In March, dust storms begin to plague the area. Antonio overhears adults blaming the unusual storms to the atomic testing taking place nearby. Antonio’s father laughs at these claims and informs Antonio that the dust storms are the voice of the llano, informing the people that they have used up too many of their resources in overgrazing.
Antonio and his classmates begin to take catechism lessons in preparation for their first Communion. Antonio continues to wonder about the nature of sin and punishment in the world and anxiously awaits the moment when he will receive the knowledge of God. He is convinced that he will finally hear God’s voice and the answers to all of his questions when he takes Communion for the first time.
At the same time, Antonio is perplexed by Florence’s persistent atheism. Although Florence attends catechism to be with his friends, he does not believe a compassionate God cannot exist in a world that has so much sadness and evil. Explaining that both of his parents are dead and his sisters work as prostitutes in Rosie’s, Florence asks Antonio how God could place so many hardships in his life. Antonio is unable to answer because Florence is articulating many of the same questions that Antonio ponders himself. While they are having this discussion, Antonio and Florence realize that they are late for catechism and hurry inside the church. Once they are inside, Father Byrnes punishes Florence for tardiness but excuses Antonio.
During the catechism lesson, Father Byrnes uses a frightening analogy to explain the length of eternity. He tells them to imagine that they must move a massive pile of sand across an ocean with only a tiny bird. The bird can only take one grain of sand in its beak at a time. When the bird successfully moves the entire pile of sand across the ocean, Father Byrnes explains, it has only been the first day of eternity. As he listens to Father Byrnes’ explanation, Antonio realizes that Florence is not afraid of the punishment awaiting atheists and will be doomed to an eternity in Hell. Antonio sees visions of Florence burning in eternal flames and yet still refusing to accept the existence of God. Antonio and Samuel decide that they will introduce Florence to the golden carp the next summer. If anything, Florence will at least be able to have faith in a god, even if it is not a Christian god.
On the day before Easter, Antonio is preparing to make his first confession. His mother has bought him a new suit for the occasion, and Antonio quickly runs down to the church with Samuel to wait for his turn. While he is waiting, the other boys demand that Antonio pretends to be a priest so they can make their confessions to him. Horse confesses that he made a hole in the wall of the girl’s bathroom so that he could watch them and Bones confesses that he saw a high school couple having sex. Antonio gives both boys an equal penance. The children then force Florence to “play” the game and confess his sins. Florence refuses, declaring that he has not sinned against God, but God has sinned against him. Horrified at this blasphemy, the children demand that Antonio “sentence” Florence to death. Antonio refuses and instead forgives Florence for his sins. Angry at Antonio’s show of favoritism to an atheist, the children tear off his new jacket and beat him. When the priest calls Antonio for confession, the other children let him go, and Florence asks Antonio why he did not give him a penance. He then concludes by asserting that Antonio could never be a priest to his classmates.
On Easter Sunday, Antonio is breathless with excitement at the prospect of finally understanding God. When the priest places the Communion wafer in Antonio’s mouth, Antonio expects to hear God’s voice speak to him and answer his questions. Instead, Antonio hears nothing but silence.
Antonio is exposed to injustice in the framework of the church itself when he observes Father Byrnes’ unjust punishment of Florence for tardiness. Father Byrnes is biased against Florence while he favors Antonio, and Antonio begins to question his faith in organized religion. He realizes that a person like Father Byrnes may live according to the laws of Christianity and preach catechism, but he is not necessarily a good Christian or a good moral compass.
Antonio’s discussions with Florence force him to realize the rational problems with Christianity. Although he wants to convince Florence that his beliefs are correct, Antonio cannot deny Florence’s logic. Because Florence’s arguments make him more confused, Antonio places even more hope on his first Communion as being the key to his understanding of God. The clear-cut questions and answers that he learns in catechism makes Antonio expect his conversation with God to be equally simple. As a child, he has unquestioning faith that his Communion will lead to a sort of religious realization and all of his questions will be answered.
When Antonio takes Communion, however, he discovers that he is no closer to understanding God than he was before. He realizes that his faith in God was unfounded, and he now must rely on his own moral judgment to answer his questions about sin and punishment. Antonio even begins to question that God exists, a possibility that becomes increasingly likely to him as the book goes on.
During Antonio’s process of catechism and Communion, he is also forced to take on the role of a priest another time. With Narciso’s last confession, Antonio simply listened as a figure of comfort, but in this scene, Antonio must actually pass judgment on his peers and the sins that they have committed. Because Antonio does not force Florence to do penance for his blasphemy, Antonio is essentially cast out by his group. In yet another example of mob mentality and prejudice, the other boys are not able to accept someone with differing religious beliefs. When Antonio does not go along with their plan to punish Florence, Antonio is choosing the wrong side. Similar to the way that Antonio once viewed good and evil as totally distinct entities, Antonio’s friends are unable to accept the possibility that an atheist can have logical arguments.
Florence’s declaration that Antonio will never be their priest is actually a compliment that demonstrates Antonio’s increasing independence. Antonio has the capacity to make his own moral decisions and he will never be forced to take on the beliefs of a community, just as he refused to follow his friends’ plan to punish Florence. This strength of character highlights Antonio’s growth as an individual, as well as his ability to function morally as an isolated figure. Florence does not mean to say that Antonio would be a bad priest, but rather that his classmates are not yet able to accept the type of priest that he will ultimately become.