mean, will probably go to Hell.
“I don’t think that is fair. I mean I am not like Hitler or anything that bad, right? My father fought Hitler in The War so that is good for the whole family, right? That is like Noah, right?
“God, I just want to see King Kong. That’s all. I need to break my vow just a little bit to see him in the movie. I won’t even tell anyone. This will just be between me and you. No one has to know. So, I would break my vow a little but no one has to know.
“I don’t want to go to Hell because I saw King Kong.
“I don’t know how you speak to regular people like me but can you tell me I am okay by doing this? Just tell me in some way if I can do this. Give me a sign. I don’t want to go to Eternal Damnation. Or be drowned.
“I will say a lot of prayers to make up for it too. I will also give to the Church my money that I earn by working in my parents’ store. How about two weeks’ worth?
“Thank you, God. For listening to me.”
He made the Sign of the Cross, stood up and left the church.
He went to church again on Saturday to speak with Father Sullivan in Confession. “Bless me Father for I have sinned. Actually, not too much this week.” He gave his usual list of teasing his sister, disobeying or thinking of disobeying his parents.
Then, “Father, I gave up television for Lent.”
Father Sullivan said, “That is a wonderful gift to the King of Kings in this time of his trial on Earth.”
“Uh, well, you see, I have been really good these last two weeks. I don’t even listen to the T.V. when my parents are watching it. I keep my head under the pillow if I am awake.”
“Excellent,” said Father Sullivan. “God loves you for this.”
“But King Kong is going to be on Million Dollar Movie next week,” he said. “I have waited my whole life to watch that movie.”
“What are you telling me?” asked Father Sullivan.
“I am thinking of taking a break so I can watch the movie next week.”
Father Sullivan did not respond. There was silence.
“Uh, are you still there?” he said.
Father Sullivan coughed. “You are thinking of breaking your vow to God and to Our Lord Jesus Christ? Is King Kong more important to you than the King of Kings? Our savior?”
“No, but I see that I take this week off, uh, and watch King Kong and then, you know, I get back to not watching television after that. So, I am only missing a week.”
“You going to watch the movie every night next week?” asked Sullivan.
“Well, it’s on twice each night but I’d only be watching at seven o’clock except maybe Friday I can watch it twice if my parents let me.”
“And your parents will allow you to break your promise to God?”
“Uh, no, I haven’t told them I want to do this,” he said. “You know, I thought I’d talk to you first.”
“You are Judas! You are the man who betrayed Christ to death, if you do this. You are the soldiers hammering the nails into Christ’s hands and feet and stabbing him with a spear in his side and blood and water flowed from the wound. You see Mary, God’s mother, standing at the foot of the cross watching her beloved son die a horrible death.”
“Uh, Jesus does, you know, rise from the dead,” he said to the priest.
“You are a bad person if you do this,” said Father Sullivan.
Now, the big question. He had steeled himself for this question.
“If I do this, Father, will I be condemned to Hell for all eternity?”
Sullivan was silent.
“Say five Our Fathers and ten hail Mary’s,” said Father Sullivan. “Young man, your soul is in danger. You will be bathed in blood. You will become an atheist.” Father Sullivan slammed the screen shut.
He waited a moment and then left the Confessional. He knelt at the altar railing and whispered his penance.
Would he go to Hell if he violated his promise about Lent? Was he Judas? What did it mean to be “bathed in blood” he wondered? What was an atheist?
Billy, another friend from down the avenue, whose father also owned a television shop, didn’t even have to do Lent because he was a Protestant. Yes, Billy would go to Hell eventually because he was a Protestant but at least in this life Billy could have more fun. He’d be watching King Kong without worrying about Eternal Damnation.
If he gave in and watched King Kong?
He wouldn’t give in.
He didn’t give in.
He continued his Lenten vow.
At the end of his junior year at St. John’s Prep High School, where he had a full scholarship for sports, he became an atheist.