A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Part 3 (pg. 109-158)
Stephen, having now committed the sin his body and mind have been driving toward, is filled with a sort of dumb hunger for food and a desire to go out to the brothels again. He is sixteen years old.
"It was his own soul going forth to experience, unfolding itself sin by sin...." Part 3, pg. 110
All of that time spent with priests and brothers, however, is beginning to pull at Stephen. Soliciting a prostitute is not only socially unacceptable, it's a mortal sin. But he also has a kind of pride in his sin at this point, and is cheeky enough to lead the young boys at chapel in their devotionals to the Virgin Mary without blinking an eye. His indifference isn't safe though as he begins to "grope in the darkness of his own state" (pg. 113), and the sin falls heavily upon him when he attends the religious retreat at his school. As the rector preaches the goodness of St. Francis Xavier, the patron of the school, Stephen feels the first pang of a guilt that will nearly crush him during the retreat.
The main part of the retreat is a series of sermons, all aiming to make the boys think about death, judgment, hell and heaven. On the first day Father Arnall gives a taste of things to come, warning the boys to keep God and their own afterlife in mind when they are considering their behavior on earth. Stephen eats hungrily after listening to this talk, and as he looks out the window over the dirty streets, he has a premonition of the unrest that is to come. After the first long sermon preaches a doomsday envisionment of religion, where a vindictive God has nothing but wrath for sinners, Stephen is sure that every word was aimed at him. He goes onto the street, where the laughter of a girl haunts him and his mind boils with guilt over the prostitutes he's frequented, the dirty letters he's written and all the rank imaginings of his mind. He imagines Emma, and wants his innocence with her back again.
The preacher of the second sermon tells of Lucifer, the fallen angel cast from heaven because he dared to say "I will not serve," and the hell he has created for sinners. The sermon is full of graphic descriptions of a hell with walls four-thousand miles thick, where sinners are crammed so tight they can't move a hand to pull off a worm that might gnaw on their eye. The sermon goes on and on, telling of the stench, the fires, the horrible company of other sinners, and the taunts of devils. When the preacher describes the devils' prods--Why did you sin? Why did you not give up that lewd habit, that impure habit?--it's as if the questions are aimed directly at Stephen. He leaves the chapel with his legs shaking, though gradually pulls himself together with the consolation that he will give up his sins and be forgiven. But when a messenger comes to say confessions are being heard, Stephen can't bring himself to confess. The afternoon sermon is on the spiritual torments of hell, the pains of loss, conscience, extension and the intensity and eternity of hell. On the last point, the preacher uses the saying: "ever, never; ever, never" to make his point--hell goes on forever, and you never receive God's pardon. When all the boys fall to their knees, Stephen solemnly joins them in a prayer, swearing he detests his sins, promising to repent.
Stephen returns to his room, aching in his whole body and soul. While praying, he has a vision of horrible beasts that so overwhelms him he gets physically sick. Then,
"looking humbly up to heaven, he wept for the innocence he had lost." Part 3, pg. 150
Stephen sets off to walk the streets, the questions running through his mind. He can't understand how his body can act so contrary to what he knows to be morally right and feels that it's almost like being possessed by some beast. As he walks through Dublin, he's pulled by both the sensual stimulation of the city and the mental stimulation of his thoughts.
Finally, Stephen walks to a church, ready now to make the confession he was unable to make at the school retreat. He has to wait in the church for the other confessors to finish, which leaves him plenty of time to keep meditating on the wretchedness of his sins. He gives his confession to the priest, who is kindly and seems genuinely disturbed about Stephen's sins. The priest implores Stephen to give up the prostitutes, a sin not only unacceptable to God, but dangerous to the body. Stephen is immediately set more at peace, and after being absolved by the priest feels that life is beautiful and peaceful again. When he gets home, even the paltry kitchen and the food that he's so often described as foul and greasy seems quaint again. "How simple and beautiful was life after all! And life lay all before him" (pg. 158).
The next day Stephen wakes and joins the other boys back at the chapel. The past is over, he realizes. He takes the Eucharist and is, presumably, on the holy road again.