Jackass for the Hour: Chapter 14 – I am pleased that all my sinfulness is displayed
The downpour don Hash expected had not come yet, though large, well-spaced drops were still falling and the clouds were exploding upwards threateningly. The three of them stepped out of the car and went the few paces to the convent, while Father Lia-Fáil returned to the Apostolic Palace. They waited in front of the decidedly modern looking convent for the Mother Superior to attend to them. Although some religious orders and congregations which took their turns at Mater Ecclesiæ convent observed strict enclosure, the Paraclete Adoration Sisters did not. Yet, the Superior, Mother Bernadette, always answered the door so that the contemplative life of the others would not be disturbed. Padre Emet was the Confessor of the nuns at the new Pope’s recommendation, and the Prelate and Mother Bernadette had already had long discussions on the spiritual life, and seemed like lifelong friends. She had a wonderful sense of humour, and so said, with her gravest possible voice – it being the first time that she saw Cardinal Emet in his religious habit – “You are many years late, padre. The Carmelites were in the convent here years and years ago. We’re the Paraclete Adoration Sisters. Didn’t you know? The Carmelites are not due to return for another forty years. Perhaps, if you would like to return at that time…”
Just then it became windy, and lightning, accompanied by a deafening clap of thunder, struck the cupola of Saint Peter’s Basilica. The temperature had wildly fluctuated from the previous day, when it had been so cold. The two younger priests cowered closer to the door of the convent when the lightning had struck. Only padre Emet remained motionless. “I only thought,” said padre Emet, “that a few miserable priests could obtain shelter here, of all places, during the diabolical storm to which Holy Mother Church has been subjected.”
Mother Bernadette, beaming, said, “Of course, your Eminence… padre… I see that you have a good understanding of the charism of our community.”
With that, they entered the convent just as sheets of rain started pouring down. Mother Bernadette said, “The Holy Father will be here at 7:00 P.M. He will meet with the community for half an hour, as it will be his first visit here, though I knew him since he was a young priest. He used to offer Holy Mass in one of our convents during his post-graduate studies. He will be accompanied by Father Lia-Fáil. We will then set out a light meal for you all.”
“In the meantime, Mother,” said padre Emet, “Father Alexámenos has yet to offer Holy Mass. I hope that it would not be an inconvenience if…”
“The Holy Sacrifice never interrupts adoration, padre. Adoration is a continuing fruit of the Sacrifice.” She said this for the sake of the other two priests, whom she did not know.
“May he begin after we say Vespers?” asked padre Emet. Mother Bernadette simply indicated the way to the sacristy and chapel, which padre Emet knew so well, and left them.
“Padre,” said Father Alexámenos, “should I have difficulty at Mass, I’m sure you’ll help me.”
Padre Emet looked quizzically at Father Alexámenos, for although he was less than half the Cardinal’s age, he had surely already offered Mass many thousands of times.
However, padre Emet promised that he would help, if this was needed.
The nuns attended the Mass as well. It was during the consecration that the moment about which Father Alexámenos had been concerned came. He held the Blessed Sacrament high for all to adore, but did not place the Host down on the altar after a few moments, as usual. It didn’t occur to him to do so. Those present had a strong interior, spiritual understanding of being presented through, with and in Christ as Jesus’ gift to our Heavenly Father. They did not cease seeing the external features of the Host, but the One who was substantially present there, Christ Jesus, gave them the gift to know more profoundly the “vision” they are always to have. It was an ‘understanding’ of the reality of the manner in which Christ draws all to Himself, all those who are saved, regardless of time or language or people or nation. It was an intense moment of intercession for all the members of the Body of Christ, a moment in which having a heart that can suffer in solidarity with the pierced Heart of Christ replaces all lesser ‘spiritualities’. Padre Emet rose as promised. Before he came forward, Father Alexámenos came to himself and placed the Host on the altar. The ‘vision’ was repeated at the consecration of the Chalice. The weight of the glory of the Revelation of the Charity of the Father sending His only Son could only be described as crushing if it can be said that angels in adoration can be said to be heavy. The rest of the Mass proceeded normally. No one spoke of it afterward. No words were necessary.
They all remained in adoration after Mass until Pope Tsur-Ēzer arrived at 7:00 P.M. After padre Emet and the Pontiff greeted each other, and the two priests had been introduced to the Pope, only this Bishop of Rome and Father Lia-Fáil spoke with the nuns. The others waited in the chapel.
The Holy Father was interested to know about the community’s exploits around the world. Mother Bernadette obliged by telling him of the dramas that are always connected with founding new convents, not excluding trouble from some bishops. The conversation turned to the spiritual life, especially to how it is that the Holy Spirit led the Immaculate Virgin Mary to ‘listen’ to the Incarnate Word of the Father from the silence of the womb to the silence of His tomb, and after.
When this time of ‘recreation’, as the nuns called it, was almost over, Jacinta asked Mother Bernadette if she was going to tell the Holy Father what had happened during the Mass which had been offered by Father Alexámenos. Mother Bernadette didn’t mind Jacinta bringing this up; it was Jacinta’s way of telling her that this was the priest she had told her so much about.
The Holy Father looked at Mother Bernadette, who replied to his inquisitive look, saying, “Your Holiness, it seems that we all saw… well… I’m not quite sure what it means… only that, perhaps, Father Alexámenos is in desperate need of our prayers.”
Her ill phrased words brought deep concern to the Pope, who asked, “Saw what?”
“It was not any vision we saw,” said Mother Bernadette. “Yet, it was, somehow, just that, and of Him whom we should always see as the Eucharistic Sacrifice is offered around the world.”
“Jesus?” asked the Pontiff.
“Along with His whole Mystical Body being given to our Heavenly Father,” Mother added.
“But this happens at every Mass, whether we have a more immediate realization of this or not,” objected the Holy Father. “What special concern does this bring for Alexámenos? You used the word desperate. This is very strong language, Mother.”
“Perhaps that description is due to my personal dislike for visions or anything extraordinary of any kind,” admitted Mother Bernadette. “However, I must take the matter seriously when not one of us became excited about the event itself, but were, instead, brought into reverence by the knowledge of what it cost Jesus to pour out his Eucharistic Blood for the many. We knew the devastating horror of sin, our own sin, while being thankful to the Father for having sent His only Son among us.”
“But why does any of this single out Alexámenos?” insisted the Holy Father.
“Because,” she replied, “we had the sense that Father Alexámenos was particularly crushed, thankful, but so crushed. We sensed a need, an urgent need to pray for him. Priests have so few to pray for them.”
“That is one of your apostolates, I know, and I am personally grateful for this, Mother,” said the Holy Father. “But still, Mother, your usage of the word ‘desperate’ bothers me.”
“If I might speak freely, Holy Father…”
“By all means, Mother. Please,” he replied.
“Not that I know anything, but Father Alexámenos seemed to be rebelling,” she began, “taken off guard by the Lord’s goodness, much like Peter rebelled when out on a boat, saying…”
“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” interrupted the Successor of Peter.
“I thought that you might know this saying,” said the Mother Superior.
“Yes…” said the Holy Father with some emotion, “the Lord is most extraordinary in His forgiveness, in His mercy, in His lifting even us priests close to Himself, in saying, ‘Follow me!’”
The Holy Father then took the opportunity to tell the nuns that they might soon start to hear terrible things about Father Alexámenos, but that they were not to believe it. They were instead, to continue to pray for the special intention he had sent to Mother Bernadette earlier in the day.
In exactly half an hour, the Holy Father appeared with Father Lia-Fáil in the chapel. They knelt down for some minutes. They then went back into the sacristy where a table had been set up with their evening meal laid out upon it, a small salad, a piece of bread and some hot tea. Padre Emet followed them into the sacristy with Father Alexámenos and don Hash. When they entered, the Holy Father led the table blessing, sat down, and began to eat silently. The others followed his example. Hardly had they begun when the Holy Father, without looking up, said, “Extra omnes!” as if it were a conclave only the electors could attend. It was anything but this. Father Lia-Fáil left the sacristy immediately. As the door closed, the Pontiff said to Father Alexámenos, “You are a useless priest. You know that, don’t you?”
“Your Holiness, yes. I ask your forgiveness,” said Father Alexámenos, putting his fork down, deadly serious. The others stopped eating as well. “But I am not only useless; I have a real sense that I cannot say what Christ demands we all say when we go to heaven, as we hope; I cannot say that, being useless, I only do what I have to do. I fail in so many ways and am less than useless, frequently finding myself on my knees in the Confessional.”
“Doing what you, then, must do in receiving the mercy of the Lord,” said the Holy Father. “You know that our Lord only chooses the most wretched people to accomplish His will.”
“I dread being the most wretched, Holy Father, for I fear that I will not cooperate with His grace so as to accomplish what He wants.”
“So, you think it’s all about you, do you?” asked Pope Tsur-Ēzer.
“Pride is my sin, yes,” said Father Alexámenos. “I have sinned. I pray that, now, as in the end, I will not fear so much that I will fail, but that I will, instead, in His grace, fear the majestic omnipotence of God, and be so overwhelmed by His presence, His goodness and kindness, that I will not sin.” Father Alexámenos was floundering for words as the Pope waited for more. “It is those wounds of His in which I am found by this majesty of His,” continued Father Alexámenos. “If there is one thing I know, it is those wounds of His by which He knows me.”
“So you are now telling me with such confidence that you know the Eternal Lord so personally?” asked the Pontiff with an incredulous voice, now putting his own fork down.
“I’m just saying, Your Holiness, that I know, in Faith, in my very being, that He knows me.”
“Go on,” said the Pontiff.
“This evening, at Mass, after the consecrations, elevating the Host, and then the Precious Blood…” began Father Alexámenos.
“Yes,” interrupted the Pope, with a severe tone of voice, purposely letting him speak at length.
“I clearly saw the place from which the Lord called me, the hell of corruption following upon Adam’s sin and then my own personal sin, not so much because I saw this by looking at myself, but because I saw more clearly the standard of goodness that He is. I understood His wounds. It is as Saint Paul says, the Father made Him who knew no sin to be sin for our sake, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. He took the justice of what I deserve for my sin upon Himself. But your Holiness… I am not worthy to say these things… There is more… I could see only the consecrated Host in front of me, but I understood that Christ sees the Father for us while we are in this world, but that we will see the Father in Heaven just that united to Christ Jesus. He sent His only Son into the world to be wed to those whom are called, to the Ecclesia, to the Church, with His unique wedding vows, “This is my Body being given for you… This is my Blood, being poured out for you…”
The Pope then said without further hesitation: “You are to go on trial, Alexámenos. You may be falsely accused. Everything you have written, everything you say, may be turned against you, twisted. How would you pray then? Surely, there is more you have to tell us.”
“Your Holiness, there is more… As I lifted up the Host and, then, the Chalice, I was aware of the cry of the martyrs below the Altar in heaven, asking that justice run its course with those who persecuted them, and that the Lord then bid them to be patient until their number be complete. I understood that the Lord looks to the Father in the elect also before they are one with Christ, even while they do not know what they are doing, while they are yet in sin, so that the Lord, thus taking on what we deserve, loves us while we are yet sinners. I realized that I am one of the members of the Body of Christ, and as such, I am to love with Christ’s love. If any would-be members of His Body bring false accusations, it is not my concern. That is up to the permissive will of the Father, whom I trust to bring a proper witness to Christ out of me by the Holy Spirit at the right time, whether or not this witness is immediately accepted by those who do not know what they are doing. To be His useless servant, to be able to say I only did what I had to do, I need only look to the Father, no matter what. It was after the soldier thrust the sword into the Heart of Christ that the soldier converted and confessed Jesus to be the Son of God…”
“That’s very nice,” said the Holy Father, dismissively, “but what if the accusations are true?”
“In that case, I am pleased that all my sinfulness is displayed. It can only help others to praise and thank the Lord for His goodness, for He has turned even me to Himself. He loves even me.”
“But what if there are consequences?” pressed the Pontiff. “What if the Lord asks you to answer by fire for this grace, in Faith, of knowing that He knows you?”
“Your Holiness, as padre Emet says, we are always answering, one way or another, by fire. Either we burn in the punishment of rejecting the flames of Charity that God is, or are we purified, refined, enlivened by those same flames,” said Father Alexámenos.
“You may die before the truth is known. Public trials can get out of control,” said the Pontiff.
“But it is in being known by the Lord that we are already on the Cross, forgiving others as He has forgiven us. The circumstances in which the Lord calls us closer to Himself are not to be judged by ourselves, certainly not by me. If someone comes to the Lord because of seeing my sinfulness and, then, the goodness that the Lord has provided even for me, may the Lord be praised. If someone needs to test this goodness, to test my reception of it, then praise God who is also humourous in His goodness, using someone like me, of all people, to teach others of His mercy. Perhaps He will use this as another weapon of His own goodness, inviting those who now reject Him to come to their senses. Whether Christ turns the tables or not during the trial, however, is not my worry. The Lord has His own time, His own Hour.”
“The paper you wrote is like finding the Holy Grail. Wouldn’t you agree?” asked the Pontiff, testing Father Alexámenos in yet another way.
“Even if the manuscripts of Scripture could be more accurately understood because of what I have merely emphasized in the already promulgated teaching of the Magisterium,” Father Alexámenos answered, “drinking from the Holy Grail is done by drinking the Precious Blood of Christ from any chalice, and to being justified by the Faith, Hope and Charity He gives to us.”
“You will receive regular visits from your Confessor and Hash.”
“Thank you, Holy Father,” said Father Alexámenos, moving his chair away from the table. Kneeling on the floor, he said, “Please, may I have your blessing?”
“Give me your stole,” the Pope said to padre Emet.
The Pontiff put the stole around his neck and stood up, immediately beginning the blessing: “Deus, qui ad majestatis tuæ gloriam et generis humani salutem…” He concluded with the Trinitarian blessing and the Sign of the Cross, which he also traced on Father Alexámenos’ forehead. He then immediately added, “I believe that you will be late for your flight. Father Lia-Fáil will bring you to the airport. The Swiss Guards are now used to seeing him drive out. It’s been a new experience for them. Do you have any questions, Alexámenos?” Father Alexámenos said he did not. The Holy Father turned to don Hash and said, “As if it would prove something, they want you to be the would-be executioner. In the end, you will do no such thing, but you are never to indicate that you have no intention of executing Alexámenos. It is imperative that you pray. But, if worse comes to worst, you will not have to worry. The Lord will provide.”
Don Hash nodded his head, and knelt for the blessing of the Holy Father as well, after which he immediately gave Father Alexámenos the Fisherman’s Ring padre Emet had given to him.
The Pope then left the sacristy and returned to the Apostolic Palace with Father Lia-Fáil. What finally convinced the Holy Father about the integrity of Father Alexámenos was that he did not question why he had not acted to stop the proceedings of the trial. “He must have a sense of the evil that is at hand in the Church, that it has gone too far,” thought the Pontiff, “and that we must bow to the will of the Lord, who now brings a purification to the Church.”
Padre Emet and don Hash stood, not knowing what to say. Only Father Alexámenos knew what to do while they waited for Father Lia-Fáil to return, sitting down to eat the rest of his meal as if nothing had happened, even taking some things from the hardly touched plates of the Pope and Father Lia-Fáil. They then joined him. After a few minutes, Father Alexámenos thought the silence was all a bit too dramatic, so he softly brayed like a donkey, making both padre Emet and don Hash laugh heartily, despite their not wanting to disturb the nun assigned to that hour of adoration in the adjoining chapel. It was a good laugh that they laughed.
Up next: Chapter 15 – The terror on the face of the little boy froze in his mind
© International 2005-2018 – George David Byers