Jackass for the Hour: Chapter 8 – What’s this, a list of your sins?
Simon fell asleep that morning feeling like he was on top of the world, as if he had conquered the whole world. This was merely due to the amount of money he had received from père Jacques after what he had done to little Ev. He woke up late in the afternoon, as if driven by a force he had not previously known. What he needed to do had come to him without him having thought about it. It was so blazingly clear that he immediately set about accomplishing what he had to do. He phoned his assistants and told them to keep his voodoo brothels closed until further notice, which he thought might be a few days. He didn’t want his actions to look like an economic manoeuvre to boost his own business as he now went about systematically destroying the ‘competition’. He would reopen as soon as everyone realised he was the most powerful in dealing with spirits.
Following his ‘instincts’, he was soon in a Catholic church which was hosting a ‘charismatic’ prayer meeting. Those participating in the ‘deliverance ministry’ were ‘praying over’ people, imagining that they could name evil spirits according to human foibles. “Begone, wicked spirit of substance abuse!” they commanded. “Begone, dark spirit of fornication!” The priest, attempting some kind of authority, imagined other types of possession: “Go away demonically infected family tree!” and “Begone Masonic binding!” People sang and swayed to their own melodies. The pretentious ‘leaders’ of the ‘prayer meeting’, guided their self-made rituals of superstition into the lowest common denominator that would not tolerate piety, prudence, knowledge or any mention of a need for the express permission of the bishop to do exorcisms. The laying on of hands by the laity usurped the traditional symbol of divine authority hierarchically given. They rationalized disobedience to the Church by saying that their make-pretend exorcisms were merely ‘deliverance prayers.’
Despite his advanced age, Simon violently walked through the line of people waiting to be prayed over, so that, without slowing down his determined pace, he shoved people to either side like a bowling ball knocking bowling pins in every which direction, until he tossed aside the woman upon whom they were laying hands. He knelt where she had been, directly in front of the priest in the middle of this group of ‘intercessors’ and ‘discerners’. “Deliver us, if you can,” the spirits in Simon taunted. Satan always pretended to be delivered by these ‘leaders’, baiting them into further disobedience, but no more. Now he would bring such people out of the Church altogether. Everyone stopped singing. The élite ‘core group’, the ‘power intercessors’, were frightened. They had seen how Simon had knocked people out of the way, his eyes wide open, but with only the whites of his eyes showing. He was looking with uncanny accuracy at the priest even though he was now trying to avoid the eyes of Simon.
The priest’s heart sank. He knew he was in over his head, had no authority, and that he was guilty of seeking the affirmations of this ‘charismatic’ group of his sycophants. He was not an officially appointed exorcist, but, as is usual among such priests, he had usurped the role when he came to the parish with the encouragement of the charismatic prayer group, who said that if he called it ‘deliverance’ instead of ‘exorcism’, it would be fine. As a non-official exorcist, he was afraid of his responsibility to discern peoples’ needs, and wrongly delegated this responsibility to women who were ‘gifted’ with ‘words and pictures of knowledge’. Usage of such ‘gifts’ was a gift to Satan.
The women laid hands upon the priest, saying things indiscernible even to themselves. The priest, buoyed by this ‘support’, commanded Simon, “Evil spirit, tell me your name!”
“Why should we tell you, you fraud!?” The demon then listed the sins of the priest and his ‘charismatic’ helpers, something which never happens with duly appointed, prayerful exorcists.
Foolishly undeterred, the priest said, “Begone, Satan! I command you!”
“Do you disobey the Church, pretending to be an exorcist when you are not?” asked the spirit. “You’re like Muslims who throw stones at us at al-Jamarat, pretending to purge themselves from sin by doing something they have no authority to do. But, I am Pan, and create panic. The Muslims stampede, killing themselves. Even Saint Michael would not command me, turning to God instead.” Although all these things were correct, Satan, the father of lies, knew his target well, and was baiting the priest to be even more disobedient. Even Satan’s ‘truth’ was a lie.
“I am a deliverance person,” asserted the priest, who, thus confirming his disobedience – and his foolishness in listening – continued, trying what he thought were the most powerful weapons he had, saying, “I command you, spirit, you who are bound to the cursing in the genealogy of this victim covered by the blood of the Lamb…”
“But the spirit interrupted, saying, “Do you think we are bound to human stupidity, that we must obey the cursing of human beings?! We do what we want, when we want, to whom we want. We hate God, and mock you only because He loves you. Otherwise, we wouldn’t deign to pay attention to you. We despise you all the more for following us!” The words were well aimed at making the priest utterly guilty of his disobedience, knowing that the priest would take his true words to be a lie. Like clockwork, the priest considered himself to be correct in confusing the effects of original and personal sin – along with the usual psychological effects of one’s family – with the independent person of a fallen angel. The priest was bound to fail, pitting his cleverness without humility, without wisdom, against that of the fallen angel.
The priest, with unbounded arrogance, said, “I’ll show you!” Then, turning to his core group, asked them if they were ready. They said that they were. He then said, “Dark angel of non-affirmation, I command you to enter into my helpers, whose pure souls will conquer you, sending you not only out of themselves, but also out of this victim whom you disrespect.”
It was to be a battle of psychology, winner takes all, a battle in which Jesus had no part. They were their own appointed saviours. The spirit in Simon, continuing to stare at the priest with the whites of his eyes, and remaining still, not even opening his mouth, let out the most diabolical screaming laughter, which seemed to come from a thousand tortured spirits all at once. It was deafening. The few windows of the church having glass all imploded at once.
As soon as the priest once again commanded the spirit to enter them, it did so, knocking them all to the floor. They knew very well that anything which amounted to a prayer could be called a deliverance prayer, while anything which addressed Satan directly, either asking questions or commanding him to depart, amounted to an exorcism, but none of them had been honest enough to figure out that disobedience was the principle by which Satan himself had fallen, and that Satan does not cast out Satan. The priest’s tactic of having his core-group possessed so as to better exorcise the demons – as he incorrectly thought – was a kind of voodoo practised even by some ‘orthodox’ catholic priests in first world countries, and was becoming commonplace. It helped Satan’s cause, so antithetical to the Gospel was it. This time, instead of pretending to leave so as to bait them to continue, Simon stood on top of them and declared that his voodoo reigned supreme. Everyone believed him, for the priest and his helpers all had their eyes wide open, though their pupils had rolled backward. They looked like the zombies of the voodoo rituals. The ‘power intercessors’ and the priest would later congratulate themselves for their arrogant ‘altruism’, but Satan did not leave them.
After everyone else had stampeded out of the church, some falling, some running over those on the floor, Simon continued walking by ‘instinct’ to other churches with similar groups, leaving each priest and his ‘core group’ possessed.
✵ ✵ ✵
It was just 4:00 A.M. when Jacinta rose for the day on which she would go on retreat. She knelt by her bed and said a few short prayers as she usually did, but this morning was different. She awoke with the deep sense of peace, of blessedness, of being in the almost tangible presence of Christ Jesus. It was the peace of knowing that, in His grace, in the union of Charity with the Triune God, she had dedicated her soul to Christ Jesus, her intellect, her will, and more… every sinew of her body, her feelings, her desires, her emotions, her strength, her… entirety. Her favourite texts of Saint Paul came to mind, that “we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7), and that we are “always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2Co 4:10), and that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit within us, whom we have from God, and that we are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:19), and that by the mercies of God, we are to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, our spiritual worship (Romans 12:1). She knew God had accepted this offering of herself made in His own grace; she knew the nurturing fire of God’s love. She felt regal, as regal as a handmaid of the Most High, as more than a queen, as someone who knew God knowing her (1 Corinthians 13:12) and, in Christ Jesus, taking her to himself with those special wedding vows of His: “This is my Body, being given for you, on Calvary… This is my Blood, being shed for you, on Calvary…” It wasn’t the gnostic, emotional, self-congratulatory, so-called ‘knowing God’ of Jung’s pseudo-numinism, but the hope provided by the mercy of the justice of the Suffering Servant laying down His life for her, a hope radicated in the experience of living not according to the body, but the spirit, by grace.
She stood up and walked to her desk, flipping open her Bible at random. She started reading at Ezekiel 16,6, stopping at 16,14. She knew the words referred to Israel being prepared by grace – and now the grace of the sacraments – to become the Immaculate Bride of Christ, but she also knew that Israel is made up of individuals, including herself. Every word about the redemption, her salvation, resonated within her. She was so thankful, so happy, so blessed. Nothing was her own. All was from Christ and belonged to Him alone. He would keep her from falling away, keeping her with love. She knew she was now being “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). She knew her vow of evangelical chastity would be more fruitful than any marital embrace, any large family, granting her something far beyond the joys of ecstatic union with another, a desire for which she was not repressing or even suppressing, but which she was seeing transformed by Christ into a perfection of chaste dedication, of charity for the entirety of the Mystical Body of Christ. Her heart and soul and mind could run lightly with Jesus’ good mother, who would rush to the aid of the members of the Body of Christ, maternally bearing the weight of the glory of that Body as only mothers can. It was the vocation of all contemplative nuns.
The Mother General of the Paraclete Adoration Sisters had not asked her if she was a virgin, telling Jacinta explicitly that this was simply too much information and was quite useless to know regarding her suitability for such a vocation in which purity of heart and agility of soul was a condition sine qua non, a condition without which it would be impossible for the community to hold together. Physical integrity, she said, has nothing to do with humble thanksgiving to Jesus for the gift of perfect chastity. Being a virgin doesn’t mean no fallen human nature, no need for redemption and salvation. It could be a source of pride, of arrogance, more deadly to a life of prayer than any sin could be. This conversation had arisen when discussing a past experience of Jacinta’s with a vocation director of another community. It was when Jacinta brought up a chapter of a book by G.K. Chesterton in a collection of stories by the same name, “The Secret of Father Brown,” that Mother General knew she had found a gem for the entire church in Jacinta. Uncharacteristically, she laughed out loud in agreement when Jacinta recounted what her good bishop back in Louisiana had taught her about how the heresy of Manichaeism had been showing up in the strangest of places, among both liberals and conservatives alike. “Few know the living truth, Christ Jesus,” she said, “But he’s the One. He’s the only One.”
✵ ✵ ✵
It was just 10:00 P.M. when Simon, pushed by the arrogance of Satan, entered the new Cathedral of Port-au-Prince. Another prayer service was being concluded by Archbishop Pòv, the new Local Ordinary, who did have ecclesial authority over Satan. The Archbishop had requested that that evening was to be set aside in all parishes for Eucharistic Adoration and individual Confession. He had just reposed the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle when Simon went up to him, knelt at his feet, and said, “Τί ἡμῖν καὶ σοί, Pòv? We know you follow Christ, and we had Him killed.”
There were always at least two undercover police in the Cathedral during services, Catholics who had nothing to do with voodoo. They recognised Simon, and rushed to the aid of the Archbishop, who, instead, told them to stand aside and pray. They looked at Simon, terrified, for he seemed to be bursting with energy, as if he could tear the building down with his bare hands.
“In the name of Christ Jesus, Son of the Living God, who died and rose for the likes of men, conquering death and Satan, I ask you, who are you?”
“Legion, for we are…”
“What are you doing here?” asked the Archbishop, interrupting.
“We are here to praise you…”
“You are a liar and murderer from the beginning,” said the Archbishop, “but the Immaculate Conception intercedes for us. You shall give me an answer.”
“Keyfa will be sifted as wheat!” came the reply. Laughter like that heard earlier in the other parishes followed. Satan then ‘prophesied’: “Alexámenos will burn… burning… burning…”
The Archbishop knew that a priest called Alexámenos was coming to his Archdiocese soon. He placed the end of the stole he was wearing over the shoulder of Simon and recited, from memory, the exorcisms of the ritual published in 1614, alternating from deprecatory prayers to imprecatory exorcisms, from interceding with God to giving direct commands to Satan in Jesus’ Name. It was of no use. Fasting would be necessary along with the prayers of that evening. The Archbishop left Simon where he was kneeling and turned to the crowd gathered in the Cathedral, asking them to fast for a successful outcome to the exorcism of Simon, and then bid them to pray with him a decade of the Rosary with the same intention. As they finished, Simon went out a side door of the Cathedral, repeating, without opening his mouth, “Sift… Burn…”
✵ ✵ ✵
The night was almost over when Cardinal Fidèle closed the ancient manuscript of the Confessions, placing it absentmindedly on top of some other volumes. He was lost in thought. He could not fathom what don Hash had questioned about vicarious suffering, but thought he had found some passages he could use to test him. Don Hash did not seem to be the same person he had seen in the doctoral defence. Something had changed. The Cardinal rose, though with great difficulty, forgetting that he had suddenly become much older. He turned the heater off, and made his way in the dark to the front entrance, and then down the corridor to the door of the study, turning left to go into his bedroom. He lay down, but did not sleep. He had been an insomniac since the time he had lost his Faith. Twenty minutes of sleep after lunch was all he thought that he needed, never thinking of insomnia as a curse. He valued the darkness and quiet of the night, using it to review the past day and to prepare himself for the next. In a few hours, he would be speaking to the Holy Father… Just then, his phone rang. It was one of the guards, apologizing frantically, saying that a priest would soon be ringing his doorbell. “I forgot to tell you that he would arrive early this morning,” said the Cardinal. “Don’t worry!”
✵ ✵ ✵
It was 5:00 A.M. by the time don Hash and Father Alexámenos finished. They dragged the two large trunks loaded with books outside the house. They went to the chapel and remained for the better part of an hour. Afterwards, Father Alexámenos went to the sacristy. Don Hash followed to say goodbye before Mass started, but instead, Father Alexámenos was busy marking pages of the copy of his study which he printed while they had gone out for pizza. “The printer’s yours, if you want it,” said Father Alexámenos. “Take the computer now.”
“But it’s only a notebook computer. You can bring it with you,” protested don Hash.
“The seminary may have a computer for me to use, if I’m even gone that long,” Father Alexámenos insisted, giving the freshly printed copy of his study to don Hash, saying, “Read the marked pages on your way to San Lorenzo. Give it to Cardinal Emet… for safe keeping. Say goodbye to him for me. I’ll bring the copy with Fidèle’s notations to Absj today. He’s sure to keep it. I reformatted the hard disk of the computer. You should be able to say that no copies of the paper exist, except for the copy given to my Confessor.” They gave each other a blessing.
Don Hash left immediately, making his way down the Aventine Hill and following the river till he came to the Jewish Synagogue, the Tempio Maggiore, reading the marked pages of Father Alexámenos’ paper while trying to avoid puddles in the street. It had rained during the night. It was not as cold as the day before.
The sight of the Synagogue filled him with warm memories of an abandoned chapel on the side of the mountain near his home. The chapel was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and was replete with Jewish symbols pointing to the Son of David.
Don Hash smiled when he called to mind the extraordinary scene which had taken place when the Holy Father had been elected. After his specially chosen name for his office of Roman Pontiff had been announced, Pope Gregory, the crowd chanted the name his parents had given him, Tsur-Ezer. All the media had repeated the story in some way every day since the Pope’s election. They recounted that, as a boy, the Pope had been baptised a few years after his bar mitzvah at his Synagogue in Tel Aviv, where one of his friends, Shelomoh ben Yishaq, had become a son of the Law on the same day. They had both lived within a Sabbath day’s journey of the Synagogue, Tsur-Ezer close to Bat Yam, and Shelomoh near Ramat Gan. They hadn’t met each other since then, but had always kept in touch, even while Shelomoh became a Rabbi in Jerusalem and Tsur-Ezer a priest and then a bishop assigned in the Roman Curia. When Rabbi Shelomoh saw on television that his friend came out onto the central balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica after being elected Pope, he rang the Swiss Guard and requested assistance, for he wanted to meet his friend on the balcony itself; he said that they could check his story with the Irish priest who had been the secretary of then Cardinal Tsur-Ezer. They surprised him by saying that that would not be necessary as they knew him well. The crowds had almost instantly packed the streets around the Vatican, almost as far away as the Synagogue across the river. No one had expected an election on the first ballot, and the excitement of the city was at fever pitch. To assist Rabbi Shelomoh, the Carabinieri sent a small helicopter to the western end of Tiber Island, just two minutes walk from Via del Portico, which was two streets behind the Synagogue. The helicopter was already waiting when the Rabbi arrived, for it was one of many keeping surveillance over the enormous crowds. The flight to the Vatican took hardly any time. Since the helicopter was small, the pilot didn’t bother landing at the heliport at the extreme western end of the Vatican Gardens, but landed next to the Sacristy of the Basilica, in Piazza Santa Marta, sending a wave of concern through the crowds in front of the Basilica. The Rabbi entered the Basilica using the ramp which led under Bernini’s sculpture of Pope Alexander VII, accompanied by Swiss Guards and Cardinal Froben. They soon arrived at the loggia at the centre of the façade of the Basilica. The meeting delighted the crowds, who continued their applause as the Holy Father, accompanied by Rabbi Shelomoh, walked through Piazza San Pietro to greet his flock, creating a nightmare for those providing security.
What was not reported in the media was that it was the discussions of the young Tsur-Ezer and Shelomoh on Abraham and Isaac which had led to the future Pope’s conversion. The media knew so little, in fact, that they had to be reprimanded for their reporting that Rabbi Shelomoh was the Chief Rabbi of Rome. Rabbi Shelomoh had not even met the Chief Rabbi. No matter how many times he explained that he was not the Chief Rabbi, the title stuck with him, perhaps because of what they considered to be stereotypical, for he wore a kippah, kept his beard in a traditional manner with payot on either side of his head and tzitziyot visible on either side of his waist. He was newly resident in Rome, working as a medical doctor; he was not a member of any collegio rabbinico or rabbinic directorate. It was because he had his own style of orthodoxy, and was far too politically incorrect to have a consensus backing him, that he had come to Rome from Jerusalem. He was content to have an ever-growing number of discreet students. Yet, they too often joked with him, imitating the media, also calling him the Chief Rabbi. At least no one said he was the token Jewish ‘friend’ of the Pope, for, as it was, the Pope was Jewish, like Saint Peter.
Don Hash turned right as he passed the Synagogue, then, on Via del Portico di Ottavia, he turned left, cutting through the Jewish Ghetto, through Piazza Giudia. He walked straight until he entered Campo dei Fiori. His sense of direction was picking up even though he was distracted by what he was reading in Father Alexámenos’ paper while also carrying the notebook computer of Father Alexámenos, and his own Liturgy of the Hour. He cut across the Campo absorbed in reading the final marked page, and almost walked into the huge statue of Giordano Bruno. He kept reading, walking around the statue, not casting a glance up into its dark face, and soon found himself in front of the Basilica. It was now 6:45 A.M.
He walked in and went the few steps to the Confessional and knelt down, reaching around to the front of the Confessional, placing the paper of Father Alexámenos on the shelf of the half door. The expected greeting of Cardinal Emet did not come. Instead, a strange voice sarcastically asked, “So… what’s this, a list of your sins?” Don Hash jumped up and asked where Cardinal Emet was, taking back the study. He noted that all of the Cardinal’s things had been removed. “Who?” was the response of the priest. Don Hash went pale, excused himself, and made his way to the sacristy. Another priest was already vested for Mass. It was not the Parish Priest whom he had known for years. Don Hash said nothing. He left the sacristy and went to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, glancing up on his way to see the image of Saint Lawrence burning on the grate. He glanced down to the floor as he neared the altar rail of the chapel, half expecting to find some pieces of a stone heart he once knew shattered on the marble floor.
He knelt down and thanked the Lord for His Mercy – especially toward himself over the last day – and felt his heart beating strongly, as if on fire. He placed the paper and notebook computer on the altar rail, and then opened his Liturgy of the Hour. He examined the picture Cardinal Emet had given him the day before, that of Saint Michael, high atop Castel Sant’Angelo. “Where could he be?” he asked himself. He turned the card over, but there was only what seemed to be a tiny printing press logo. It looked like a small mountain with three stars, and had, as a subscript, O.CARM. S.A.HIER. “That’s it!” He put the picture back in its place, grabbed the study of Father Alexámenos and the computer, genuflected, and quickly left the Basilica.
He jumped on number 40 bus and crossed the Tiber River, getting off at the first stop outside Casa Romano del Clero. Dodging the traffic, he went under the arches of the ninth century Passetto di Borgo, the aboveground passageway, which looked like an ancient Roman aqueduct connecting the Vatican with Castel Sant’Angelo. He came to the church dedicated to Regina Decor Carmeli. It was closed. He went to the monastery door. It was locked. “Typical hermits!” he thought. He went to the side of the building where a gate declared the patronage of Saint Albert of Jerusalem, who had written their rule of life. He pressed the buzzer and waited.
“Salve!” came the response.
“Is Cardinal Emet available?” An electronic clicking sound in the gate indicated that he could enter. He was met by a friar who brought him through the monastery to the sacristy.
The Cardinal was kneeling in the sacristy’s entrance to the small church. The friars were finishing their Holy Hour. Don Hash knelt down next to him and, after some minutes, the Cardinal rose and genuflected, waving his hand, indicating that he should follow, in silence. They made their way to the terrace on top of the building. When they arrived, don Hash said, “The directions on the back of that picture of Saint Michael were rather obscure, your Eminence.”
“I knew you were clever, Hash. I was informed yesterday evening that my services at San Lorenzo were no longer required, that there was a change of Parish Priests to become effective this morning. I was able to collect my things just before the Basilica closed for the night.”
“When were you told?” asked don Hash.
“Before 7:00 P.M. Why? Is it important?”
“It just reminds me of a phone call I overheard about that time. It’s probably just a coincidence. Anyway, I’ve never seen you in your religious habit, your Eminence.”
“I’ve decided to shed all superfluous ecclesiastical dignities, to get back to my roots. I was the prior here many decades ago. I’ve been living here since I became emeritus.”
“In that case, I shall have to address you by a more fitting title, as I do in the Confessional, ‘padre.’ But what about your episcopal ring? It certainly seems unique.”
“It’s the Fisherman’s Ring,” answered padre Emet. “The Holy Father gave it to me after his first blessing after the election. The Augustinian nuns up on Via in Selci, ignoring all protocol, made it when his predecessor died. They sent it to the Master of Ceremonies during the conclave. It’s plain, but its amber Cross contains relics of the True Cross. The Holy Father said the nuns would prepare another ring, just like it, for him. But you are right about me not shedding all of my ecclesiastical dignities.” He gave the ring to don Hash.
“But, your Emi… I mean, padre Emet… I didn’t mean for you to…”
“It will remind you to pray for me. Penitents should remember to pray for their Confessors.”
They walked to the far corner of the terrace, past the abundant hedges that were there, seemingly so out of place high above the surrounding streets. As they walked, don Hash was studying the ring, and said, “I notice that there is an outline of the papal coat of arms, with the keys, triple tiara, and… an upside-down Cross.”
“Right side up, Hash, if you are Peter. The Holy Father, when he saw it, said that this would, in fact, be the design of his coat of arms.”
Don Hash’s eyes widened. “No one calls him by the name he chose…”
“They should, Hash. Pope Gregory is theologically correct. All Popes are successors of Peter.”
“But padre, that’s why he should be called by his real name, Tsur-Ezer. It’s Hebrew for…”
“‘Peter’, or ‘Rock’, if you like,” interrupted padre Emet. “‘Rock of Help’, to be precise. Peter is meant to strengthen his brethren.” Padre Emet, like the Pope, knew Hebrew well. He was born into a Catholic family of many centuries in a small village on Mount Carmel itself, overlooking the brook Qishon. He knew that his family had become Catholic in Spain during the Inquisition, but had done so because they had taken the occasion to learn more about the Faith.
Don Hash placed the notebook computer and the paper of Father Alexámenos on the ledge surrounding the terrace, along with his Liturgy of the Hour. He then unbuttoned the first few buttons of the top of his cassock and slipped the ring into the inside breast pocket. “Padre, yesterday, a temptation to judge someone’s actions as being almost diabolically malicious came to mind so strongly that, well… I don’t know what to think. Perhaps reality is too much for me.”
“The Lord knows the degree to which we can be opened up to reality, Hash, providing us with sanctifying grace, His presence within us. We have only to be faithful, to look to Him in trust. It is not possible for us to be as innocent as doves, unless we stop looking to ourselves. We look to Him with the hearts of flesh He gives us, replacing our hearts of stone with His pierced Heart. It is only then that we can truly be as clever as serpents. With His Heart we look to the Father and begin to know the needs of the world, for His Heart is a pierced Heart, which has suffered all that the Serpent had vomited at Him… and we fill up what is lacking to this suffering… our reception of mercy. Otherwise, how could we know reality? How could we thank Him? Ask the Immaculate Virgin to intercede that you will always live by this grace… and don’t forget Saint Michael.”
Padre Emet waited, expectantly, watching as don Hash took in the view. Don Hash suddenly said, “Ecco! It’s Saint Michael at Castel Sant’Angelo.” He quickly opened his Liturgy of the Hour to Night Prayer and compared the picture given him by padre Emet the previous day. The painting had been rendered from the same point of view. The famous statue of Saint Michael sheathing his sword was not in the picture. Instead, Saint Michael, and the flames of glory surrounding him, filled the sky. Only now did he notice that the Archangel was not pointed toward Rome. He was facing the Vatican. The reality of this symbolism hit home as if his eyes had only then been opened for the first time. He didn’t know what to say, so he simply stated, “Padre. I didn’t know you were an artist.”
“It should be clear that I am not an artist. But I could not resist.”
“Is this a prophecy of things to come?” asked don Hash.
“Prophecy is an interpretation of the present in view of all time. If Saint Michael is to sheath his sword, he will first of all have to strike at the Evil One. It seems to me that the time has come, for Satan has been all but completely successful in his attack against the Church from within. He will try to resist, but no one can withstand an angel who beholds the face of our Heavenly Father.”
Don Hash began, “Sancte Michael Archangele, defende nos in prœlio,” and was joined by padre Emet, “contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto præsidium…” Don Hash then repeated three times, “Cor Jesu sacratissimum,” and padre Emet responded, “miserere nobis.”
Don Hash handed padre Emet Father Alexámenos’ paper.
“What is this?” asked padre Emet.
“It’s a study done by Father Alexámenos. He asked me to give it to you… for safe keeping.”
“What happened to him? What do you mean, safe keeping?”
“He will be at the airport later today,” replied don Hash. “Cardinal Fidèle has him on a flight to Haïti that leaves tonight. May we speak this evening?”
“Fidèle!?” exclaimed padre Emet.
“I may be late. I will have to stop beforehand at the Casa where I’m staying,” said don Hash.
“The Casa ?” asked padre Emet, even more concerned. “You don’t mean Casa Santa Maria on Via dell’Umiltà, or Madre Speranza’s Casa Romana del Clero on Via della Traspontina?”
“No, Casa Internazionale del Clero, Domus Internationalis Paulus VI, on Via della Scrofa.”
“I see,” responded padre Emet, disappointed. “On the Way of the Warthog.”
“I realize what pigs symbolise in Scripture, padre… It’s a long story.”
“You have not yet offered Mass,” said padre Emet. “Adoration is over in a few minutes.”
“Thank you, your Emi… padre.” After Mass, don Hash knelt before the Blessed Sacrament. “Gratias tibi ago, Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, æterne Deus…” he began, “qui me peccatorem, indignum famulum tuum, nullis meis meritis, sed sola dignatione misericordiæ tuæ…” He then prayed the third ‘hour’ in his Liturgy of the Hour. He was then pleased to see his Confessor absorbed in Father Alexámenos’ paper.
Don Hash looked at his watch. He would have to leave immediately. Padre Emet accompanied him to the gate below, making the comment, “After reading the pages marked in Alexámenos’ study, I understand why you must return tonight.”
Don Hash walked away quickly toward Castel Sant’Angelo. He circled around Piazza Pia and went across Ponte Sant’Angelo, down Via Panico and, turning left, went straight back to the Casa. He was met with some stares. He hadn’t returned the night before, and his face was unshaven. He raced upstairs and phoned for a taxi. He returned within minutes. He left the computer and his Liturgy of the Hour, knowing he could use Cardinal Fidèle’s if need be.
Don Hash jumped in the taxi, saying, “San Calisto, per favore.” He arrived just at 9:00 A.M.
Instead of going up to the apartment, the guard, hardly looking up, gave him a set of keys and pointed in the direction of the private garages. Don Hash was soon starting Cardinal Fidèle’s Fiat, a favourite of Vatican officials due to a contract between the Holy See and the company.
He drove the car underneath the archway, almost running into a priest from the direction of the lift. He was Chinese. “I’m sorry!” don Hash yelled out his window.
“You will regret that, Roman cockroach!” said the Chinese priest.
As don Hash watched him leave the front gate, Cardinal Fidèle appeared. “Good morning, your Eminence.” Within minutes they were going up Via Garibaldi on their way to see the Holy Father. The Cardinal was noting traffic until he could see that don Hash could drive well.
“Did you rest well, Hash?”
Don Hash did not like this question, for he knew that the Cardinal was aware that he had spent the night helping Father Alexámenos pack for his trip. Yet, he didn’t take offence, knowing that to be a mistake. “We only finished packing early this morning, your Eminence. I’m exhausted.”
“You are still young and need sleep,” responded the Cardinal. “I myself have been reading late into the night… Augustine’s treatment of time in the Confessions.”
Don Hash glanced at him, but did not respond, wondering what was to follow.
“Qui intellegit, confiteatur tibi,” said the Cardinal, “et qui non intellegit, confiteatur tibi.”
It was an incisive comment on the preceding day’s events: regardless of whether or not one understands anything, one is to place the matter before God. The last lines of Book XI only seemed to reinforce relativism if they were taken out of context. “Very clever,” thought don Hash, “but how can I respond?” Swerving out of the way of a large truck which was taking up most of the road on one of the hairpin turns of the steep road, don Hash responded, “If I remember correctly, your Eminence, that statement must be understood in view of what Augustine said at the beginning of that book, ‘Rogo, te, Deus meus, rogo, parce peccatis meis, et qui illi servo tuo dedisti hæc dicere, da et mihi hæc intellegere.’ It is in confessing our sins,” paraphrased don Hash, “that God will give us understanding.”
The Cardinal unwittingly confessed with his laughter, and started to give directions so as to guide don Hash through the complicated traffic around Porta San Pancrazio until they entered Via Nuova delle Fornaci. Don Hash had just given him the complete answer to relativism, but it didn’t seem that the Cardinal was interested. “It’s interesting what Augustine has to say, don’t you think?” asked don Hash, not wanting to do the Cardinal a disservice by ignoring his laughter.
“When you get to the bottom of the hill,” said Cardinal Fidèle, “turn left alongside Dono di Maria, the house of the Missionaries of Charity, and enter Vatican City through the gate behind Domus Sanctæ Martæ. Make sure to stop for the guard who doesn’t yet know you. Then circle around the trees you see there, and fill up the car with fuel. I will give you some credit slips.”
“He can’t be pinned down,” thought don Hash.
As they neared the Vatican, the Cardinal finally asked, “Do you really think, Hash, that throwing theology at philosophy will solve my difficulty? Is not philosophy to stand on its own according to the perfection of the gift of reason given to us by Almighty God?”
Don Hash had not expected such an assertion, for he was speaking not so much of theology as he was of the life of grace. The Cardinal’s reference to a personal difficulty was out of place. Buying time, it was his turn to speak of directions, asking, “Do I then drive around the Basilica?”
“But then,” replied the Cardinal, “when you reach the guard by the Sistine Chapel, turn left.”
“To the Belvedere Courtyard?”
“You have been there?” asked the Cardinal.
“I often use the Apostolic Library, your Eminence.”
“Of course you do, and you are correct. This morning I intend to see some friends before visiting Sens and Elzevir,” the Cardinal replied.
Don Hash noted that the Cardinal knew many officials in the Vatican, even some of the least important ones. “I’ll have to watch my step when I start working there,” thought don Hash. Then he said, “Your Eminence, will they be with you in the meeting with the Holy Father?”
“I will be alone with the Holy Father, unless he chooses otherwise. I expect you will return to the same place at 11:30 A.M. You may take the car to visit Absj.”
“Thank you, your Eminence.”
After the car had been filled with fuel, don Hash drove around the Basilica and down to the Belvedere courtyard. As the Cardinal was getting out of the car, don Hash said, “By the way, your Eminence. It…”
“Yes,” interrupted the Cardinal, who had been waiting for an answer.
“It strikes me,” said don Hash, avoiding the term theology, “that Faith does not interfere with philosophical reasoning, but does provide the service of purifying one’s perspective.” The comment seemed to be a direct attack on the Cardinal, so don Hash added, “Clearly, infusing the supernatural virtue of Faith into us is God’s work, while theology is ours.”
The Cardinal’s response was a nervous laugh, to which he added, “To be continued.” The Cardinal then asked for his cane and, after receiving it, closed the door of the car and made his way into the large, open entrance of the building. Don Hash saw a Swiss Guard greet him, only to be severely castigated by the Prelate, seemingly for an unknown reason. “Perhaps this was who he wanted to meet,” thought don Hash.
Up next: Chapter 9 – I spend my time with jackasses and useless people
© International 2005-2018 – George David Byers