Richard writes: "Richard resides in Hawkesbury, Ontario, Canada. He obtained a BA. Honours in English and a Bachelor of Education. He taught high school for thirty years. He has published poems, short stories and a novel, “Hooked on Fish Tales.”
Aye! That’s Hell’s Alley over there separating this red brick residence from the shoe repair store. Unfortunately I once huddled beside those stinking grimy garbage cans where the December cold stung my bare skin for most of the day and evening. Ironically, I’d even relished this temporary refuge from our world’s hounding anguish but I should not have passed one second here! Condemned to pay for my sins I was! I’m not bibulous man! Always hated strong liquor! Still, my drunken stupor had imprisoned my body - my very spirit!
With leaden droopy eyes gazed upon sparkling snow crystals swirling about on that dreadful evening before Christmas Eve Day.
Sean O’Sullivan, a financial advisor, lives right next door. The man drinks too much! Gives a bad example to the community! Understand me well, ’t is a fact, not a judgment upon the man. Strong alcohol can bring dishonour, a lesson I’ve learned well!
Look at our town! Workers here scrounge to make a living and the unemployed are sinking into poverty because of our oppressive economic recession. Binging booze to escape their pain only adds more worry to their daily hardship! Try to tell them that!
Sean is married to Irene McConnell, my former high school sweetheart! She’s probably saved his sallied soul on many occasions. The lucky ingrate! …Just imagine how I feel when I see her with him and their children at ten o’clock mass! I’m guilty as sin I am! …True! I still hold great affection for her! Now it’s too late! She’s lost to me! … And no! I don’t lust after her! ... Never did! … Never will!
Anyhow while attending university hoping to enter medicine, my love had chosen to register at nursing college. We planned to get married after graduation! … Hmm! … I’d always suspected that sly Bishop Alexander Mackenzie for having come between Irene and me. His selfish ultimatum controlled my life from that time forward! “Drop Medicine and study Theology or all church funds paying fer yer studies will cum to an abrupt end! Then me Lad, go find yerself a job, if ya can! …. Ah Mahoney, God has great plans fer ya! Ya must follow His Divine Destiny not yer petty desires!”
In the following weeks, Irene’s intimate correspondence to me had mysteriously trickled to a halt. Understand what I’m saying? … I could’ve become a medical doctor, and a deacon, then gotten married to my darling and still had our children! Yesterday in this forsaken alley, Irene’s little ones were playing hide and seek. Tim, the youngest, ran straight for me landing on my lap. Didn’t dare move! I hiccupped, and the kid took off lickety-split to his siblings, Mary and Peter. “Wa-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-h-h-h-h! ... There’s a street bum in the alley!”
Morbid curiosity dared them to peek in. Peter spoke up in his best manly voice, “Hey Mister! … Why are ya hidin’ in there?” I didn’t utter a word. What else could I do? ... Escape by the back? ... Couldn’t! A high concrete wall joined the two buildings! And then little sweet Mary inquired, “Mister, are ya sick? ... Are ya hungry?”
"Delightful girl!” She gets her compassionate nature from Irene. Her genuine concern tempted me to reply. Heck no! They whispered. Then silence. Tim freaked out, “Gee! ... Maybe ... it’s ... a monster! ... Mum-m-m-m-m-m-m! ... Da-a-a-a-a-a!”
I hadn’t done anything wrong! Yet, the police might’ve misinterpreted our situation and charged me with the intent to commit child molestation. Think about the impact that this would’ve had upon the church! Visualize the headlines: Intoxicated Priest lurks in dark alley! Scares three children to death!
Tim ran home screaming, “Mum, Da! Cum quick! ... A boogeyman’s in the alley!” Big trouble now! Swallowed hard and prayed!
“Oh Father, hiccup, protect me from all harm! … Hiccup.”
The family bolted back out, gathered at the corner, Irene holding onto Sean’s tight-fisted right arm raised in the air ready for a fight!
“Now Sean me luve! … Wait a wee minute! … Perhaps, he’s got a weapon!” “Right Irene! ... Git ta the house with the kids! … I’ll take care of this! ... Go!
I couldn’t blame the man for being enraged and wanting to protect his loved ones. Still, I would soon be exposed to public view! … Couldn’t let that happen either!
”No Sean O’Sullivan! ... Don’t ya go jumpin’ ta any conclusions! Maybe he’s only a poor wretch who’s down on his luck like so many these days!” “Can’t take any chances Irene! Gotta git him outta of there! ... Darlin’, I’ll only hurt him if he attacks me. Please, I beggin’ ya’, take the children home!”
Panic-struck, I squirm behind those two stinking garbage cans, remain dead quiet and waited. Ha, ha! Comical how the inebriated mind works! I almost burst right out laughing! As Sean preyed over me waiting for his eyes to adjust to the darkness, I saw his anxious head bobbing up and down searching for some sign of his cornered quarry. I expected to be yanked up and be punched out. Much to my pleasant surprise, my fellow Irishman spoke gently, “It’s gonna be alright brother! I’ll help ya ta ar house. Cum along with me now.” My pride pushes him away. I cow up against the frigid bricks imploring him, "No-o-o! ... “Can’t go! ... Not presentable!” “Yu ’ll be fine me Lad! It doesn’t matter who ya’ re. Yu ’ll be safe with my family and me. We only wanna ta git ya through the night.”
Embarrassment can make quite a fool out of a man when he’s forced to do something. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will! “Steady there big fella. Whoops! … I see ya had a mug too much ta drink! Some guid hot homemade grub will cure what the whiskey took outta ya. Ya sure drank more than ya could handle, did ya not? … Aye! … Lots of us hard workin’ men do it from time to time, includin’ me. It’s a way of purgin’ me body and soul!”
Yikes! When I saw Irene’s standing right in front me, I realized I couldn’t let her see me like this! Broke free from Sean! My wobbly legs got me safely back again to my dark cell of despair! … Oh-h-h! … Hated myself, I did! … Please understand!” “Damn it! ... It’s no use Irene! ... Hell!” “Sean yer language! ... The children!” “Fine Mother! ... But, there’s not much we can do if the bloudy drunk doesn’t want to help himself! ... We gotta phone the coppers!! ... Fer the luve of God, the snow’s pickin’ up! … Don’t ya know the poor devil will freeze ta death?” “No-o-o Da! ... Not the police! ... He’s not a bad man! … Didn’t hurt us!”
“Sean me Heart, do ya not hear yer own daughter?” “Fer the Mother of God Irene, ya can exasperate a man’s patience in minutes!. ... He’s a lousy derelict! … Maybe a runaway-prisoner ta boot! Use yer reason woman!”
My thick lips struggled
to shape words through my controlling alcoholic haze,
kids! ... Don’t ...
wor-r-y about me-e-e-e. I’ll ... hiccup ... be leaving here s-s-o-o-n. I’m fin-n-e. Hiccup. Run along-g-g with your parents. Be go-o-ood!”
Ignoring Sean’s grumbling and muffled curses, Irene spoke up
courageously, “The nice maun’s right! … Children, we’ll go in and bake somethin’
really tasty fer him! It’ll be our Christmas gift befer he leaves. Fine then? …
Cum along too Sean!
Ha, ha! … Such a splendid idea! …
And, I thanked Jesus for His kindness.
“Merry Christmas Mister! I hope Santa‘ ll be extra good ta ya this
Oh, that darling little Mary, she’s a great blessing indeed! Contented now, the three scallywags trot back home with their worried parents. So, here I remained. Past memories of Irene flooded my mind. I fell further into the world’s spirit away from God! Hmm! ... Her warm soft kisses! ... Alluring emerald eyes! ... My aroused fingers flowing through her golden ginger hair! ... Ah, her seductive jasmine fragrance! “Oh-h-h! … Irene ... Irene ... I’m still in love with you! ... More than ever!”
Fellow Christians, condemn me not! … My priestly conscience pricks my heart much worse! … Satan tempts me greatly! … Must find my way back to the Lord!
“O–o-o-h! ... Holy Father forgive me! ... It’s the whiskey for sure! ... I’ve no right to love her! ... Darn it all! ... Such a waste! ... All those years gone forever! ... I should’ve sought her out no matter how important my education might’ve seemed to me at the time! ... Ah my Love, you thought I’d stopped loving you! … ’T wasn’t true! Oh-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h! ... But, ’t’ wasn’t Your Will Lord? ... Why did You call me to be a priest? ... Will I ever know? ... Sorry Father! ... I really do love You more than Irene! … I always will! ... And, You’ll love me too forever! ... I know ... I know!”
So folks, just imagine me now! Depressed beyond all endurance about the human part of me, stare listlessly at my whiskey breath puffing up ghostly rings while my remorseful heart sobs for my spiteful sins. Horrid self-loathing spreads rampant throughout my entire being as I survey the holy heavens searching for some sign from God. But nothing appears! ... Perhaps gnawing guilt made me spiritually blind! Or, drunkenness caused me to interpret nothing to mean God’s disgust for me!
My trembling hands reach upwards pleading, “Oh Almighty Father! … I ... I’m so sor-r-ry! ... Hiccup! … Restore my joyful spirit! Mercy! ... Heal me! ... I’ve always done my level best to obey you ... except for today, hiccup, lift up my soul!”
Listen more attentively! Only hear the forlorn wind hurling through the blackness, my soul separated from the Father! I sink down, condemned to this wicket purgatory while rejecting my inebriated body! Head bent, surrender in total humility to Our Creator, re-examine my conscience and scold myself aloud, “Why? ... What happened to me today? ... I’d always been a good person who had contributed much to the well being of this small community for the short three weeks I’ve lived here. Several parishioners even told me that I’d motivated them to straighten out their lives by restoring their hope! Lord, this must count for something?”
As the saints are my witnesses, my awkward predicament wasn’t entirely my fault! At present, two of the wealthiest and powerful parish councillors had viciously dashed my dreams! These fiends held my profession in their very hands they did! To numb myself from their constant negative criticism, I … I succumbed to drinking some of this … this devilish whiskey!
Sure, I should’ve gone to God! …
Ugh-h-h-h!! ... I knew better! ... But
no-o-o! ... My foolish pride led me by the nose to sin! ... Stupid me-e-e! …
Nausea gone, my empty stomach aches, growls, craves for food! … Sound familiar? I still possess enough wit to realize that my spiritual needs had to be addressed first! ’T wasn’t yet Christmas Day! Time remained to reconcile with God. As the soft beatific light radiated from St. Paul’s iconic stained windows, I longed to feel safe there again to honour our Lord! I rise; fall on my knees, rise with rugged Irish determination, fall again!
By the blessed angels in Heaven, Satan hadn’t finished with me either!
Soon I heard loud chatting. People were milling about everywhere like they had
nothing else to do. The celebrating city cried out with goodwill. Ah, ’t was
such a grand sight to see!
My sympathy went out to this hungry hoard of deceived shoppers who’d
been brainwashed into spending more money than what they could afford. Shouted
out heated protests even though the winter wind blew them away:
“All you sly-y-y old mi-ser-r-rs! ... Hiccup. ...You greed-d-dy store businessmen! ... You ... you-u-u ... den of callous-s-s ... thieves! ... Hiccup. ...You ...so-o-o innocent people! … God save their souls from their material mania that leads them to death! Christmas-s-s is no longer-r-r the joyous-s-s celebration of Christ’s Mass-s-s! Sham-m-m-me on you! You’ve transformed Christ’s birth into a multi-billion dollar profit!”
Perhaps our local Chamber of Commerce should’ve simply renamed our
traditional Christmastime to be Wish-Gift Season and allow the church to
proceed with Christmas as it should! ... Why should these godless
materialists care anyway? Bah! ... Let them covet their pagan loot! The
imbeciles can’t take it with them to heaven!
As early evening drew on, snow pellets smart my chapped face. I start my way out of the alley hopefully for the last time! Unbelievable! Two lovers dash in kissing passionately. I skitter back behind those awful reeking waste bins! In your mind’s eye, see their atrocious carnal sin in action that I would have to endure! Such vulnerable spirits led to Hell’s door by lust of the flesh! Not even aware that Jesus was here too watching their fornication! So sad! … Incited mutual sexual desire drove their heated bodies erratically all over the place!
Their animal instinct demanded satisfaction! Darkness hid their evil from the light! … Skin to skin only mattered! … God was momentarily dead! The aroused Neanderthal pins his female up against the brick wall close to me. I bunch myself up. The bull forcibly squeezes one of his legs between hers. Merciful heavens! They’re going to do their lewd act right in front of me! I block both my ears. Useless! I hear every wild erotic gasp and grunt. A terrible sight! Forgive them Lord! “Kate, I gotta make luve ta ya!’
“I luve ya also Gordon. But, no sex befer marriage! And, we’ll certainly not have any intercourse in some public alley! ... That’s disgustin’! - ’T’ is not luve and ya know it too-o-o! … Christmas is one day away! … We have ta go ta confession tamorrow!” ”Cum on Kate. Only this once! We luve each other! Cum on, we’re gonna git married soon anyway. It’s natural! Everyone does it nowadays! Y’er old-fashioned!” “No! ... I’m not Miss Everybody. I respect myself and I luve God!” “O’ Kate, git off yer high horse! ... Ya wanna have sex as much as me!”
“Sure I do! But Gordon McConnell, the answer is still no! ... And
if ya really luve me, ya can wait until were pronounced man and wife in church!
And that’s final!”
Watch out now, caveman’s angry! Still, the fired-up brute doesn’t
relinquish! He pushes his pelvis up against her abdomen. Beelzebub sets him on
to rape her!
“I’m gonna scream if ya don’t let me
go Gordon! What will ya tell ar first born?”
Insulted beyond reason, his temper tantrum causes him to swear and kick
the cans! His second blow catches me squarely on my left ribs. Unbelievable
My groan betrays me! Dead quiet
pursues. Flickers on his cigarette lighter, my face shines like a silver mask,
his wiry human hands take hold of my coat lapels! I’m a muscular man, measuring
six-foot three and weigh two hundred pounds. Ah! He had little problem lifting
me up and whacking me hard in the gullet.
A flash of bright light, complete blackness follows, my legs give way,
kneecaps buckle, stomach sickens. belch, vomit, choke, gasp for breath with
long intervals in between, fall down, and smack the cold pavement limp like
last night’s supper’s spaghetti thrown in the trash!
Confused, scared out of my mind, scramble to make some sense of it all, lie motionless. Sounds? Hear all kinds of sounds - my ears ring with Kate’s sympathetic pleas, her scared sobbing, his disgusting snorting next to my head!! All is sheer lunacy!
Felt it all too! Her holding onto
his massive back trying to protect me, his hard primordial beast primed to full
fury shaking me all over the place, me bouncing off a brick wall or two, his
throwing me down again, and his spitting on me! His enraged apish arms seize me
up again! Too strong for me to overcome!
The furious thing growls, “I outta kick yer bloudy teeth down
yer friggin’ throat ya stinkin’ lousy pervert!”
His wild eyes search mine, breath stinks of
whiskey too, hard knee pitted upon my throbbing sternum, his filthy mouth spews
forth curses while crazed hands savagely grab onto my throat with a will to
“Is ... this how ya get yer cheap thrills? ... Yer dirty no-good-fer-nothin’ old drunk ... I outta give ya a lesson ya’ll never ferget! ... Ya scumbag-g-g! ... Git yerself cleaned up and go look fer a job instead of eatin’ outta of lousy germ infested disposal bins!” His mania begins anew! Drags me up, shoves me about, pushes me between my shoulder blades, runs me through the alley with a violent force, I fall forward, roll onto the snowy sidewalk, throws a garbage can, bounces off my left shoulder with a tinny thud, it meanders out into the oncoming traffic causing mayhem for the busy drivers.
Rapid black boots approach, get up instantly to ward off another violent attack, I take on a fighting posture, he seeing my body mass recoils instantly. Gordon, being much shorter but good having a stocky build, was naturally strong. This type of guy is hard to beat in a street fight. I’ve encountered many like him when growing up.
Curiosity-seekers gather around us to watch this horrendous scene
unfold. Loudmouths goad us on, calling us downgrading names, demanding us to
punch each other out! Gordon responded in kind, I didn’t! … I’m a priest, must
Dodge Gordon’s flying fists; weave from side to side avoiding his menacing bear hug, step back when he charges me with his head down, trip him; he goes flying into the alley entrance, falls down, rolls, gets back up. I pursue, I don’t know why! I do! His teeth gritted, face crimsoned, his hands vice-grip onto my chest, I’m caught in a headlock, push up on his nose, excruciating pain forces him to release me, finally shove him back on his rump. Insulted, gets back up ready to assault me again!
Screaming troublemakers draw our circle tighter. Want blood! Poor Kate’s thrown to the rear by the uncontrollable mob, cries out to Gordon, his lion’s pride ignores her, grossly enraged now, more determined than ever to take me down and win!
My long outstretched arms hold him at bay, squeeze his shoulders taut. The crowd goes rampant! Whistles, jeers and cheers soar! Yet for some odd reason, this time Gordon doesn’t go haywire. Exhausted? Perhaps he had felt the strength in my arms? Too afraid to lose face!
Or ... or ... just maybe he’d seen my Roman collar! Wasn’t sure! … But he kept staring! Suddenly reaches for my neck! Alarmed, my hands wrap on to both his cheeks stopping him in his tracks, search his savage eyes to find a dram of goodness in his lost soul. His body slackens. I release him. He steps back, lowers his arms as if in defeat.
The disappointed discontents throw a several empty beer bottles at us and disappear into the snow-blown street. Kate runs towards Gordon screeching and in tears. She clings onto his elbow, kisses him, approaches me, hesitates, stares at me draws away shyly, and orders her gorilla to apologize, ‘’Gordon, ya leave him alone now! ... He’s jus’ a poor man who’s out of work! That’s not like ya ta behave like that! If ya don’t make it right between ya two... then ya aren’t the man I thought ya were! ... Be more understandin’! ... Look at him! ... Fer the luve of God, can’t ya see that ya’ve hurt him bad enough?”
The whole scene changes! Think of a film in slow motion: I look at him quietly; he looks back at me with ashamed eyes. Neither of us dares to flinch for some silly reason. We feel stupid, he moves back further, so do I. His demeanor softens, mine too. I offer a humble smile. His deflated ego struggles to overcome his embarrassment. While my confidence returns, his fear increases. Facing his fiancé, his civilized part begs forgiveness of her, turns, addresses me, “Sorry Mister fer ruffin’ ya up! Being a maun, ... well … I think ya know why I got so mad! Sorry about messin ’up yer nice coat. …But why did ya hide in there? … Haw-w-w, I can see yer not a bum but a … a … !
“Mind yer manners Gordon! … Lissen ta who’s talkin’! “ Kate interrupted. “Ya know very well why that maun was in there! Uh? … Don’t ya pull over along the side of the road often enough when we’re drivin’ fer a long distance? Ya get out and cum back and what do ya say to me, ah-h-h-h, Nature’s called’ me! ... Well? ... Don’t all men go when they have ta? … No? … Haven’t ya used an alley or two in yer life? … And ya beat up this … this … guid maun, … well, fer that? .. That’s real smart of ya!”
My repentant assailant pretends repentance; he knows for sure I am a priest! Still with sheepish eyes slips thirty bucks of guilt-money in my right palm, retreats, glances at Kate for approval and mumbles,
“Sir, git yer coat cleaned! Okay? . … Ya … well …ya know what I mean!”
Kate comes up to me. Smiles sympathetically, mood changes, stares in horror at my throat, backs up quickly, gives a phoney smile. She too had seen my roman collar!
Her macho man takes by her left hand, she hugs her lover, they dash off her throwing me an interrogatory look over her shoulder, winks at me like a prostitute, gives me a four-finger flutter good-bye.
The modern Adam and Eve flee across the street disappear into a furniture department store totally distracted of their spiritual needs, craving to satisfy their material desires to make them happy! … Hot tears flow down my cheeks for their sin!
Irene and Sean had been standing in the doorway all this time obviously upset! Yet sweet Mary slips right past them, darts fearlessly toward me with a joyous face as if nothing had occurred, innocently places her tiny cute hands in mine.
“Don’t cry Mister! … Here, I baked you a gingerbread maun whose smilin’ and I put extra icin’ on it fer ya! … Merry Christmas Sir! ... And when ya go ta sleep tanight, Santa will give ya yer biggest wish ever! … Y ’er a guid man like me Da!”
Filled with delight, she runs back to join her parents who in turn send her, Tim, and Peter in their doorway back into safety of their home. I didn’t blame them at all!
A happy heart brings Irene to me at a fast gait reminding me of being lovers!
“Are ya truly alright me dear maun?”
Examines me from top to toe, takes great interest in my eyes, hair, clothes, takes me by my right coat sleeve, now reassured, signals to Sean to come, I haunch up my shoulders, try to hide my Roman collar even more, pull down my toque to my eyebrows.
“Cum inside! I’ll fix ya somethin’ ta eat. Yu ’ll stay the night and sleep in a nice warm bed! … Cum on now! We Irish ne’er take no fer an answer! Ya ’ve gone through a terrible ordeal! … Somehow. ya seem familiar ta me! … So-o-o, what’s yer name?”
I remain silent, don’t budge, she winces, approaches a breath away stares into my very soul. Her instinct tells her, she knows, walks back not taking her eyes off me!
The kids in the window laugh; beckon to me to come inside. I wave; they wave. When Sean hastened toward me sheer panic told me to run! Prudence thrown to the wind, plunge into the passing traffic, zigzag, horns blare, become totally disoriented!
Escape, escape, escape! My identity had to be protected at any cost! Reaching the other side, a taxi nearly clipped me, the uncouth cabby yammers angrily away, Ya stupid senile old bum! … One of these days ya ain’t gonna to be so lucky!”
Skidding his half-bald tires on the slushy pavement, the fool drives off recklessly into the snowy night where his bright red taillights blend in with all the other vehicles.
I bless the inconsiderate sinner quietly. Jesus taught us to love those who do us harm. Very easy to say, extremely hard to do! I rush back to St. Paul’s worrying if anyone had seen my face! Oh! … My sin has caused my life to be a living nightmare!
If Irene had succeeded in inviting me inside, Satan would have undone me for sure! … Aye in second thought, Gordon and Sue might report me to Father Martin! But I could sue him for assault! … No! … Bad publicity! … Hmm! Onlookers might remember me! The whole town would know! How would God be able to save me now? … Of course He knows! … Never mind my darn reputation! I’d dishonoured my Holy Father! I deserve to be punished severely!
The town clock tolls ten. I stop; watch all the store neon signs being turned off one by one, the legal robbery has terminated. The profiteers have taken in enough of their irreligious plunder! I envision their greedy eyes counting their Judas money with happy hands! … Go hang yourselves too!
Few vehicles pass by, Christmas carollers have also gone home, walk alone in a semi-daze, snowflakes dust me from head to toe by a much stronger colder wind, my feet halt at the rectory office door, fumble in my pockets for my keys. Can’t find them! Fear invades my heart! I search frantically though my pockets again! Still no keys! Cold sweat lines the inside of my clothes, chills me more! What happened to my keys? Left them on my desk? Hope so! … Not sure!
Being preoccupied with seeking solutions for so many sinners’ problems, I’d often done that. Or, … maybe I’d lost them in the scuffle with Gordon? … Sheer trepidation drove me back to that forsaken alley! … No flashlight! On my hands and knees my relentless guilt gropes about for them in the dark. A useless endeavour! … “My God! … Don’t forsake me!”
Frustrated, return to the rectory through a bitter snow squall, glance at my watch, it’s eleven-thirty already, raise my forefinger to the ringer, hesitate again, my stomach queasy, mustn’t awake Father Martin!
Old, grouchy, filled to the brim from hearing mundane confessions, his hypertension could cause him to discipline me harshly for being so late! … Might be transferred to another parish with a tarnished reputation! Can’t have that! … Faint-heartedly make my way back to the front doorway of the church. Murphy’s Law was in full force! Being the conscientious Father Martin was, I had of course locked the doors tight as a tomb and I was doomed!
Call it pride, sheer determination, God’s Will, or just plain stubbornness, my feet refused to budge from that spot! I’m quite sober now; clearly understand this horrible predicament to be my test of faith, or call it what you will, this was where I’d come to terms with our Maker!
I cuddled in a cold corner of the church’s entrance, sought shelter from the full-blown blizzard. Abandoned I was my brothers and sisters! Listened to the wanton wind howling around the eve troughs like evil screeching banshees who’d just escaped from Hades! The snow shrouded about the roof, glacial sprays flew around the sides of the building. A layer of ice crystallized on my coat. Death would greet me soon if I remained much longer. My very life swayed in the balance of what God would decide! … Or me?
Stayed I did! Wouldn’t leave until I found out what had gone wrong in my life! Why did the bishop transfer me here to St. Paul’s? Why did he replace me by a young graduate fresh out of the seminary without any explanation? Never even thanked me for all my many sacrificial efforts I’ d put into my work! Had I done something that dreadfully wrong? My hurt pride refused to be consoled. Priests are sworn to obedience, so I didn’t dare question him. But I resented his decision with seething anger! … A sin I know!
It’s the God’s truth! I’d done my job to the best of my ability with what I had to work! Neighbour, all I saw week after week were the elderly attending mass. I was preaching to a depleting senior congregation, many of whom were chronically ill. And, the blatant disinterest and total absence of the young and the middle-aged would eventually cause my parish to close! I’d often gone to their homes to encourage them to come back! Most would slam the door in my face after having called me foul names!
Holy Mary, Mother of God! Some partook in the Holy Communion when they were not in the state of grace! … Uh? If I would have refused to administer the host to them, they would’ve felt offended and never come back. Or worse, they would have reported me the bishop! … Caught in a devilish dilemma I was!
Even the sacred confessional had become nothing more than a rotating door whereby the majority confessed their sins superficially. I’d give them absolution and penitence after which they would go straight out the front door, repeat the same sins, and come back in a week later expecting to be cleansed all over again. ’T is no better here at St. Paul’s! … If you were in my shoes, what would you have done?
O-o-o-oh! Alice McGuire, who was responsible for Social Justice on our parish council, had gotten so wilful lately that she does whatever she pleases! This discord irritated our secretary, Maureen Fisher and the treasurer, Peter O’ Neil, so much that they both resigned at the last meeting!
Ah! Joan MacDonald, our vigilant Chairperson, had taken an instant disliking towards me since my arrival. She’d even decided to keep a record of the congregation’s negative comments about me! Just yesterday, she’d told me that if I didn’t respect her decisions, she would make a formal complaint to Father Martin! … Did I deserve that?
God forbid! She even had the audacity to berate me about my sermons being boring! In her astute opinion, I was the principal cause of discouraging parishioners from coming to mass thus decreasing the flow of money into the Parish Council’s coffers!
At nine o’clock this morning, she’d delivered to me an ultimatum that I’d better adhere to the Council’s goals, that naturally meant hers, or she’d be obliged to send her concerns directly to the bishop along with a written request calling for his immediate investigation into my inadequate performance!
O-o-o-o! I had to settle this perplexing situation with Father Martin! … But unfortunately, he had gone to serve mass at a neighbouring parish in the next county to replace a sick priest. He wouldn’t return before ten o’clock this evening. What to do?
So by noon today, my frayed nerves had made me nauseous! I removed a bottle of twenty per cent white wine from the rectory cupboard poured myself one big glass and drank it down slowly. Within twenty minutes, my appetite had miraculously returned. I must confess that I ‘d never been a drinking man. The only alcohol I’d ever taken was a sip of wine at communion. And, that’s the Gospel truth! … Think otherwise if you wish!
But heck! Feeling chipper now, I thought I’d treat myself to a restaurant meal. I down a second glass, place the half-bottle of wine back in the cupboard, put on my snow boots, my brown wool toque and long winter coat, do a little Irish jig, and looked forward to taking a nice long health walk before having lunch.
Oh yes, I know! ... I should’ve gotten down on my knees, sincerely prayed for God’s support, and placed my whole trust Him. Foolish me! I’d chosen to follow the way of the world and had given in to the devil’s temptation!
Drowning in drunken mischief, I snicker stupidly, titter-totter about, giggle aloud, deviously pilfer a 26-ounce whiskey flask from Father Martin’s secret cache, pour myself a half glass, drink it down in one swallow, and stick the bottle in my inner coat pocket thinking that if he could take a good shot once and awhile then so could I!
Father Martin is seventy years of age, gets stressed out easily, and consumes a quarter glass of whiskey daily for his heart condition. I honestly believed the whiskey would help me too! … I was never so wrong!
Denounce my actions but please folks not me! … Anyway, I head up the street, walk four blocks past a shoe shop stopping to take a nip of whiskey here and there to fight off the bitter cold. Soon bouts of light-headedness begin to slow me down, shrug them off and pick up a brisker pace. A half an hour later, start to stagger, collapse, force myself up, lean against the corner of a red brick building at an alley entrance. When I woke up in the afternoon nearly half frozen I was suffering from a pounding headache and you already know the rest.
Now, this is where my strange experience takes on a frightening surreal twist! Through the fury of the tempest, I curled up at the church main entrance, the steeple bells began ringing at midnight announcing the arrival of Christmas Eve Day. Out of the twirling gusty snow appeared this glowing figure of a man floating toward me. And no, I’m not drunk or daft! Turned my back on him I did,
“Lord! I’ve finally lost my sanity!”
I made ready to run back to the safe rectory!
“No! … No! …You’re not real!”
A freezing frisson shot through me! … Maybe hypothermia was setting in?
“Don’t touch me! ... I’m not ready to die! ... Not yet! ... Have mercy!”
I turn away, then peek, stare in shock, see a yellowish shimmering face! … His icy hair glowed with a silvery rim similar to what scientists would describe as white light!
Opening his arms, he speaks gently. His lips don’t move, yet I know his thoughts, he knows mine! … How could that possibly be?
“Are you some split personality of mine, or a figment of my imagination?”
“Neither, I’m part of your being, as you are part of the universe!”
“What do you want? ... Are … are you the Angel of Death?”
“That depends upon you! I am your friend and always have been. Now, make a decision Father Patrick Mahoney! … Will you come home with me or go into the church and pray for God’s Grace so you can fulfill His Plan for you?”
“You … Are you are from God?”
“Yes, I am!”
“This can’t be so! … Not in the temporal world! … You’re an hallucination!”
Touching my head with his right hand, a delightful heat tingled throughout my entire body!
“Your time has come earthly Father! … What is your choice? ... Quickly now!”
“Live! … I’ve much to do in this city to serve God!”
“But Father Mahoney, how can you profess to be a holy man when your heart bears so much hatred toward so many of God’s children? … Well? … Answer!”
My head lowers in shame.
“Tell me then, why are you a priest?”
“To honour God!”
“Are you? ... Is not God, a forgiving God? ... If you love Him as you say, then why aren’t you forgiving also? … You are to love God with all your heart, with your all mind, with all your soul, with all your strength, and to love everyone as Jesus loves you! …. And, especially your enemies! … For what benefit is it to you to love only your friends?” … Well Father Patrick, what is your choice?
“I try! ... I don’t have any impact upon these confounded councillors! I’m a failure!
“Only if you choose to think so little Father! For what the man thinks, the man becomes! …The battleground between Good and Evil is fought in your mind and heart!’
“But Angel, no matter what I do, I can’t succeed for God!”
“For God Mahoney? ... Or, for your selfish self?”
“What do you mean? … Why do you torture me so?”
“God of course!”
“He has been waiting for you to do so! … Why haven’t you done it?”
“Well since I haven’t already Angel, then you must do His will! with me!”
“Ah Patrick Mahoney, I know your love for the Creator is strong! You mean well but have much to learn! … Go forth! … Enter by the front door of the church. Pray to Mother Mary at the Nativity Scene as you did when you were an innocent child.”
“How did you know about that? ... Were you there at that time?”
“I’ve been with you all your life … It is you who has not always decided to be with the Father or with me! … Perhaps, that will change?”
“Please, I beg of you! … Forgive me!”
“Only God can forgive you through your honest contrition. But do not ask Him for
mercy, rather ask Him for justice. The price of mercy has already been paid for sins!”
“I ... I can’t do what you ask! The church doors are locked shut! I’ve already tried them twice!’
“O’ you, who are of such little faith! ... Go! ... Do as I say and all will be well!”
My eyes did not leave the angel until he’d faded away with the same measure as the howling wind returned biting into my naked flesh. The unbearable pain drove me to try the two heavy doors for the third time. I’d either succeed or die from exposure. I gave them a great pull. To my astonishment, they opened!
Picture this! I enter the sombre portal and am drawn down the centre aisle to a rainbow of light glowing from flickering candles near the altar shining like struggling resolute pilgrims on their arduous journey through our naughty world and me amongst them. Ah! Beside this radiance, welcoming warmth emits from two iron-wrought radiators raging war with the stubborn cold lodged inside me. I shiver and shake violently. My skin burns from within as the heat enters my body.
Such reposing silence! Sensing God’s Holy Presence dissipates my anxieties. In sorrowful reference for my transgressions, my knees drop to the floor! Gazing intently upon the Christ’s figure on the cross, my soul surrenders wholly unto Him:
“Please forgive me Holy Father! ... I never wanted to cause You any pain! Must reconcile with You! … Show me the way! … I promise I’ll do what is right! ... I’ll never touch strong liquor again! ... Grant me Your Justice! I’m willing to receive punishment for my sins! Never let me ever feel apart from You again! I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed! – Amen!”
Ah the crèche! Baby Jesus with loving Mary and Joseph, the three wise men, the shepherds in awe, and the joyous messenger, Angel Gabriel!
“Oh, I implore You Mother Mary, intercede for me! I love You! … God chose You above of all women! Though your virgin womb, Jesus our Saviour was born and He brought hope to this dark world. By His miraculous Resurrection, we will all have an opportunity to enjoy eternal life and the resurrection of our body! Oh Holy Mother soothe my unquiet soul, restore me to the state of Grace!”
I heard a compassionate utterance:
“My son, penitence isn’t necessary. Meditate on Jesus’ prayer with a pure heart!”
“Uh? … Yes… yes … I will!
Our ... Father ... who art in Heaven / Hallowed be thy name/ ...
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
I stopped! … Justice! ... Jesus was speaking about justice! We must give good to receive good! I’d preached this very same theme countless times to my parishioners that by forgiving others I too would release my own pent-up hatred and revenge!
In return, I had to learn how to love my enemies genuinely as a gift for God! Now I saw Alice and Joan in my mind, heard all their hurtful threats, relived the pain they’d caused me. I placed it all with Mother Mary, the epitome of love and patience, who had even forgiven the spiteful soldiers who had spat on her Jesus, relished driving sharp spikes into His hands and feet causing Him to suffer the worst agonizing death possible!
Within minutes, my burden lifted realizing how little I’d suffered in comparison to Jesus! So with renewed confidence, I rise, turn; start to make my way to the rectory office. But, who was that creature creeping up on me under the veil of darkness?
“I thought I’d heard a voice! …. Patrick Mahoney! … Who ar ya talkin’ to? No one’s here! … Ah fergit it! … I could’ve brained ya with me shillelagh me Lad! Good Lord! Have ya been ta Iceland and back in a sailin' ship? ... Yer eyebrows are icicles! Yer coat is frozen stiff! Yer lips ar blue me boy! ... Do ya hav’ bats in yer belfry ta be out in such dreadful weather? Why jus’ look ya would ya!
Own up ta yer wrong-doin’! … What in the name of Saint Francis ar ya cumin’ in here at one in the mornin’? ... Do ya not know that we must serve our first mass at eight-thirty? … ’T is Christmas Eve Day! ... And on Christmas Morn we must start all o’er again! … Well Father? ... Speak up! … What’s goin’ on? I ‘ve looked fer ya from here ta eternity!”
“Father Martin, I was lost but now I am found!”
I see an impish grin appear on his face.
“Aye, and a leprechaun will leave a pot of gold under my bed on Christmas Eve!
Wow! … Now, I got his Irish up!
“Y’er talkin’ in riddles Mahoney! Save yer fine words of proverbial wisdom fer yer Christmas sermon. I’m too old and tired ta argue. Let’s git ya off ta bed! … But first, go jump in a hot shower befer ya lie yer way ta Hell’s door!”
Catching himself, “Are ya truly alright Lad?”
“Oh yes Sir! I’m reborn!”
“Enough of that malarkey! ... And by the way, if ya ever get the inclination ta wander off again, be kind enough ta leave me a note! I’d almost alerted the coppers ta go look fer ya!
Hmm ... just a wee minute Laddie boy! ... How did ya get in here? Yer keys are still on the office desk and I know I’d locked all the doors. Fer the luve of Holy Heaven, ya didn’t break a window now, did ya?”
“Father Martin, let me say I’d experienced a miracle tonight. I’d met a shining angel and …”
’T is enough of yer fantasy tales! Ya had a second key. Let’s be honest!”
“Sir because of security regulations, you know that the key cannot be duplicated.”
“Fine ... have it yer own way! … But listen here Patrick Mahoney, ya must make a full confession ta me in the mornin’ before mass. Then I’ll know the whole truth!”
“’T is true Father Martin! … Be prepared though, it’ll be long and interesting!”
“Cum along me Boy! As we say back in Ireland, May ya live a hundred years, with an extra year ta repent!”
Morning came fast, afternoon was frightfully busy, supper flew by! After celebrating Midnight Mass at ten p.m., Father Martin and I suffered from physical exhaustion. Still, we took the time to meet with the parishioners, wished them all a happy farewell, many commented on how refreshing my sermon was!
Ho! … Here come Irene, Sean, and their children! O’ how my heart beats madly as she stares flirtatiously at me! Busied with her restless children, neglects to shake my hand. Did she really recognize me from today’s incident? Must have! … I redden. Hot sweat drips down the back of my shirt! … Ah! Can’t take my eyes off her! … Sorry Lord!
Sean notices my deep preoccupation with her! Is he jealous perhaps? He begins to fumble for some object in his left coat pocket. What could it be? … A knife? … Swallow hard, comes close! ... Too close! … My fear intensifies!
“By the way Father, Peter my oldest son, had found this cell-phone in an alley by ar place. Will ya make an announcement at New Year’s Mass to find the owner?”
He smirks! … But why does he? ... Of course! … He knows it’s mine! ... Probably checked the calls too! My lips move mechanically,
“I ‘m certain I’ll be able to locate the one who had lost it Mr. O’Sullivan.”
I move back some more, muffle my sigh, regain my emotional stability.
“Somehow I’m sure ya will Father! … Thank ya Father fer yer kindness.”
Smirks at me for a longer time, turns to Irene, prods her along lovingly as if he doesn’t want her to talk to me, she resists to walk on, looks back at me again.
“Cum along Lass, y’ er embarrassin’ our guid priest! … Father Mahoney, never mind her, she always thinks she knows someone from some place or another.
Let’s be off Dear! Christmas is waitin’ fer us at home and the children are gettin’ impatient! … Do ya not understand Mother what I’m tryin’ ta tell ya?”
“But I do know him Sean!” Insisting, she breaks free from his hold, trots toward me, clasps my hands tightly, warmly with love whispers as if we share some secret,
“Father, ya and me … well we cum from this same town do we not? Since I’d first heard yer name as the new assistant priest, I simply dismissed it as a coincidence. Shame on ya Patrick Mahoney! … Or, should I call ya Patty Boy? ... So? … Ya do remember me? … Have I changed all that much? …We … we ‘d meant so much ta each other! … We … we’d almost married! … I waited three years fer ya, … luved ya!
I, moved by her enchanting confession, admitted the same to myself, “Oh my darling! How could I ‘ve ever forgotten you? Oh Irene! Twelve years have so quickly flown by since we’d kissed and I had proposed marriage!”
“That’s odd Patty, I saw a street person earlier today near ar place who had the same eyes as yers! … Isn’t that somethin’! … I guess I must have been dreamin’!”
`Hmm! She held onto my hands far too long! … And me to hers! … Sean sees my face flush; I sheepishly back away from her. He comes straight up dangerously close! I clench my hands, clammy wet now! Suspicious he is! The interrogation begins, “Well Irene! I think y’ er right!. ...
So Father, how is it that ya know me wife? … Have ya phoned her recently ta ask her ta help with parish activities? … Talked ta her, maybe in town?” … Cum, ta think of it, somethin’ about yer face sure looks familiar!”
My mind blocks; must think of a way out! Anything! Can’t lie! Bound by God to tell the truth! Stammer, grope for a fabrication, must stop him from flying into a rage!
“Us? ... Well ... er ...we were ... umm ... we were ... ”
Remark how livid my Irene is! … Good! … She caresses Sean’s arm like a cat shows love to its master, moves her doubtful husband away from me, smiles into his eyes, purrs confidentially, ”Sean, ... Patty and I grew up and played together as kids. There were times when we had a lot of fun together and other times we’d simply annoyed each other ta death. He was like ... like a big brother ta me. Believe me Luve that’s all, nothin’ more!”
Close my eyes, imagine Jesus smiling, my heart thanks Him for Irene’s kind white lie. Even though Sean senses there is more to this, he remains a gentleman! … Her? Quite reassured that God will always come first with me! Her family with her! Send them off with a sincere warm cheerful good-bye.
Check to the right. Sue and Gordon are advancing quickly … Hmm! … Sue has something on her mind does she not? Starts to give me her hand to shake, then stares strangely at me, hesitates, withdraws, suddenly, turns to Gordon in fright, jolts back as if I were a leper! … I’m done for now! … Bless me Father for I have sinned!
He too glares at me! Becomes stiff-necked, rolls his shoulders about nervously; snorts, his fists wrenched white tight, backs away too, struggles to be calm, glances back at Sue, grabs her rudely by the arm, begins to leave, stops, wants to say something to me, turns back again. Like me, doesn’t want to be exposed! Wants to reconcile but doesn’t know how!
I, trapped like a guilty thing, couldn’t deny today’s altercation! Figured they hadn’t identified me when preaching in the pulpit earlier because they’d sat in the back pew. And during communion, Father Martin had administered the host to them. Earlier he had seen me up close in the scuffle … and so did Sue afterwards!
Must break this unbearable silence, must fight off this feeling of intimation, must disarm them, must regain their trust! Can’t let them leave like this! … How? Aye! Must let God’s Will be done! … Somehow my tight throat utters,
“Sue, Gordon, you’ll always be welcome to this parish. Thank you for coming! God loves all his children regardless of our human weaknesses because He is a forgiving Father! ... May God bless you two richly. Always be kind to each other - and especially to those whom you meet! Before going to sleep tonight, please find it in your hearts to say a prayer to strengthen my faith, and I will pray for your future happiness.”
Study their serious faces; they study mine. Their rigid mouths slacken, relief appears and gladness glimmers. Sue smiles and mutters, “Thank ya Father and I’ll do just that! ... Promise!”
Gordon seizes my left shoulder,
squeezes it. Will he lunge at me in my own church? … Of course I jump! The
aroused iron-man speaks, “Y’ er a true man of God Father
Mahoney! …Thank ya fer yer understandin’! I’ve confidence in ya now! …
So if it’s okay with ya, I’ll see ya at New Year’s mass too?"
Momentarily dazed, I recover quietly, smile sincerely into their anxious eyes, “Come every Sunday too! …You and Sue have a Merry Christmas! … Be sure to see me about your wedding plans as soon as you decide on the date. We’ll have a lot to plan together including the Preparation for Marriage seminar.”
Oh no! … Father in Heaven! My nasty Parish Council members spotted me! See how Alice slides up beside me! … Lord let Your Holy Spirit in my heart guide me!
“So Father Mahoney, we’ve established special activities in the cumin’ new year fer the parishioners but I’m not so sure that ya’ll still be with us!”
She recoils like a snake after having bitten me!
My cheeks burn, heart palpitates, place my trust in Jesus once more!
“I’m certain that God has secured my stay to serve Him here for years to come!”
Stupefied, seething, grimacing, sizes me up from foot to toe, her arrogance reigns! … Puts her nose in the air, walks off in a huff!
Ouch! … Now Joan senses trouble, hurries up to me. With an dark ominous countenance tries to stare me down, her demonic spirit hisses,
“Father Mahoney, I don’t think this matter can wait until New Year as I’d originally planned. I’ll be communicatin’ with the Bishop Mooney durin’ the holidays and be recommendin’ that it’d be best fer the parish at large if ya would be re-assigned ta another church! I’m sure ya understand. We really need a priest who’ll motivate parishioners ta return ta mass!”
My stomach queasy, burns, cold sweats return, recall the angel’s words, remember my promise to God, I’m momentarily comforted,
“Joan, I believe that you’ve decided to do what appears to be right for you from your perspective naturally. So, let God’s decide my destiny – not you!”
Ah! Frank MacLean’s bushy grey eyebrows perk up. Oh how he advances aggressively toward Joan and me! … Should I be more distressed than I already am?
”Sorry Father fer buttin’ in! … Now, ya lissen here Joan, the five other councillors with the President, Father Martin over there, and me ...well ... we had an emergency meetin’ a week ago. We agreed on the motion that Father Mahoney could stay on fer as long as he wants. Priests are hard enough ta git as it is!
We’ve already sent ar request ta Bishop Mooney requestin’ him ta be ar choice regardin’ Father Martin’s retirement next spring. He replied by phone that he would approve! We will receive his official letter in the second week of January of next year.
Stunned, her cheeks redden with anger, bottom lip quivers, eyes bulge, frightened, retorts vehemently,
“Ya can’t do that! … Y’er all gangin’ up on me! … We’ll see about that!”
“Oh-h-h but we did! ... And the majority rules!” Frank sneers while his cohorts burst out in loud mocking laughter.
“Joan, we’ve adopted other measures too callin’ fer yer immediate resignation from the Parish Council as well as Alice’s!”
“This can’t be true Frank! … Ya have no right! … I’ll contest yer decision!”
“O-o-o-o … but it is so Joan! … We don’t want either of you here … ever!”
Advancing nose to nose with her,
“Effective today! … If not, ya’ll have to go through the humiliation of being voted out at the January’s meetin’! … And, inform Alice that she’s finished too!”
“But I ‘ve a mandate fer two years! Alice doesn’t!” … What ‘ve I done ta ya all?”
“That rule only applies ... if ya maintain a good Christian conduct upon which we all agreed that ya and Alice don’t! … Both of ya have acted maliciously all ta often and therefore undeserving of yer positions ta be on this Parish Council!”
“Fine! ... Then I quit! … This church will go bankrupt soon enough without me!”
Ha, ha! Look at how she steps back in disbelief! And whoa! There she goes out the church door into the snowy blizzard! … With such grateful relief I address them all,
“Thank you … thank you so much for doing God’s Work! …I wish you remaining Parish Councillors a very Merry Christmas indeed!”
They sing to me: ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow’ and leave laughing and waving goodbye! I wave in return with my heart full of joy!
“Father Martin, this has been the happiest Christmas I’ve ever known for a very long time! Sir, when we honour God in our daily affairs, He truly does bring social justice into our lives, does He not?”
“Well Father Patrick Mahoney, there’s hope fer ya yet! That’s the wisest thought that yer tongue has ever spoken ta me Lad! Now remember, sayin’ and doin’ are two different things! ‘Cus if ya choose ta please the warld, the warld will love ya, but ya’ll lose yer soul!
And, ... if ya choose ta show the warld that ya love God’s laws more, then disbelievers will hate ya fer uncoverin’ their ungodly ways and their guilt will persecute ya! … But in the end, ya’ll save yer soul fer all eternity!
Fine! … God will bless ya and yer parishioners too if ya let God’s Holy Spirit in yer heart teach them about the Kingdom of ar Lord! … Speak with luve Mahoney – don’t go preachin’ ta them through textbook reason and from yer studied written notes!
Assure them also that God is not mad at them! … Instead show them how He loves them regardless of their sins! That they have already been accepted and have been made righteous ‘cus Christ, ar Savour, died ta save their souls and has prepared a special place fer each of His children in Paradise! What could any person ever want?
Oh and lastly me boy! … Reveal to them from Scripture that Jesus will be cumin’ back again in a glorified body and all Christian believers will be given a glorified body too and we’ll live ferever in luve and happiness with God! … Do ya hear me Lad?“
Ah in a couple of short months Father Patrick Mahoney, this St. Paul’s Parish will be yers! … ’T was I who chose ya ta replace me ‘cus I know ya really ya want ta glorify ar Lord! … Me lifelong battle here on earth ta keep up the guid fight is fast nearin’ the end and yers, jus’ beginnin’! … God’s callin’ me elsewhere … the best place ever!
(© 2013 Richard David Briggs – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)