[[Merely coincidentally, surely, a kind soul pointed me back to this particular chapter now 15 years later, precisely 32 minutes after I sent, late last night, a rather incisive chess move, so to speak, regarding quite exactly the same points, to […] in […], who has everything to do with everything. /// Jackass for the Hour, the ecclesiastical thriller novel of some 750+ pages and some 34 long chapters that was written in 2004-2005 in Rome between the first two chapters my thesis on Genesis 2:4a-3:24, is about the murderous intrigue of interreligious dialogue on the highest levels. I am stunned at some exact parallels between what was written 15 years ago, what happened 500 years ago, and today. In this chapter, you are quite abruptly thrown without ceremony, in media res, into a meeting of Cardinals and a young priest, Don Hash. That encounter takes place in a rooftop apartment of Cardinal […] at San Calisto, a kind of Pentagon for the Vatican.]]
Chapter 6 – You underestimate ‘nothing’
“Our Lord uses Truth… He is the Living Truth,” said don Hash aggressively. “The Holy Spirit inspired the Scriptures. You cannot stone the Holy Spirit to death. You cannot stone the adulterous woman in John’s Gospel out of the Scriptures. What you say, Cardinal Fidèle, means nothing… nothing.”
“You underestimate ‘nothing,’ Hash! Think!” commanded Cardinal Fidèle. “If you continually put nothing in front of people who are hungry, really starving, on the brink of death, but who pretend not to be, proud of their own self-sufficiency, so much so that they throw any food back in your face every time you feel sorry for them, so that you learn just to keep giving them nothing, as if mocking them… it is only then, that, in the end, at least some of them will eventually ask for something rather than nothing. They will turn, repent, and ask for the fulness of Truth, for all the Sacred Scriptures, Sacred Tradition, the Family of Faith, the Magisterium, for the Head of the Family of Faith, the Holy Father, for the Living Truth in the Blessed Sacrament…”
“In other words,” interrupted don Hash, ‘do not give what is holy to the dogs…’ do not present the adulterous woman story to the faithful… let her account be taken out of the Scriptures, at least for now, for the sake of ecumenical appeasement, since the all the non-Catholics have spit on her and put her to death…”
“Or, with less particularities, Hash,” continued Cardinal Fidèle, “we can simply say: ‘Do not throw your pearls before the swine…’”
“Lest they trample them with their feet…” alternated don Hash flatly, ashen.
“And turn to attack you, Hash,” said the Cardinal, glaring into his soul, warning him.
“So,” replied don Hash, his mind racing back to his doctoral defence, “the motivation of the Holy Spirit, who guides the Church, is not to be questioned. What has been done here this evening may be seen as heroic damage control. Seeing the billions who starve for the Truth, one is not to feel sorry for them, but is to watch them die…?” The careful words were voiced as a question, and echoed in the chasm of don Hash’s own emptiness. Spiritually, he was placing these words before Christ’s judgment. Yet, he felt as if he was sitting in the depths of hell…
“You may feel sorry for them all you want!” said Cardinal Fidèle. “The Agony in the Garden is a most difficult reality. You must let them die… to themselves, and ask that they be enlightened in their starving condition, like the prodigal son among the swine. The father of the prodigal son did not run after his wayward son, but let him starve, almost to death, dying to himself. You are not to pretend that you can do better than Christ Jesus Himself. For your part, you are to be charitable, offering simple catechesis when you can, according to their own perspective, whatever it happens to be…”
“I have heard that rubbish about non-catechesis a thousand times,” said don Hash, triggered by bad memories of some faithless leaders in local churches. “I say they are starving. They are dying. The prodigal son was found by his Father. You speak blasphemy.”
“He’s right,” said the Cardinal Secretary of State. “They are dying. They are all dying…”
“I’m hungry!” said Carpe Diem loudly, who stopped his pacing in front of Cardinal Fidèle so suddenly that he could not keep the heavy volume from falling from the top of his head and into the lap of the Prelate, still open to the pages to which it had been opened on his head. The others could not help but notice the beautiful artwork and calligraphy. It was the adulterous woman being forgiven by Christ. “I’m hungry!” he insisted.
“Perhaps there is something for you in the kitchen,” he suggested. At that, Carpe Diem went off to the kitchen, happy as could be.
The others looked at Cardinal Fidèle, at the bible, and back at the Prelate.
“True enough! They are all dying, hopefully to themselves, to their selfishness,” continued Cardinal Fidèle, undeterred, as if Carpe Diem had not been there. “Tell us, de Colines,” he said, only apparently changing the topic, “tell us about all those bishops and priests who not only do nothing, but who positively lead their flocks into error. How many are there? How many cases do you have piled up on your desk? Tell us if you have done anything more to correct the situation other than to distance yourself from responsibility for their actions!”
Cardinal de Colines replied, red in the face, “You don’t know the half of it, Fidèle!”
“You do not know,” Cardinal Fidèle replied. “You have no sources, no means to…” Cardinal Fidèle cut himself off, not wanting give away his own non-diplomatic sources.
“Schisms are ready to break out. They are breaking out. Damage control is necessary,” insisted Cardinal de Colines. “I must choose the man who is the lowest common denominator, as pleasing to many as possible. Keeping the peace is what we all must do.”
“I think we agree then,” concluded Cardinal Fidèle, “though for contradictory reasons, that people do not want the fulness of the truth, not yet. And that, Elzevir, is all the more reason to burn Alexámenos… his work. People must convert before giving them the fulness of truth. Otherwise, they destroy the truth and those who propose it, preempting the cause of unity.”
“I’m all for unity,” said Cardinal Froben.
“Alexámenos is not to publish,” asserted Cardinal Elzevir.
“You are all wrong,” said don Hash. “Only witness unto death will bring many conversions.”
“Don’t get yourself trampled to death, Hash,” said Cardinal Fidèle sardonically, “or even burned at the stake. That’s for people who aren’t with the Church, like Giordano Bruno…”
“Or like Alexámenos, according to your understanding,” interrupted don Hash.
“That is a question for another day. It is now late,” said Cardinal Fidèle. “Are we agreed to meet here tomorrow afternoon?”
The Cardinals agreed, knowing that the meeting Cardinal Fidèle would have with Pope Tsur-Ēzer the next morning would have something to do with Father Alexámenos, and wanted to know the result. Don Hash stood up, hoping that the meeting was over, wondering who it would be who would burn the Truth.
“What about you, Hash?” asked Cardinal Fidèle, not willing to let him go so easily.
“Yes, what will happen to me in all of this?” asked don Hash. I am Alexámenos’ friend.” He continued putting on his coat, hoping no one would answer.
“Must I repeat myself?” asked Cardinal Fidèle. “The most insidious part of damage control is its final phase, just before the Lord steps in to provide a solution, something I’ve been hoping for all my life. It calls for self control and a great deal of Faith. Are you up to that Hash?”
“Myself, certainly not. But with the Lord, anything is possible,” replied don Hash.
“The Lord has plans for you, as He does for Alexámenos,” said Cardinal Fidèle.
“Meaning that I am to be a jackass in times to come?” asked don Hash.
“We should never limit ourselves to the future tense, Hash,” replied Cardinal Fidèle.
“So…” don Hash tried to conclude, “we are to burn Alexámenos at the stake?”
“It should be clear I trust you, Hash,” asserted Cardinal Fidèle. “Tell me, do you trust me?”
“Oh, have mercy!” Cardinal Froben cried out.
✵ ✵ ✵
“Oui,” said père Roger, answering the telephone at the Nunciature in Pétionville, a village which looked like a predatory lion ready to pounce on its prey, crouched as it was on the hill just above and to the side of the sprawling, helpless city of Port-au-Prince.
“You’re going to do him in, aren’t you?” asked père Jacques, recognising père Roger’s voice.
“Jacques… What do you mean, ‘do him in’? Who are you talking about?”
“You don’t trust me, do you?” asked père Jacques. “You know what I’m talking about…”
“And you know all too well that I only do that to the rich,” replied père Roger as a threat.
“I see,” said père Jacques. “That means that you don’t trust me. Very well, then.”
Père Jacques hung up. He checked his wallet, which always contained more money than he could possibly need. He jumped up, took his keys, and went to a photography store.
Père Roger was tired of doing what he preferred to think of as helping people rather than doing them in. Yet, the more he thought about it, the more excited he became. He would do it.
✵ ✵ ✵
The Cardinals eyed don Hash carefully. Cardinal Fidèle’s question about whether don Hash trusted him was grossly offensive, for it was a ‘no win’ situation for don Hash even before it was answered. If the question had to be asked, a positive response would have to be considered to be a lie, while a negative response would mean he could not remain in a position to help Father Alexámenos in the best way that he could. As in his doctoral defence, don Hash stared at Cardinal Fidèle, who knew enough to wait for an answer. Don Hash remained silent, for effect.
“You had better answer him,” warned Cardinal Francisco, timidly, as the Grand Inquisitor.
But don Hash turned his eyes and looked at the fire, distracted by the particularly loud hissing and popping noises coming from the embers.
“Shall I repeat the question?” asked Cardinal Fidèle. Don Hash kept his tongue, waiting, though the room had now become very tense.
“You should answer him,” directed Cardinal Elzevir, interrupting the silence with the same severe tone he had used when he questioned the loyalty of Monsignor Sens.
Carpe Diem came into the room chewing contentedly on a piece of bread, took the bible from Cardinal Fidèle, placed it on his head as he had before, and declared with utter serenity, “I’m not hungry anymore.” He then pressed the sides of the huge volume close to his ears and said, “Listen with me.” He listened for some seconds and then said, “Jesus, carpe diem!” He then walked away with the bible on his head, repeating, “Jesus, carpe diem!”
Don Hash, shaken by the prayer of Carpe Diem, and knowing that Saint Polycarp had been burned at the stake for loving God and neighbour, and for hating heresy, looked up from the fire, and said, “In his Confessions, Saint Augustine speaks of time from God’s point of view. It’s amazing. I’ve just started to read it the other day…”
“You’ve either done your homework, or you’re a complete fool, Hash,” said Cardinal Elzevir, incredulously. “Don’t you know that Fidèle has published on the subject?”
Taken aback by this new piece of information, don Hash, nevertheless, continued: “All of us in the world owe much to each other irrespective of the time we live in. From that perspective, it might seem that, in our own time, it would be reasonable, given the proper occasion, that someone could be sacrificed for the good of the Church. What do you think, your Eminence?” The question was meant to entrap Cardinal Fidèle into admitting his intentions concerning Father Alexámenos, into admitting he was really like Caiaphas, the High Priest, when he found an expedient excuse to have Jesus murdered. Don Hash was beginning to understand that part of Augustine’s Confessions in which Jesus’ Sacrifice was described as reaching out to all times simultaneously, not just once there, and perhaps again at some other time in some other place.
“He’s very shrewd, Fidèle,” said Cardinal Elzevir. “He’ll do well at the Secretariat of State.”
Cardinal Fidèle thought he was shrewder than all of them, and so simply said, “Yes, I would betray anyone, including Alexámenos, given the right circumstances, and not necessarily for any good outcome. Because I know this – that ‘There but for the grace of God go I’ – I pray daily on my knees before the Blessed Sacrament in my chapel asking that I always do what is right.”
Just then, Carpe Diem walked into the room and right up to Cardinal Fidèle. He had no bible with him, but just wanted some attention. Cardinal Fidèle thought he would be clever, and gave him a copy of the New Vulgate. However, he didn’t explain what it was, and Carpe Diem did not ask. He thought he was supposed to repeat the burning he had seen before, and starting ripping out the Praefatio ad lectorem and the Praenotanda of the edition, throwing the pages into the fireplace. Cardinal Fidèle told don Hash to rescue the volume, which he did. Carpe Diem was not pleased, but went by himself to the far side of the room and squatted down out of sight. Within moments he left the room to return to the kitchen. “Don Hash,” said Cardinal Fidèle without having turned his head to see where Carpe Diem had been in the room, “Please, clean up what Polycarp has just done.”
Don Hash looked to see what happened. Carpe Diem had used some of the pages he had failed to throw into the fireplace for a good purpose; he had defecated into what looked to be a large Renaissance era ashtray that Cardinal Fidèle kept for Cardinal Froben, who smoked cigars. The ashtray was covered with designs of Pan and Hermaphroditus. Don Hash cleaned up the mess, pleased to have such an incisive lesson on how to proceed in the ‘dialogue’ with the Cardinals. When he returned from the toilet, he said to Cardinal Fidèle, “Regardless of any answer you give, I must say that I couldn’t trust you further than I could throw you. You, for instance, don’t trust Father Alexámenos. He’s not had any insight like the rest of you. None at all. He’s merely highlighted what Trent has had all along. He’s beside the point. As for me, the One I trust is Christ, who provides or permits circumstances with which you, your Eminence, are also associated. Trusting you is beside the point.”
With this exchange, nobody was any wiser as to the intentions of the others. Don Hash did not know if Cardinal Fidèle thought of the elimination of Father Alexámenos as a betrayal, and no one knew how don Hash would react if Cardinal Fidèle were to actually push for a more thorough removal of Father Alexámenos. The others thought it was a hypothetical joke. The Cardinals immediately reached for their winter coats, thinking that the stalemate was sufficient for them; they saw this kind of thing on a continual basis. For them, don Hash could be trusted. The fact that the Cardinals were preparing to leave gave Cardinal Fidèle and don Hash the chance not to continue. Cardinal Fidèle thought he had don Hash where he wanted him. Don Hash, however, was thankful that he was in a position, with such meetings, to help Father Alexámenos, whatever the motivations of Cardinal Fidèle might be. The Cardinals rose and also shook hands with don Hash for the first time that day, and were sincere. They all thanked Cardinal Fidèle for his hospitality – for that is what it was for them – and promised not to be late for lunch the next day.
Before they left the room, however, Cardinal Fidèle pressed more buttons on his phone.
“Sì,” was the reply.
“It’s time to take care of that situation we spoke about,” said Cardinal Fidèle.
“Your Eminence. Good to hear from you again. Yes, right away. Tomorrow I will…”
“Now, this very evening,” interrupted Cardinal Fidèle. “There is no time to lose.”
“Yes, of course, your Eminence.”
Cardinal Fidèle pressed another button to terminate the call, smiled at his guests and, this time taking his cane, led them out of the study. As they moved single file down the corridor lined with books, the door bell rang twice and Signora Gagno entered to pick up her son, Carpe Diem.
“He’s been good this afternoon, I hope,” she asked.
“Yes, on his best behaviour,” said Cardinal Fidèle.
The two of them left, and the others entered the small chapel, filling it to capacity. The old vulgate Carpe Diem had enjoyed so much was opened up on top of the altar; there was hardly room for it. It was still open to the adulterous woman, as if Carpe Diem wanted to remember where he left off. They knelt down, but don Hash again felt that there was something terribly wrong with the tabernacle. Cardinal Froben broke the silence and asked, “What do you have here, Fidèle, a religious goods store?” It was a comment on the fact that icons filled the walls of the chapel. They were gifts Cardinal Fidèle had received through the decades. The others ignored his lack of reverence.
“Gorgeous oil lamps you have burning by that beautiful tabernacle, though,” said Cardinal Froben, trying to use the compliment as an apology for his sarcastic comment. Yet, he couldn’t help himself from making one last comment, “The incense smells great too.” After a few moments and some hastily made Signs of the Cross, they all genuflected and made their way to the entrance to the apartment, just a few steps away. Cardinal Fidèle remarked outside of the chapel that the tabernacle had held the Blessed Sacrament ever since he was first made a bishop, except for the times he had changed his living quarters, and that proper reverence was required even from Cardinal Froben.
Out in the open walkway on the roof, Cardinal Froben turned left and went to his own apartment just a few doors away on the top of San Calisto. The other three Cardinals and don Hash went in the other direction. They did not take the lift, but made their way down the enormous staircase at the end of the building.
Cardinal Fidèle closed the door after his visitors left, and walked right past his chapel with its tabernacle, repeating, “It’s too easy. It’s just too easy.”
Instead of returning to his study, he went straight into the dining room without turning on the lights. He walked around the magnificent, large oak table, and went to the far side of the room where a set of windows overlooked Via di San Cosimato. As he looked down, a black car soon made its way to the front gate of San Calisto and drove below him. The car was soon out of sight and went steeply up Via Garibaldi to the top of the Gianiculum Hill and then down Via delle Fornaci, which led to Vatican City.
✵ ✵ ✵
It was Cardinal Elzevir who was driving, as he did on these occasions. It was he who broke the silence, admitting, “I wouldn’t trust the old man either, but what Fidèle says seems reasonable.”
This was followed by Cardinal de Colines, who imitated don Hash, “I couldn’t trust you further than I could throw you!” They laughed, but then went strangely silent, uncomfortably so.
After some minutes, Cardinal Francisco said, “We’ll see how things develop tomorrow. I want to know what that meeting with the Pope is all about. And I’m interested in who Alexámenos is. I don’t like him already.”
“Let it go,” said Cardinal de Colines. “You just feel threatened. The old man seems to have quite a bit of respect for him.”
“Well, one thing is sure,” said Cardinal Elzevir. “As we speak, Hash is surely going straight to Alexámenos like a robot programmed by Fidèle. I have a feeling that we’ll be seeing plenty of Alexámenos, and if he’s anything like Hash, we may have something to worry about.”
✵ ✵ ✵
Cardinal Fidèle could then see don Hash walking out of the gate, asking a passerby for directions. He walked across the little piazza, toward Via di San Francesco. “Entirely predictable!” exclaimed Cardinal Fidèle to himself. “He’s on his way to see Alexámenos to tell him everything that happened here.” But as he said these last words, he saw don Hash stop, turn around, and look up at his apartment on the top of San Calisto, one of the many which were visible from that angle. Though he was in the dark, the Cardinal stepped back from the window. He then saw don Hash make the Sign of the Cross toward the apartment and continue on his way. The Cardinal shook his head. He remained at the window for quite some time, staring blankly over the buildings of Trastevere at the Aventine Hill across the Tiber River.
✵ ✵ ✵
The Cardinals had offered to give don Hash a ride, but he said that he preferred to walk, and was used to the cold. He asked a man who was passing by for directions to the Aventine. The night was very dark. “It’s as cold as Rome has ever been,” he thought, “the dead of winter.” As he walked across the small piazza, another wave of suspicion against Cardinal Fidèle came over him, as if the Prelate would soon be burning in hell. Yet, he turned toward San Calisto and blessed the Cardinal, asking that he not be influenced by the Evil One.
Despite taking a wrong turn, don Hash made his way along Via di San Michele and finally came to Porta Portese. There were dozens of dead chickens on the road. He thought that some cases of live chickens had fallen from a passing truck, and had been run over. Even though he was upwind, the stench was sickening. He picked up his pace and quickly came to Ponte Sublicio, a bridge over the Tiber River. It was only 7:15 p.m., but there was now very little traffic.
The more dramatic moments of the afternoon flooded don Hash’s mind. He spoke from memory the last line of Christ to the adulterous woman which had not been included in Bellarmine’s carefully written uncial manuscript, “Go, and from now on, sin no longer.” He thought, “If only I could be like that adulterous woman, not to sin again because of being overwhelmed with the awesome presence of Christ who forgives my sins… how wonderful… But instead, who am I? An alter Christus, another Christ?” Thinking of his doctoral defence, he thought, “No. I am like the apocalyptic Whore of Babylon. When a political situation arises in which I am tempted to protect myself, I do it, at the cost of placing my own Faith and that of others in danger. It would have been better to fail the doctoral defence, going off willingly into the exile which the Church suffers everywhere in this world away from our heavenly homeland rather than trying to fight Babylon in Babylon’s terms, under my own power, thus becoming Babylon’s whore of do-it-yourself religion.” Yet, instead of diving into self-pity, he turned to thank Christ for his conversion.
His mind then raced over the incident in John’s Gospel. The scribes and Pharisees dragged a woman caught in the act of adultery before Jesus while he taught. If He was a prophet like Moses, He would have her stoned to death. Yet, He would forfeit His own life in doing so, for death was meted out to anyone usurping the right of the Roman authorities to execute the rule of law, particularly regarding capital punishment. If He did not have her stoned to death according to God’s Law, He would be rejected by the people as a false prophet. Don Hash smiled at the awesome few words of Christ’s response, which had the scribes and Pharisees symbolically confessing in front of all that they themselves were false prophets and adulterers. They had thrown down their stones, effectively saying that they themselves should be stoned as the missing adulterer in the story. Otherwise, they would be executed by the Romans.
As he walked up onto the bridge that would bring him to the base of the Aventine Hill where he would eventually find Alexámenos, a blast of cold night air shooting down the river hit him, and seemed to blow right through him. “Right through my heart,” said don Hash, “if I have one.” Despite the cold, don Hash stopped walking. “Why?” he asked himself as questions came rushing back into him. “Why had Cardinal Fidèle gone out of his way to entrap him into making such an evil response at his doctoral defence? Why did the Cardinal now want to entrap him into blaspheming the Holy Spirit? Surely, he must be malicious, demonically so. They all want to destroy the Church. They are all promoting themselves.” But then he thought that there could be a way of understanding the Cardinals to be ignorant, or naive, or misguided. Perhaps they are so immersed in the politics of it all that they are afraid of their own shadows, and so refuse to think… to pray… Even if they were diabolically evil, thought don Hash, it would be a sin to destroy himself in bitterness against them. “I should just be available to give witness to Christ unto death, remembering how much He has done for me,” he thought. “Jesus,” he prayed, “I’ve just pretended to be you when that woman caught in the act of adultery was to be stoned in the Gospel of John. I’ve made her into the difficulties the Church is undergoing. Then I’ve made the Cardinals, with their dilemma, into the scribes and Pharisees. But instead of acting like you, Jesus, I’ve acted like the adulterous woman before her conversion. I’m like the Whore of Babylon since I pretend to fight them under my own power, falling into bitterness…” Don Hash then intensified his confession to Jesus: “I betray you at every step, Lord. Left to my own devices, I continue to do this. Left to myself, I merely ask you to ‘help’ me to do what I see to be your work. Stercus sum. Please, grant me the grace to ask no longer for your help even while I continue to insist on retaining control of my own spiritual life. If I’m in charge, I uselessly continue in my whoredom. Instead of merely helping do anything, please, just have me put to death to myself. You live within me, Jesus, that I might live only for you…” He had read similar words used by Saint Paul a thousand times. It was not that this confession, this prayer had welled up from within him, as if he was still in the midst of the desperation he had felt that morning at the altar rail at San Lorenzo; instead, he was drawn into this prayer by Christ. It was not his prayer. It was given to him. “Jesus, carpe diem!”
Just then, again, the sarcastic sing-song words came back: “Friend, friend, friend…” And now don Hash reconsidered his discernment. Perhaps just those words were from the devil. All the rest had brought him as never before into humble reverence before Jesus. It was then that what seemed to him to be the weight of the glory of God brought him to his knees on the side of the empty bridge… ונתתי לך לב בשׂר. “I am giving you a heart of flesh,” repeated don Hash. His heart of stone had been taken that morning. The words had not come verbally, as if he could hear them in any way. It was as if they were written upon him, placed within him. Though overwhelmed with the experience, he was able to rise to his feet and continue across the river. He could feel his heart beating for the first time since that morning. Despite the cold of the night, the heat coming from his heart filled his whole being. He wanted to thank Jesus, but the words would not come. Words could not express the thanksgiving which was now his as a gift from Christ.
Don Hash was the youngest of eight children. As a boy, he made a show of his prayers, and often rebelled against anything unjust which he saw. He smiled as the words his mother had often said to him now came back to him with their full meaning. She always used his full name when she wanted her words to sink home: Nahash. She didn’t name him after the King of the Ammonites, nor after Satan. The name in Hebrew was often translated “serpent” but it also meant “oracle.” But she told him when he was old enough that this referred to the bronze serpent lifted up on a stake, a cross, an archetype of the Messiah, Jesus. “Mary’s Son looked just like us criminals,” she said. “You don’t need a spiritual heart, Nahash,” she asserted. “That’s what your soul is for. What you need is a heart of flesh. If you’re going to be any good to anyone, you must be able to be with them, to suffer with them, to know their pain, and not just do something for them, like you were some sort of Promethean angel. I didn’t give birth to an angel. I suffered to bring you out of the womb.” It was a truth she had learned from Christ. He himself had been paying attention to earthly professors for too long. It was neither a heart of stone, nor a spiritual heart, but a heart of flesh, which could suffer, that he had always needed. There was no danger of congratulating himself for the heart of flesh now beating within him. As Cardinal Emet had said, it was the Lord’s own doing and had nothing to do with himself. The words of Christ in John’s Gospel forcefully came back to him again – “Go, and from now on, sin no longer” – but this time, it was as if they came to him from Christ, not audibly, nor in his mind, but again, it was as if their substance had been implanted deep in his new heart of flesh. Don Hash was no longer tempted to take the place of Christ. He was enjoying being in the place of the adulterous woman, as if he were what she represented, Israel herself, in exile, in Babylon, now learning from the Lord… though he was right there, in the centre of Rome. He knew that it was only in this way that he would be of any worth as a priest, that he could truly live as an alter Christus, another Christ, acting, during the sacraments, in Persona Christi, being in His Person, truly being a father to his flock, and the Church as a whole… because of being an image of Christ, an image of the Heavenly Father. He did not need to worry about coming up with clever answers. He needed only to thank Christ for His mercy. The Lord would take care of the rest.
After crossing the rest of the bridge, he quickly made his way down Via Marmorata and then up the Aventine Hill. As he neared the top, he didn’t need to ask any more for directions, as he had visited Father Alexámenos at his college previously, though climbing up the hill from the other side.
✵ ✵ ✵
The Chinese, self-proclaimed ‘Pope’ had returned to the basement of the hospital preferred by the Religious Affairs Bureau in Beijing for another interrogation, this time in the morgue, in which some storage space for corpses awaiting autopsy was reserved for short term solitary confinement. One of his servants unlocked one of the small, square doors, and rolled out the metal table on which their victim was extended. The ‘Pope’ said, ever so gently to yet another “underground” bishop: “Your Excellency, you know that many in Rome are working with us. Cooperation is the future. Obedience to the Pope merely needs to be regulated by the State. The bishop, suffering badly from hypothermia, could only say, “Direct obedience to both is possible if the State does not demand a change in doctrine, morality or worship.” The Chinese ‘Pope’, not satisfied with the answer, slid the metal shelf on which the bishop was laid out back into its niche, slammed the small, metal door, latched it, and departed.
Up next: Chapter 7 – Like a metronome ticking off further descent into despair
© International 2005-2019 – George David Byers