Sunday, September 11, 2005

Priest

A short story written for my creative writing class at Binghamton... the names in this story were only used because I'm completely unoriginal and unable to write any character unless they're named after someone i know...

Priest
Micah Towery

1.
Thorough the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God's name.
~Coleridge

Oftentimes, Father Tom felt the cross around his neck weighing heavily. Usually during visits to the ER, or through marriage counseling, or when hearing confessions, it seemed to be an extra weight to him, pulling down on the nape of his neck, almost digging in, leaving its interlinking marks in red indentations.
Father Tom saw the faces through the matted confessional wall, knowing who they were, knowing the faces, but seemingly removed from their bodies. Only their souls made it through the confessional screen. And the souls he saw…
Sometimes, when lighting incense and candles, the smell burned in his nose. The large Bible he carried to the altar during mass felt like an unnecessary burden. And the faces he saw while processing down the center aisle, similar, but not identical to the ones he knew through the confessional screen, seemed to hang like they were strung from the ceiling.
The priest is the unmitigated carrier of burdens, Christ-like at times, single and dedicated solely to the work of God. In theory, the priest passes these burdens along to God, but his humanity inevitably gets in the way.

2.
As the priest got up to speak
The assembly craved relief
But he himself had given up
So instead he offered them this bitter cup
~Pedro the Lion

Father Tom, dressed in his cassock, spoke at the head of the casket that was suspended over the open mouth of the ground:


Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Martin.
Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you,
a sheep
of your own fold,
a lamb
of your own flock,
a sinner of your own redeeming.
Receive him into the
arms of your mercy,
into the blessed rest of everlasting peace,
and into the glorious company of saints in light.

The people responded: Amen.
Father Tom continued:


May his soul and the souls
of all the departed,
through the mercy of God,
rest in peace.
The people responded again: Amen.
After the body had been lowered into the ground, some parishioners were talking at the wake.
“Martin died of a broken heart. After Emily went, there wasn’t much he could do to stay alive.” The parishioner sighed, “the cancer just kept coming back.”
“Yes, I think Emily was the only thing that kept him alive, sometimes. He always talked about how he hated the way things changed. I think what angered him most were remote key chains. Remote controls for the TV were bad enough, but when people began using remote key chains to lock their cars, I think that’s when he decided it was time for him to go. He said, ‘Reaching around to unlock that rear passenger door is the only thing that keeps my shoulders rotating! Goddamn people can’t even bother to stand up and change the channel. They just flip, flip, flip, flip, flip all the time! And they wonder why they got such fat asses!’”
The parishioners suddenly noticed Father Tom was standing amongst them.
“Oh …Father…I was just quoting Martin. For, uh, accuracy’s sake…”
Father Tom smiled. He had always found it humorous when he walked in on parishioners doing something of which they thought he’d disapprove. Several times he found Brother John munching the communion wafers and sipping the wine before the service. One time he found the communion wine to be so low that he had to run across the street to the liquor store, collar and all, to buy the cheapest wine he could find. He barely had enough time to bless it before mass, and he pretended not to notice when Brother John kept praying to Peter, Paul, and Mary while humming “Puff the Magic Dragon.” “Martin usually said what was on his mind. I always liked that about him.”
The parishioners nodded in agreement. One spoke up, “Father, it doesn’t seem right that Martin should be stuck on this earth in that casket when he hated this place so much sometimes.”
“Well, the Bible says that in the end, our bodies will be resurrected from the ground: ‘The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them.’ The stone will be rolled away…again, so to speak. All these things will pass away. So, really, I don’t think Martin’s stuck here. And in the meantime, I’m sure he won’t mind.”

3.
When the sun was setting, all those who had any
that were sick with various diseases brought them to Him;
and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them.
~Luke 4:40

Father Tom was the minister on call in the St. Mary’s Emergency Room when they brought Emily in. He held her hand and looked into her eyes as the gurney was rolled into hospital. The doctors administered morphine and told Martin it was only a matter of time. Martin spent a long time sitting by Emily’s bed, whispering things to her. Father Tom sat in a nearby chair, silently, holding one hand in the other.
When the doctors came in, it was Father Tom who spoke to them, not wanting to distract Martin from his last chance to speak with his wife.
“The cancer has grown so much that it’s begun to eat into several vital organs. We just looked at her last X-rays…” the doctor sighed, “someone should have put her in a hospice several months ago. I can only imagine the pain would have been incredible.”
“Emily hasn’t complained of anything,” Father Tom said.
“Sometimes, when a person knows they’re dying, they’re able to resist the pain if they think it’s better for their loved ones.”
After a few hours of sitting by her side, Martin got up. He began talking to Father Tom outside the room.
“I knew it was coming, but I just couldn’t accept it. I think she knew that too…” he sobbed.
Martin left for a few moments to call their children. Tom walked back into the room. He stood over Emily for a while, contemplating. Her breathing had been labored for a while now, and he had grown used to the wheezing sound. He wondered what it would take to make her well.
Martin and Emily had been members of the parish long before he was there. He was very fond of them both, and especially close to Martin. As the years passed by, Tom grew close to many of the parishioners, but he was drawn to Emily and Martin. He was a friend to them, but also their priest. He knew the pain Martin was feeling now. He understood that if Emily died, Martin would follow soon after.
Father Tom breathed in deeply, and laid his hand on Emily’s head. He gazed intently at the picture of Mary over the bed. He cycled through all the prayers he knew, desperately trying to fine one. He tried, and was unable to think of a single line. Instead, the only words that came out were “Please. Please…” His hand shook, sweat beaded on his forehead, but nothing happened.

4.
For those who do not yet believe, and for those who have lost their faith,
that they may receive the light of the Gospel, we pray to you, O Lord.
~Book of Prayer

Father Tom had just gotten off the phone with a man who was struggling with his faith. The man had lost his brother when he was younger in an accident.
“I just don’t understand, Father. He was pretty young, had a lot of potential. More than me, you know? And I just can’t believe that God would want us to suffer like I did.”
The man went on like this, while Father Tom listened. As he did, the cross around his neck, which was already heavy, began to feel heavier. It varied at times in weight. At times like this, though, it seemed unbearable to wear around his neck.
“Well, we have to have faith sometimes. I don’t know if I can explain why, but I do know at the times when I feel the most doubtful, or in the most pain, those are the times when I feel the most need to believe.”
When Tom got off the phone with the man, he closed the doors of the empty church behind him as he left, leaving it unlocked in case someone felt the need to stop in and pray. He walked down the sidewalk to the church parsonage next door, and opened the front gate. Coming inside, he took off the cross that hung around his neck and hung it on a nail in the door frame. He looked out the back window at the statue of Mary, wondering if one day she would speak to him.

No comments: