Being brought up in a God-fearing Roman Catholic home, Stephen will be well
aware that his liaison with the prostitute marks the point where he committed his “first violent sin”.
This sets him on the road to debauchery and his sexual appetite is now matched by his quest for food, meat, carrots and potatoes. He now succumbs to temptation and acts against his strict upbringing. He leads a double life in that he still serves as Prefect for the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is a statue of the Virgin and is a refuge for sinners. Stephen is well aware of his hypocrisy, which is heightened by the fact that he still attends his catechism classes.
As well as the sins of lust and gluttony, he indulges in the other deadly
sins of anger, pride, envy, sloth and avarice.
Just when there seems to be no hope for Stephen, he learns of a three day
Spiritual Retreat that is being organized at Belvedere to honor the school’s Patron Saint, Francis Xavier. On the first day of the Retreat, Father Arnall gives a sermon based on Judgement Day, his text coming
from Ecclesiasticus Ch.7 v.36. The sermon is designed to make an impact on those present and coupled with Stephen’s imagination, he is able to vividly see Father Arnall’s described scene.
Father Arnall emphasizes that everyone should ensure that they are prepared for life after death in case this suddenly happens and they might find themselves damned. The Father’s words seem to haunt Stephen and he feels guilty about his recent sinful behavior. He feels that every word of the sermon is directed straight at him. Stephen regrets the actions he had taken concerning his childhood “love” Emma. He had composed fictitious letters concerning Emma, which were obscene and left them in a place where any unknown girl might find them.
The second day at the Retreat, the sermon given to those present concerned
Isaiah Ch.5 v.14 and Father Arnall describes how hell is always seeking to enlarge its domain. It seeks all those that are sinful.
It seeks Stephen. Stephen is intrigued by the story of the once-favored angel Lucifer who due to his pride is cast into everlasting darkness. The sermon goes on to illustrate how mankind’s nature can so easily be tempted by sin and that is what led to Adam and Eve being cast out of the Garden of Eden. It was Jesus Christ, through the crucifixion that took on the sins of the world. It is important that man should repent of his sins and confess them. Again Stephen’s imagination is working overtime as he imagines the endless torment awaiting those who are bent on hell. The sermon is aimed at describing the torments of hell through the senses, hearing, smell, touch and sight. What frightens Stephen most is being confined in a cramped situation being suffocated by the bodies around him in the fiery furnaces of hell. However, hell is more than just physical torture; it is also being separated from God’s love. At the end of the sermon, Stephen is horrified and his sense of guilt has increased. In an almost panic state, he realizes his need to be saved. He can be saved if he makes his confession, but through shame he cannot do this in the College Chapel.
Father Arnall’s sermon on Day 3 of the Retreat follows on from the first
two, and his text comes from Psalms 30, v.23.
He now describes the spiritual pain of hell. He tells those in attendance that Satan has a three-pronged attack on the sinners he receives. The sinner will see his past pleasures with repulsion, secondly he will see himself as God sees him, and thirdly he will be given enlightenment, which reveals that because he did not repent, he must suffer eternal damnation.
After this final sermon, Stephen analyses what he has heard and concludes
that he is lost due to the magnitude of his sins. He must obtain absolution through confession and so he leaves the College to find a Chapel outside. This he does and he receives his absolution from an
old Capuchin. This Priest gives Stephen his penance and advises him to seek help from the Blessed Virgin to overcome his temptation. Stephen is elated and feels that he is in a state of grace.
Next day he takes Holy Communion and vows to begin a new life of obedience
and service to God.