Jackass for the Hour: Chapter 17 – A wave of reality swept over more of them
Father Alexámenos described of the first Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary, the Agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, saying, “God loves us so much that He wants us to trust Him.”
“The hell He does!” Toma shouted, cursing himself with a new voice. “Look how we live.”
“To show us His love,” continued Father Alexámenos, unabated, “God’s Son, Jesus, God Himself, was born of the Virgin Mary, and walked in the squaller of this world. He was with us, God with us. He knew we had adulterous hearts, and would want to get His goodness out of the way, since we stupidly think His goodness incriminates us in our adulterous ways, as if He is too good, just wanting to show us up for who we are. But it is not a competition. His goodness saves us. He showed us His love; we killed Him. It was not that He trusted us, but that He knew the Father would hold out forgiveness to us no matter how badly we, at first, rejected Him…”
“Damn you! Can’t you see that we’re damned?” Toma shouted, throwing a machete at Father Alexámenos, who had seen it coming and, knowing it would miss him, watched it strike the wooden light pole next to him. Father Alexámenos waited for the inevitable reactions against Toma, since their beloved Filmèna had also been put in danger. This left almost a quarter of the men scoffing, nervous that their obtuseness was all too evident. Others in the crowd compared the words of Father Alexámenos to what he had done with Pòl, seeing the reality of what he said. Those who had no interest in words, but did have a stake in getting some money, were agitated. They thought that he had better say something worthwhile soon, or bitterly regret that night.
“Damned? Of course were damned. All of us, me, you, the youngest baby here, even Filmèna,” said Father Alexámenos, just as some of those men had started to walk away, ashamed in the presence of Filmèna. “How could we not be damned after all humanity fell into sin from the very beginning with the very first sin? And it gets worse. The Son of God knew that we would be in trouble even before He created the world. He knew that we would fall into sin, and that we, without His grace, would continually throw ourselves into sin, hurting ourselves and others.”
“Right, so damn you too, priest of God,” answered Toma, ripping a machete out of the hands of another man and holding it toward Father Alexámenos.
“We’re damned,” continued Father Alexámenos, “but that doesn’t mean God can’t save us.”
“So, just tell us we’re saved and happy! Damn you to hell!” screamed Toma, eyes wide.
“You’re so spiritual!” exclaimed Father Alexámenos sarcastically. “Damned be the one who says God declares us to be forgiven, and that that’s all there is to it. You’re right! In that case God would be cheating justice, cheating us, cheating Himself, cheating reality. God created us with free will and must give us what was freely chosen with that first sin of humanity, including weakness of mind and will, sickness and death…”
“We’re suffering from the sins of others!” said Toma. “Look at this poverty. Look at these children. What did they do? If God’s so interested in justice, why doesn’t He come here? He knows nothing about us, nothing about suffering, nothing about death.”
“Instead,” said Father Alexámenos, “Jesus, to forgive us, took on the punishment for sin, which is the worst we can give out, which is death, being tortured to death. All He had to do was stand before us; He knew that we would do the rest, putting him to death. It was His own friend, Judas, who betrayed him for money, Toma, for money.” He let these words hang in the air, not as an accusation of people receiving money for the would-be pictures Filmèna had spoken about, but because of the distress he felt for what faced Christ. Some understood, but others were still intent on getting some money.
“When Jesus offered Himself to His Father for us,” he continued, “He did so with wedding vows. ‘This is my Body, being given for you, in sacrifice,’ He said. ‘This is my Blood, being poured out for you, in sacrifice.’ He gave us Himself, His beating Heart, but we, in our adultery, played the harlot, and stopped that Heart stone dead, as if we stoned Him to death with our hearts of stone, trying to make Him into our image. When He took on all our sins in Gethsemane, His sweat became like drops of blood falling upon the ground. God, Jesus, proved Himself to be trustworthy. On the Cross, tortured and dying, He said, ‘Father, forgive them.’ I say, Jesus, I am a sinner; forgive me, forgive us.”
“Speak for yourself!” Toma thundered. While Father Alexámenos looked to the heavens, a girl, not yet five years old, exclaimed, “Père Alexámenos can see God!” All saw past her distended, worm-filled stomach, and into her innocent face. She was beaming, looking at Father Alexámenos, who then returned her gaze. His face was just as bright, despite the blood.
“Out of the mouths of babes…” said Filmèna.
“Children contain within themselves not only the beauty of the entire universe, but the beauty of God Himself, who walks among us still today, dwelling within His children by grace, so that we can, in some way, see God in them.” Looking to the crowd, he said, “If anything puts children at risk, it must stop now, even if we must put ourselves at risk.”
A wave of reality swept over more of them, so that they thought it was not so much Father Alexámenos who was speaking as it was Jesus speaking through him. Some of those lost in scepticism knew that there was something genuine about this priest.
Filmèna began reciting the prayers of the first decade, and the few who knew the responses prayed along. By the end of the decade, a few more were praying. Still, there were many, indeed, most of the crowd, who were becoming more frustrated. They had never seen this kind of religiosity before and were losing their patience.
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Father Alexámenos then walked over to the girl who had been on the veranda, but had later joined them behind the crowd. He asked what her name was. She answered truthfully, “Estè.”
“And what is the name of your grandmother, Estè?”
Estè hesitated, but then said, “Mari.”
“Estè, why don’t you join us in praying for Mari?”
“You have a good eye to pick on her,” said one man, laughing, mocking. “She costs more.”
Afraid of this attention, Estè ran into the house, confused. Yet, fighting could soon be heard. Estè hated her life and wanted to listen to the priest, but it was all happening so quickly. She appeared within seconds behind the other girls, who were still on the veranda. Their video camera he had seen earlier was no longer in operation. They also wanted to listen to the priest.
Father Alexámenos asked for the Rosary, and gave it to a man who seemed to be a leader, for he had defended Filmèna when the machete had been thrown at Father Alexámenos.
“What’s your name?” asked Father Alexámenos.
“Jozèf,” was the response.
“Jozèf, please, lead us in the second decade of the Rosary, after I announce it.”
Jozèf nodded his head that he would do it, to the jeering of many. The hecklers were, however, momentarily silenced by a word from Filmèna. “A true matriarch,” thought Father Alexámenos. “The Second Sorrowful Mystery is the scourging, beating and torture of Jesus,” he said, looking at the crowd. “We thought that when Jesus stood before us, we could embarrass Him, as if we could embarrass God Himself. We, who make a virtue of nakedness, selling it, adorning it, selling ourselves, cheapening ourselves, hurting ourselves… we stripped Jesus naked, mocking Him, laughing. In order to justly have mercy on us, in order to make up for the sins of the flesh – sins which are the cause of so much suffering, especially of children who are exploited by the serial polygamy of divorce and remarriage, and exploited by the horrors of sex-slavery – Jesus had to consecrate our bodies for the presence by grace of the Holy Trinity by the very bleeding shreds of flesh that we beat off Him. He loved us just this much.”
Jozèf began the prayers of the second decade. More people responded, including the girls on the veranda and the boys in the crowd. They had appreciated his words about sex-slavery, knowing that he could die for what he said. He was now a hero for the young prostitutes, who were now afraid for his safety. Joining in the prayers, they figured, might save his life. One of the older boys asked rhetorically, “Who is this Jesus?” but joined in the prayers to find his answer. Some of the men, however, were more agitated than ever, feeling humiliated at what they considered to be no more than accusations of a worthless priest, who was already a dead man. They started banging their machetes on the veranda and the corrugated shanties to either side of the small dirt lot, making a racket which terrorized those who were praying. It was the signal that someone was going to die, which was usually a government worker or a neighbour thought to be a traitor. In this case, the priest was to die. Those praying did not want to see more dismemberment.
Just then, Estè, who had not been treated well in the house, and now too afraid to know what she was doing, came down the steps and into the midst of the crowd to be near this priest who was being treated with respect by Filmèna and some others she admired. Within moments she stood directly in front of Father Alexámenos, watching his face, trying to respond with him to the prayers led by Jozèf. Gentleman that Father Alexámenos was, he wanted to cover the nakedness of Estè. He unbuttoned the top of his cassock and pulled it over his head. His white shirt was stained with the blood which had flowed down his face and neck because of the cuts made by Pòl. As the prayers went on, he removed his shirt and placed it on the shoulders of Estè, as if he were a modern day Martin of Tours. He would have done this before, when he had asked her to pray, but she had run into the brothel. Estè was so short that the shirt went down almost to her knees. This was the first time anyone tried to put clothes on her, instead of taking off the little wisps of material that she had on.
One of the men, seeing only that Father Alexámenos had half stripped himself, shrieked that the priest was not even paying for Estè’s services, but was going to rape her then and there. “We can forget about any blackmail,” he added, screaming insults and blasphemies. He ran toward Father Alexámenos, machete held high, knocking others down as he lunged in his direction.
Estè had been ignoring the racket of the machetes beating against the wood of the veranda and the metal walls of the shanties. She was, instead, moved by this gentlemanly gesture of Father Alexámenos, as were, now, many more in the crowd, especially when they saw how moved Estè was. Nakedness meant almost nothing to any of them until they saw what respect could mean. Estè, not knowing how to thank him, embraced him, with the shirt half falling off her. It was then that the man who was lunging at Father Alexámenos stopped himself from slamming his machete into his head. When he saw Estè wearing the blood stained shirt, he understood instantly how wrong he had been. Since he had stopped swinging the machete in midair, he fell, off balance, to the ground, with everyone looking at him, afraid for their lives. Instead, as he rose to his feet, he was looking at Father Alexámenos, pointing at him as he backed away, muttering unintelligibly.
The crowd looked at what he was pointing at, and gasped. Even the men who had been making a racket with their machetes stopped to see what was happening. The silence itself was now deafening. Everyone now had to see what it was that was being pointed out about Father Alexámenos. Only then did Father Alexámenos remember the scars of beatings he had received when he was a child soldier, as well as the chunk of flesh simply missing from his right shoulder. They were overwhelmed, so much so that they did not question the meaning of the bronze pyx hanging from his neck. They knew that Father Alexámenos had had a first hand taste of what he was describing about Jesus being scourged. He immediately picked up his cassock and put it on, not wanting them to be distracted from thinking about Christ because of his own experiences. The girls on the veranda, seeing all this, went into the house and put on more modest clothing. Angry shouting was again heard from the brothel.
As soon as the prayers were finished, Father Alexámenos looked back to the heavens and said, “Thank you, Jesus, for granting us the grace to respect each other so that we might recognise that you have consecrated our bodies, by your suffering, to be temples of the Holy Spirit.” Some of the men were, however, more agitated than ever, for they saw the faces of the young prostitutes who were enthralled with this priest and his prayers. They were sure to loose their income. They did not know that, outside of their respect for Filmèna, it was prayer which was keeping them from stopping the priest’s disruption of their monstrous egoism and cowardice.
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Father Alexámenos then took the Rosary from Jozèf and gave it to Estè, saying that they would all help her with the prayers. “Thank you,” she said softly.
He announced the Third Sorrowful Mystery, the Crowning with Thorns, but then hesitated, thinking that they deserved an explanation of the scars they had seen on his own body. He knew that the disfiguring scars had frightened them, which he regretted. He could use this, however, to speak more about Jesus. He began by describing his life as a child soldier in west Africa, how his whole family had been hacked to death with machetes before his eyes. He spoke of the violence that was inflicted upon him, and how he had been raped by his captors.
“The greatest fear I had ever felt in my life,” he said, “is not when I saw my family being hacked to death, and not when the rebel soldiers threw the pieces of their bodies at me, threatening me with the same fate. Much worse than this was when the rebel soldiers looked into my eyes to judge whether my level of trauma was sufficient for their purposes. What I saw frightened me almost to death. I didn’t see any conscience when I looked into their eyes, as if they themselves did not exist, but were mere shells of men who mechanically followed someone else, a most evil spirit, the Evil One. I saw the face of Satan.”
He looked at the individual faces in the crowd. They were rivetted by his words. “But even this wasn’t the greatest fear I had ever felt in my life,” he said. Breathing more deeply, he continued, saying, “The rest of my family died because they wouldn’t obey the rebel soldiers and kill me. I was taken captive. I was seven years old. At their camp, they drugged me and held my hands to a mallet, using me to kill their prisoners. For the few years I was with them, I watched as an evil presence, a horrible creature, Satan, attempted to enter me. Everything about me screamed that I no longer had any conscience… that I had given in… that it was useless to resist…”
Gathering his thoughts, Father Alexámenos continued: “When I escaped from the rebel camp, I had the opportunity to appreciate that God still loved me, and has never stopped loving me, and has actually protected me from the worst evil that could have happened to me. It took very little time for me to fully remember and rejoice in the goodness of my family, and the happiness I had had at my first Holy Communion. Soon after that, I saw that God was dwelling by grace in my adoptive parents and my new brothers and sisters. With that goodness being held out to me, I continued to see how the Lord’s goodness and kindness had always been with me. At the same time, I saw just how close I had come to abandoning Him. This was my greatest fear… knowing how close I had been to falling into hell, how close I myself had come to thinking I had no conscience. The greatest mercy which my new family showed me was to teach me not to look to my own misery, but to look only to the goodness of the Lord Jesus, who lifts me to Himself. I now thank Him for all of you hear. You have taken me in as your family.”
He looked to the heavens again, saying, “Thank you, Jesus, for what you do for us all, in your own time, in your own way, in the circumstances you want, bringing good out of evil for us all.”
While more in the crowd were listening to him, as if they were hanging off of him, listening, others were feeling more incriminated by his words than being invited into the mercy he spoke about. They were becoming more agitated.
“But to do this, to bring us to Himself,” Father Alexámenos continued, “Jesus couldn’t cheat. He had to take on what the world deserves because of sin, because of the world’s arrogant pride and violence, because of the fear which reigns by arrogantly, abusively shoving this fear down the throats of our brothers and sisters. Jesus, the Creator and King of the Universe, humbly received the crown of thorns we smashed onto His head. We mocked His sovereign majesty. We beat that crown of thorns into His skull and scorned His humility, His love. He took it, fulfilling the Father’s will, fulfilling justice so as to have mercy on us, on me, justly.”
Again looking upwards, Father Alexámenos prayed, saying, “Thank you, Jesus, for subjecting yourself to the punishment which the whole world deserves for its pride. Thank you for showing me your mercy, for showing each of us your mercy. Thank you.”
More repeated, “Thank you.” Some of the older men made the Sign of the Cross over themselves almost unconsciously, but one other man instead began to chant the words, “Thank you, Jesus,” with a melodic, taunting voice. The mockery was so forceful that a few other men began to join in.
Estè, ignoring them, began the prayers of that decade of the Rosary with the help of Filmèna and Jozèf. Meanwhile, a little boy – not belonging to Pòl’s group, and who looked to be no more than seven years old – seemed to have been seized by an idea, and ran away. Father Alexámenos thought that he recognised him as the boy he had seen on the donkey-cart which père Jacques destroyed while driving him back from the airport the previous evening. The little boy returned quickly, presenting Father Alexámenos with a small statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. Father Alexámenos looked round about, and saw that the plank staircase going up to the brothel had a railing on one side, which leveled off at the bottom as a shelf for flowers. A ‘waterfall’ of white and yellow blossoms flowed from the edges of the pot held by this shelf. There was room for the statue. Father Alexámenos placed it there. The flowers formed a kind of grotto.
As if on inspiration, he looked down at the machete which Pòl had given him, and which he had placed between his feet in order to give Estè his shirt. He bent down and picked it up along with a large rock, which he used to beat the machete until it was slightly bent at the tip.
Filmèna quoted the prophet Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares.”
“Using them well, we hope,” replied Father Alexámenos, “never looking back at the furrows.” He placed the machete at the edge of the pot behind the statue, as if it were a ploughshare to be used to keep the flowers of the new Marian shrine in good order.
As that decade of the Rosary was finishing, the mockery of some of the men was turning more blasphemous. They were making a litany of things they were not thankful for, singing with overly pious voices, “Thank you, Jesus,” after each new line. “For the worms in my children’s stomachs… Thank you, Jesus! For the open sewer, with its diseases… Thank you, Jesus!” Father Alexámenos was looking at the statue, confident that the Mother of God was interceding for them in heaven. Just then, just as they were finishing the last ‘Hail Mary’ of that decade of the Rosary, Pòl finally returned carrying a man, who was naked, caked in mud. The men who were chanting insults against Jesus stopped dead. The man carried by Pòl seemed to be having an epileptic fit, foaming at the mouth. His eyes were wide open, yet, only the whites of his eyes were visible. Pòl knew enough to place him on the ground in front of the statue of our Lady, which they had all turned to face. Everyone stepped back. Only a few of those who were praying finished the last words. The others were too afraid. The girls on the veranda stepped back in fear. Like everyone else, they knew all too well who the man was. Father Alexámenos sensed the presence of the Evil One.
Pòl slipped the Fisherman’s Ring off his hand and gave it to Father Alexámenos, saying, “Forgive me. I brought the ring to him because I saw something stronger in you than in him, and thought that I could break his grip over me, over all of us, by bringing the ring to him. He immediately told me to take it away, that it was making him suffer. He then went into convulsions, writhing in the mud. It looked like he died, but then he said something about taking revenge on the priest to whom the ring belonged, and then something about wheat. But it wasn’t his voice. He then started going into convulsions again. I brought him here, knowing that you could stand up to him. I know that you can help him. I know that you can help us.”
Filmèna said, “He’s Simon. You can see under the mud on his face that he has the same scars. He’s responsible for all the practise of voodoo in the area. He’s praised by everyone, even if they despise his manipulative ways. He’s made them sink further into poverty, collecting money from them. These boys and girls were forced to work for him; they were afraid of his voodoo. Simon makes them provide ‘services’ for sex-tourists who come from all over, but especially from north-western Europe, the United States and Australia. A past president, an ex-Catholic priest, made voodoo into a ‘Haïtian religion’ with constitutional and civil protection. Maybe he didn’t realise that this just ensured the flow of ‘tourist’ money that began to pour into the country while true religion was being abandoned around the world. Now there is great confusion, because the voodoo priests seem to be doing Christian baptisms which the government registers.”
“But why voodoo?” asked Father Alexámenos, knowing the answer, but wanting to hear it from Filmèna for the benefit of those who were listening so intently. He knew it was surreal to have a long conversation with Simon writhing in front of them, but he was certain that God would now work an act of mercy as he had for Elijah in front of the false prophets on Mount Carmel.
“Voodoo is a kind of animism in the sense of ‘channelling spirits’, as the Americans say,” said Filmèna. Deliberately using the past tense, she continued: “These people thought that they could have some kind of contact with the spirits of their ancestors, doing what they thought their predecessors had done in west Africa before coming over on the slave ships. It has all changed, of course. Simon’s voodoo, like everyone else’s, was a mixed bag of anything he and the people around him thought they could identify with and make money at the same time. It gave these people a false sense of belonging and security, not only by way of nostalgia for Africa, but because they believed that their ancestors were actually with them by way of the spirits speaking through ‘zombies’. They were supposed to be the living dead, but they were victims of superstition who have either worked themselves into a frenzy, or were drugged – sometimes to death – or became possessed by Satan’s fallen angels.”
“Hatred of human dignity can be a sign of the demonic,” said Father Alexámenos.
With these words, the convulsions of Simon in front of the statue intensified. Simon shouted: “Not her!” They looked to the statue of Mary, then to Father Alexámenos, who was standing behind the man, who continued to writhe. Father Alexámenos reached down, placing his hands on the top of his head in order to give him a blessing. The man immediately became still, much to the relief of the crowd. Then a strange voice spoke through Simon, “We’ll sift Peter like wheat, but this time, he won’t turn to strengthen his brothers. How dare he and Emet try to claim Fidèle for Christ! Mater Ecclesiæ is useless… useless… Gola will take revenge. ” He convulsed again, this time shrieking with ear piercing, blood curdling screams, though his mouth did not open.
The demon would have treated Father Alexámenos in the same way that he had dealt with the charismatic ‘deliverance teams’ who acted disobediently, but it had simply not occurred to Father Alexámenos in the intensity of the situation that he was not an officially appointed exorcist in this particular diocese. He had been given the explicit mandate of exorcist by the Roman Vicariate for his years in Rome. He was simply acting in good faith, which was respected by the Lord.
“Ecce crux Domini. Fugite partes adversæ,” commanded Father Alexámenos for the exorcism. The man spoke some words which Father Alexámenos could not make out, but which he knew sounded like Aramaic. “Who are you?” asked Father Alexámenos in biblical Aramaic, and, without waiting for a response, asked, “What are you doing here?” in koine Greek.
“My name is Adversary. I hate God,” the fallen spirit said in an entirely intelligible voice, though the words were this time spoken in Syriac, a language Father Alexámenos had studied.
Father Alexámenos realised that this exchange in ancient languages was meant to make him proud, so this time, in his mix of French and west African, he asked, “Or is your name really Liar and Murderer from the Beginning? Are you not here because you hate those whom God loves, mocking the dignity they have on account of the Blood shed for them by Christ Jesus?”
The man flipped himself up into a crouching position, looking as if he could pounce upon Father Alexámenos so as to tear him to shreds. His face was contorted into another form. The people again stepped back. “Oh Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee,” Father Alexámenos said out loud, repeating, “Ecce crux Domini. Fugite partes adversæ.” This time the exorcism completed its purpose. The man shrieked loudly and fell back.
“He’s dead!” said Jozèf.
Father Alexámenos leaned down and grasped him by the hand, pulling him up. The man was in his right mind for the first time in decades. Father Alexámenos immediately reached through the side pockets of his cassock and unbuckled his belt, letting his trousers fall to his feet under his cassock. He kicked them off, giving them to the man.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Simon,” he replied. Everyone exhaled as if they had been holding their breath all that time, but no one dared say anything. They were stupefied.
“I’m pleased to meet you, Simon.” But as he reached out to shake Simon’s hand, Simon realised he still had a voodoo doll in his hand, and threw it down. It was full of needles.
“A missionary told me years ago that it was alright since it was enculturation.”
“As an example of how enculturation can go amiss, look at that doll,” said Father Alexámenos. “Its pins are a corruption of acupuncture brought to west Africa centuries ago.”
“What is Truth?” asked Simon. “How can we be united, past, present and future? Tell me!”
“Pray with us!” exclaimed Father Alexámenos. “And you will know Him.” Simon looked at Father Alexámenos, wondering what he meant by Truth as a living Person. Father Alexámenos saw this, and continued, saying, “Voodoo’s spirit channelling is Satan’s way of mocking the unity of peoples across time, which can only be established by the Charity of God, who creates us all, holding us in existence, no matter what time we live in, lifting us to Himself. He is in eternity. When voodoo gets frustrated, as it must, in trying to establish this unity apart from God, it must turn to humiliating fear and mockery, to violent relativism, to death, as does the rest of the world.
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“The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery,” said Father Alexámenos, “is Jesus carrying His Cross, our Cross, to Calvary. When we condemned Jesus to die because we couldn’t stand His goodness in our presence, we wanted Him to die in the most tortuous and humiliating way we could imagine, being stripped and nailed to a Cross so as to be publically humiliated until death. We made Him carry a Cross to Calvary, where He was crucified. We wanted to make it difficult, putting obstacles in His way, tripping Him, trying to make Him give up on this goodness of His. We wanted to prove to ourselves that we could carry the Day of the Lord, Dies Domini, under our own power, without Him, without His grace, so proud are we of ourselves. ‘Who needs religion?’ we all screamed at Him. ‘We are doing well enough without God in this world!’ We proved that we were in a living hell by crucifying the very Son of God, just because He wanted to lift us out of our eternal damnation, even though we knew deep down that we could not help ourselves. But if Jesus, in seeing our misery, just said, ‘I declare that you’re better!’ that would be cheating. He had to fulfill all justice to forgive us. He had to carry our sins as His Cross to have mercy on us.”
Father Alexámenos raised his eyes to heaven, saying, “Thank you, Jesus, for having us daily take up our Cross, the weaknesses of original and personal sin transformed by your grace into an opportunity to call to you, so that we can die to ourselves, living for you. Make us fearless before free will. Make us understand that children innocent of personal sin suffer because of original sin and from others, because of the respect that must be given to free will and its consequences… because with free will we can agree to love with your love. Make us fearless, so that, strong in you, in suffering and death, we can thank you face to face in heaven for the salvation which will free us from all suffering and death. Make us know that even while we suffer, if we do your will, living justly, with forgiveness, we have hope. Thank you for hope.”
Most of the crowd repeated these thanks, except a few, who were dumbfounded.
Father Alexámenos squatted down, asking the name of the little boy who had brought the statue of Mary. “Pyè!” was the enthusiastic answer. Father Alexámenos traced the Cross on his forehead as the Holy Father had done for himself just a short time before.
Father Alexámenos took the Rosary from Estè, and handed it to Simon, who, although he didn’t know what to do with it, fumbled with it, trying to follow the prayers said together by many in the crowd without alternating the parts any longer. Simon was at peace.
As they started the prayers of this decade, Father Alexámenos saw Pyè pull on the arm of Jozèf, who was obviously his father. They went off together and came back just as the decade was finishing. Jozèf had tied two long slender logs together to form a Cross. As Jozèf dragged the Cross onto the dirt in front of the plank staircase of the brothel, Pyè was proudly following along behind his father, placing his hand on the Cross as it was dragged along.
Pòl looked for the machete he had given to Father Alexámenos and saw it in the pot of flowers behind the statue of Mary. He grabbed it and used it to dig a hole in which to place the base of the Cross. As the others prayed, he told the other boys to bring some rocks. Instead, they took some cinder blocks from the low wall of the shanty opposite that of Jozèf. Pòl piled these around the foot of the Cross and then placed the machete back in its place in the pot of flowers behind the statue of Mary.
As the prayers of this decade finished, Mari, who had watched the exorcism of Simon from the door, came onto the veranda and down the steps, walking directly up to Father Alexámenos, unable to say anything, overwhelmed with emotion. She didn’t need to say anything. She had two lit candles with her. Finally finding her voice, she said, “Father, I know you have the Blessed Sacrament.” She bent down, setting the candles in the dirt on either side of the tall Cross. She then knelt down, looking at the Cross. Mari was repenting. She had been the principal of the Catholic School, which had closed at that time, becoming the brothel it had been for years until that night.
Father Alexámenos took the hint. He unbuttoned the top of his cassock and removed the pyx with its cord. Reaching high up, he hung the pyx with the Blessed Sacrament over the Cross beam and knelt down beside Mari. Everyone followed their example.
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Father Alexámenos announced the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery, the crucifixion and death of Jesus. “At the Last Supper before being put to death, Jesus took some bread, and said, ‘This is my Body being given up for you, in sacrifice.’ Then He took a chalice of wine, and said, ‘This is my Blood, which is being poured out for you, in sacrifice.’ That Last Supper of His before He died and then rose from the dead was His Wedding Feast; those words were His wedding vows; His death and resurrection was the consummation of that marriage. God gave Himself to us in the Eucharist.”
After some moments, he added, “Jesus Himself – His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity – has come among us tonight in the Most Blessed Sacrament. We now kneel before Him, thanking Him for what he has done so powerfully among us tonight. Just as he forgave us from the Cross, just so tonight does He bring us to Himself, drawing all to Himself, recapitulating all in Himself.”
They remained for some time in adoration of Christ, who was reigning from the humble monstrance of that makeshift Cross in the midst of His people whom He loved so much that He had suffered and died for them, reigning there, in the midst of the squaller of that hell of poverty in the shantytown in modern day Port-au-Prince.
Father Alexámenos then audibly prayed to Jesus, this time not looking to the heavens, but to the Blessed Sacrament, saying, “Jesus, when, so many years ago, my village was being attacked by the rebels, when one family after another was being cut down, I heard someone scream out, ‘Why, Lord? Why have you forsaken us? Oh God, we don’t deserve this.”
This was a painful memory for Father Alexámenos, and he had to pause, breathing deeply. He then continued his prayer, “Jesus, I know that this has been the anguished question of all those who suffer. Our temptation is to lose Hope, to despair, to answer violence with violence. We can lose our Faith, thinking that you don’t care about us, that you have abandoned us, forsaken us. In order to keep Hope before us, Lord, you did not simply say, ‘Be of good cheer, or, I declare you to be nice!’ That would be faking it, leaving us in misery. You had to say on the Cross, suffering, tortured, dying, ‘My God! My God! Why have you abandoned me?’ We know that you know us, Jesus, through and through. You stand before our Heavenly Father in your Risen Body, which still bears the marks where the nails pinned you to the Cross. The Father sees our lives written out on the scars on your Body, the only scars which give us security, a sense of belonging, real Hope. The Father loves you, and forgives us, forgiving us because He loves you. We used to say in bitterness and hypocrisy, “We don’t deserve this. The consequences of what was freely chosen in original sin, all our weakness and misery, is unjust.” But now you have us say, “We don’t deserve this… Thank you for not taking away our free will. Man used it wrongly, but by free will, though we suffer justly, we can come to love you freely, our weakness transformed as a way to know how to thank you for the eternal life we begin by grace even now. We know what it is you saved us from. Our ‘Yes!’ to the Father is truly your ‘Yes!’ in us, Jesus. Thank you.”
This time everyone repeated, “Thank you.” Mari strongly led the prayers for the fifth decade, followed by the Litany, without help. She felt like she was once again a religious sister.
Father Alexámenos, meanwhile, was thankful for all those who had laboured in the Faith before him, bearing the heat of the day. He had merely come, at an opportune time, to an almost entirely Catholic population that had, in living memory, been most devout. They only needed a little encouragement to rejoice in their Faith once again. But there were so many wolves, so many Judas-priests, more interested in vaunting themselves than in helping anyone. How different it had been for great missionaries like Peter Chanel, beaten to death in Oceania after years of evangelisation. He knew, however, that, as it is said, no good deed goes unpunished by the world. He did not want to think what this punishment was going to be in this case.
Upon finishing the decade, Mari immediately said with a strong voice, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. My last Confession was before the encyclical Humanæ vitæ was published. Since then, I accuse myself of the following sins…”
Father Alexámenos tried to stop her, saying it was best to make such a Confession quietly, but she talked over him, saying that any of them, from the youngest to the oldest, could give him the full list of her sins. Mari started in on her Confession. Father Alexámenos realised that he didn’t have to stop her since Filmèna demonstrated her wisdom again by launching into a melody which they all knew well. The others understood what she was doing and sang along with her, creating harmonies as they went, and making up words based on the Rosary they had just prayed. Beside Father Alexámenos, no one could hear a word Mari said. He made the Sign of the Cross over her in absolution. She remained kneeling, as did the others.
Father Alexámenos stood up and motioned for silence. He explained the Trinitarian formula of the Sign of the Cross, how it is that the Holy Spirit draws us to the Father through the Risen Christ whom we first come to know as Jesus crucified. He then reached up to the Cross, taking the pyx containing the Blessed Sacrament down from the makeshift monstrance, and provided for them the Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament. They all made the Sign of the Cross, though the small children weren’t quite sure just what to do, making all sorts of gestures.
Father Alexámenos, as if by intuition, turned to Mari and asked, “Are you feeling well?”
Mari was already in her early seventies, an extraordinary age for the poor there. She said, “Well, to be honest, Father, I wasn’t telling anyone until now. Poor people don’t have money to die in a hospital.” She pulled back the frill of the high collar of the blouse she always wore. There was a large tumour growing on her neck. “I don’t feel well at all.”
Father Alexámenos anointed her and gave her Holy Communion. Everyone then rose to their feet.
“There is a prayer I would like to share with all of you,” said Father Alexámenos. “I say it every day without fail.” Everyone listened with attention. “It’s called the ‘Three Hail Marys.’ After saying the Hail Mary three times, we ask the Blessed Virgin’s intercession with her Son Jesus, saying, ‘Oh Mary, my Mother, keep me free from all sin.’”
“Oh Mary, my Mother, keep me free from all sin,” they all said in unison.
Filmèna added a story, saying, “There are many good things which have come from this prayer. I remember when I was teaching catechism to adults more than a half century ago. I taught my students this prayer in my first class. The second class was two weeks later, and one of the men reported that he had said the prayer on his way home. He said that he hadn’t suffered from any attacks of epilepsy in those two weeks, whereas, previously, severe attacks had been an almost daily nightmare for him. Doctors had not known what to do. It never returned.”
Mari then rose to her feet and said, “I have an announcement to make. I’ve decided to give the house to the Missionary Sisters.”
“But what is to become of all the children?” asked Father Alexámenos.
“Oh, don’t worry about them, Father,” said Mari. “In our clan, they all have families of some kind, at least mothers and brothers and sisters. Its true that they were forced to live here and work at Simon’s voodoo clubs, but everything is different now. They will all be welcomed back. They are no longer scared to death of Simon’s manipulations. They have been liberated. The tender mercy of the Eternal God has visited us in this darkness, in this shadow of death, giving us light and guiding our feet into the way of peace.”
“But what will become of you, Mari?” asked Father Alexámenos.
“I’ll see to that. I’m her mother,” said Filmèna, despite her age. Mari would soon be one of the first terminal patients of the Missionary Sisters.
“Moreover,” Mari continued, “you’ve all volunteered to help find out who has received what sacraments, if any, and what people need for medicine, food and clothes.”
They all nodded their heads in agreement. Filmèna marvelled at this, and wondered if this was similar to the way in which the Legion of Mary had begun long ago in Dublin.
“I object,” said Simon loudly.
A wave of concern came over the crowd as they wondered if the exorcism really worked.
“But why?” asked Mari.
“You can’t run anything without finances. I’m selling my voodoo clubs, including the ones I have in Florida and Louisiana. I’ll help you. I know I’ve hurt you all, especially the young ones. I’m giving you all I have. I am so sorry.”
Father Alexámenos, having often seen supplies delivered unexpectedly to those who needed them just when they were required, thought that while Simon’s generosity was appreciated, he had a great deal to learn about trusting in the providential care of the Lord.
Simon then requested everyone’s forgiveness, which they willingly gave to him.
Filmèna started to sing again, and everyone joined in. Their rejoicing was at fever pitch.
The poverty and violence, the voodoo and the kidnapping, rampant illness and the malaise of society at large, had not been able to conquer Charity. “Those who would think all of these events to be overly dramatic know little of the sufferings of Christ,” thought Father Alexámenos. “They look away from the sufferings of the poor; they look away from the wounds on the Son of God.”
Up next: Chapter 18 – Like the grief of Jesus at the death of Lazarus
© International 2005-2018 – George David Byers