Tag Archive: priest


The Priest

christ the priest

 

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” –John 14:18

A discussion on the Mass cannot be separate from a discussion on the gift of the priesthood. Crowing the offering of the priesthood of believers, God’s ministerial priests make the Eucharistic sacrifice present. The word “priest” means one who makes sacrifice. Chosen from among men, he presides over the banquet of love. As “another Christ” his hands, voice and body become the very instruments of Christ, used to pour out every kind of grace. The priest’s vocation is to be steward of all gifts which the Mass imparts. We see clearly that his actions, words, prayers and vesture have something to teach us about the gifts.

Gold in the vesture of the priest is not belonging to the man, but to God’s presence which wraps him as a mantle. We think of how the prophets of old chose their successors by placing their mantle upon them. We think of how Christ elected his own apostles and remember that every priest is enrolled in the apostolic ministry of preaching the Gospel to every nation.

The oil of a priest configures him especially to Christ. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit burns a brilliant seal upon his soul. It is the oil of gladness, of Our Savior’s eternal priesthood. He goes to the wellspring of Christ’s own life and draws out the Eucharist from which we all drink. He gives us the sacrament that heals, atones and saves. During the elevation of the host and chalice, let us imagine that oil is being poured out over the people, cleansing us, strengthening us, making us new.

When the priest prays quietly at the altar, he is praying for himself- and for us. Jesus’s disciples asked him: “teach us to pray” and this is what the priest does. Like the Good Shepherd who leads us, he teaches us a silent way of prayer, of turning our eyes to the Heavenly Father and trusting in Him. He lifts up his children, diligently cares for them and feeds them honey from the promised land.

The priest does many acts of reverence during Mass. He bows his head, lifts his hands, makes small crosses and big crosses. Genuflecting before the consecrated Eucharist, he shows adoration for Christ. We worship with head, hands, feet and lips because Christ became man and worshiped his Father in this way. Watching these gestures and responding to them, our whole being participates in the Holy Sacrifice.

Lastly, the priest works hard to provide for our nourishment. He spends many hours in toil, tending to the sick, weak and spiritually wounded. His celibate fecundity and wholehearted devotion become rich milk flowing in the desert. By laying down his own life for us, he provides us with a model of Christian living. In following self-abandonment, we find true happiness. What a happy sight is a priest wearing his collar amidst a bustling, public place! The priest is a quiet, humble enduring token of God’s presence with us always.

The Wine of the Mass.

 

wine

“Take me away with you–let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers. We rejoice and delight in you; we will praise your love more than wine. How right they are to adore you!”– Song of Songs 1:4

 

When confronted with the mystery of the altar, the presence of God dwelling there, one is overcome by awe. Words escape some while others long to open their mouths in praise. In both cases, the heart groans silently. Have you ever taken time to notice all of the postures and gestures used during Mass? When the priest speaks a certain verse, we say a certain response. He kneels before the consecrated Eucharist, he whispers certain prayers and holds out his hands. When crossing the altar, we bow and starting the Mass, we make the sign of the cross. These actions are really just a hundred tiny ways we say “Lord, I love you.”

This disposition of reverence is the wine of the Mass. Our chanting, our vigils, our candles brightly burning are all signs of a people enamored by God’s presence. These things all serve to foster a union with God. They help us understand who God is and how we respond to Him. Reverence is the song of the wedding feast.

We behave differently at Mass than in the outside world. Feeling a sense of the sacred, our minds cease their restless churning. The structure and solemnity of the Holy Mass brings peace. It conveys a respect for the Lord’s house. In order to drink more deeply of the sacraments, we must lower ourselves, be humble and meek. It is then we hear what God is trying to tell us. Before approaching Holy Communion, we drink the cup of reverence which prepares us to drink the Saving Cup. Our palates are softened to receive the Living God.

To some, reverence is foolish, the dusty remnants of an old religion that lacks contemporary value. But nothing is further from the truth. Amidst materialism, reverence points to something higher. In a world of darkness, reverence sows light. We exert ourselves in charity, feeding the hungry caring for the sick, ministering to the sinner. Having drunk our fill, we may even give our very lives. Capable of so profoundly moving us with love of God and neighbor, wine is corresponds to the end of the Mass, which is adoration.

Wine is intoxicating, like the powerful, just and merciful presence of God, who loves us beyond measure. Our minds reel at such a love! Running and warm, it also becomes the precious Body and Blood of Christ, who intoxicated by love for us, gave up his life on the cross. Enlivened by this spirit, let us run to the King and Bridegroom of our souls!

 

The Oil of the Mass.

oil

 

“I have found David my servant; with my sacred oil I have anointed him” – Psalm 89:20

We each bring our own offering before God in the Holy Mass. In union with the priest, we lift up our hearts. The oil of the Mass, is our hearts, our prayerfulness, our awareness of who we are, the priestly people of God and what we are doing, offering sacrifice. It is also the crowning delight of the Mass, namely, God working through the priest. In our commingled offerings, a pungent fragrance is released. Spreading upward on our prayers and petitions, it fills the house of God.

A priestly people, we are anointed by God’s presence in the sacraments. In the Mass, our oil runs over. It exalts, it strengthens, heals and saves. This is most apparent in the consecration of the Holy Eucharist where a broken, sinful man calls down all the powers of heaven and cradles Christ in his hands. How awesome, the calling given to us, that we may share this incomprehensible blessing! In union with the priest, we offer the greatest sacrifice!

A zealous priest, in love with this sacrament of sacraments, gives forth finest oil. He has given everything, laid down his life and bursts with joy at being made a sweet oblation. The proper disposition we should carry during the Mass, is of self-sacrifice, being conformed to the salvific sacrifice of Christ. We continually apply the oil to ourselves that we may be healed and brought closer to our original dignity, that of our first parents before the fall. Thus, oil corresponds to the end of the Mass which is atonement for sins. The name “Christ” means “anointed one” and we bear his name as Christians. On our foreheads, is the seal of his kingship.

Oil spreads by virtue of its thick, moist consistency. Therefore, as a community, our oil is gathered and lavished upon others. Our anointing doesn’t run out as soon as we leave the church but rather must be spread onto the entire world. Oil is also a fuel. Filling our lamps with it, we burn brightly. This means that instead of hiding under a basket, we teach the truth. And if our lamps should run dry, we are invited to return to the most holy Eucharist and be refilled. The oil of Christ never lacks. His priesthood, and thus our priesthood, lasts forever.

 

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Sooner or later, every Catholic “goth” chick will pick up devotion to the Mother of Sorrows. Perfect right? While I wrote some poetry about Our Lady at Calvary, weeping over the crucified Christ, early on in my spiritual journey, it wasn’t until recently that a true devotion emerged. If you venture to read my earlier post “The Mother of a Priest” (June/17/2013), you will learn how a friend’s crisis urged me to cling closely to Our Lady, especially in her sufferings. Now, my love can do nothing but continue and grow for Our Lord’s dear mother as she stood by His side- even at the hour of His bloody execution. How tearful and resolute, she watched her priestly son offer sacrifice!

I am not a mother, nor have I ever been, so it wouldn’t be accurate to say I know the feeling of losing a child. Nor can I imagine the torment of it. However, I have seen things and people that I deeply loved be destroyed, get violently taken from me. I have seen close friends and family suffer. I know that feeling, watching, just wishing you could do something…anything- to take their pain away. I know well this powerlessness, this bleeding compassion, such grave heart-ache.  And if there isn’t some kind of suffering right before me, I can imagine it.

I can’t decide which was more agonizing for our Blessed Mother, seeing the cruel torments inflicted on her son or knowing He so passionately loved these tormentors. That same mankind who, blind to grace, lacking love for God and utterly ungrateful, actually took enjoyment at the victim’s suffering. “He has come to save you, to give you eternal life, to heal you, to deliver you from your demons,” she must have thought, “and here you spit and mock him!” Certainly she may have cried unto the crowd: “Yes, your hatred crushes me- yet even moreso His love!”

This was the High Priest of the New Covenant. Mary clad him in the fair vestments of human flesh. Her lullabies were hymns. She offered the first-fruits of her maternity: warmth and milk to His infancy. Patience and wisdom in tender childhood. Rightfully would a priest lament, should his sacred offering be torn from his hands and desecrated or his holy vessel cast upon the ground.  Would he not rend his garments at seeing the temple destroyed? How much more did Mary lament seeing the immaculate Lamb of God stripped, broken, abused and rejected! How sharply she mourned, seeing the precious temple, born from her womb, destroyed! That men crucified His Only Son was such blasphemy that God Almighty rent the skies in two, snuffed out the sun and draped Calvary in darkness.

Mary spent her whole life preparing that offering, dressing him in garments of virtue, perfuming him with goodly faithfulness. Yet surely, did she know?

Yes, she reckoned the words of Simeon: “This child is set for the fall, as a sign of contradiction and a sword your own heart shall pierce.” She knew it, expected the day, the hour when her dearest son would appear as Messiah- and subsequently fall to dismay. Yet nothing could prepare for the flowing blood, the wounds and tears more bitter than gall. Her pondering heart could not bear the sentence, the scourging, the crown of spines pressed down, the rough, wooden cross and the cold nails. Thus, like Abel, she surrendered her choicest lamb to the cruel altar. Here, commenced the world’s most heart-wrenching liturgy. When Jesus cried out “My God, why hast thou forsaken,” Mary remembered the angel’s greeting “The Lord is with thee.” When her precious son, at last, bowed His head and said “Consummatum est”, she raised her arms, having given everything, and answered: “Fiat.”

But the most beautiful thing about Mary’s sorrow was that it came with true victory. No temporary grief over some earthly loss, her tears conquered evil; they erased the sinful pride of Eve and consecrated womanhood forever. They also consecrated manhood- for at Calvary, Mary showed herself mother to all who would call themselves disciples of Christ. Given the good water of such perfect tears, the bloody cross became a tree of life. At this altar, John the Beloved, made the first act of ministerial priesthood. Taking Jesus’s dead, broken body from the gruesome wood, he laid it like a precious host in Mary’s hands.  There, she also showed herself the mother of all priests.

Words cannot describe what an epic mother Mary was. It is with good reason that Scripture describes in few words her espousal to God. Her betrothal sealed in tears and blood; she emerges as the joyful daughter of Zion, the desired beauty of ages. Christ wore a ring of thorns and she, the wedding-band of blackest sorrow. In a heavenly place no longer sorrowful, Mary still desires we recall and venerate her sorrow, offered alongside the Savior’s passion. The poor, virgin-girl from Nazareth has left us with a resounding declaration that all human weakness can be sanctified, united to His suffering. Her example gives strength to Christians everywhere.

By her great pain, Mary stood as advocate of those in pain, bringing forth her Son’s healing balm. By wretchedness, Mary became a refuge of sinners; ever-beseeching executioners lay down their wicked instruments and turn to God. She cleansed Calvary’s hill with tears, saying to the dust: “From this garden, man will be created again.”

A warrior in her feminine way, Mary Most-Sorrowful drew that sword from her own heart and handed it to Christ so He may at last slay the Serpent! How the black rosebud, bowing her head, bloomed forth the white lily! Weeping, did Mother Mary bury her most-precious wheat and rejoicing, she carried back the Easter sheave.

 

So heartily, I end:

Virgin Most-Sorrowful,

Remove from us the dark veil of sin

so we may greet your Son’s dawning light.

O Widow Un-widowed,

Keep vigil when we lack strength.

Mother of Mercy,

Hold your silver lamp against the night.

O Moon,

Shine upon our graves, guide in death’s grim hour

and hush the avenging angel.

Mother Most-Sorrowful,

Black Rose of Calvary,

pray for us.

Crucifixion with sun and moon.

Crucifixion with sun and moon.

 

You believe in the God who created the heavens and the earth. So let us remember that when He had created all things, He declared them to be “good.” Let us remember Our God, who after He created man and woman, declared them to be : “Very good.” Why very good? The universe, the earth, sea, beasts and birds, they were good. The sun and moon, night and day, they were good. But man, he was pronounced “very good.” Stooping down, God then crafted the jewel of His creation: the woman. He made her man’s helpmate, his spouse, mother, sister and daughter. Then truly, did God say “It is very good”!

The man was made like the sun at day, providing by his guiding light and strength, creating life in his rays or subjecting it to burning heat. No corn gives ears without the sun nor do trees put forth their roots. Yet the sun is charged to rule half the day and the moon rules the other. Thus, woman is made like the moon, cradling life in her silver beacon, nurturing, killing nothing. Lilies do not bloom without the moon nor does corn lay down its seed. Without the moon, seas cannot rise and feed the earth. See how both sun and moon are needed and not one has greater importance than the other? The same with man and woman!

What if the moon decided she should be like the sun? Should she try to rule the day, giving light and burning rays? What if she busied herself with furrows instead of the sea? Would not everything die? With great reason did God give half the day to the sun and half to the moon for if only sun, the earth would bake and wither and if only moon, growth would cease and the seas flood.

Remember that God fashioned man like the sun and woman like the moon. Therefore each holds partial rule. Adam was given Kingship and Eve was made Queen. In the King is creation, justice, force and command. In the Queen is nutrition, mercy, reason and intercession. One does not take place of the other. Or is God’s work deficient in some way?  Maybe you admit this scheme of things… but still you claim that such was the old world and in the new world, Christ sees no difference between man and woman and in their terms of service. Let me instruct you…

When Saint Paul says in his letter “There is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, man or woman…” he means their station before God. No longer does the Jew stand greater chance of salvation or the freeman or the man. All are free to partake in Christ’s Passover, in His new life and in His salvation. Things of status or cleanliness do not matter anymore but one’s purity of heart and perseverance in faith. Moreso, all can take the Holy Eucharist- provided they are free from grave sin.

In the heavenly liturgy, just as in Eden, there is surely distinction. While both Adam and Eve join in hymns to God, Adam must give the offering. Recall how the fathers offer sacrifice- not the mothers. Though the mother prepares the table and candles, she touches not the Paschal lamb. Thus why the risen Christ says to Mary “Touch me not” and to Thomas, “Put your hand into my side.”

Maybe you still say, “Look how women were superior disciples of Christ.” This, I concede to you. Besides John the Beloved, Our Lord had no more loyal friends than Mary Magdalene and Mary, his mother. Indeed the Samaritan woman posessed greater faith than Thomas who claimed he would die with the Lord. Martha had more charity than Philip who said the thousand could not be fed. If anyone should have been charged with offering Christ’s Eucharist, it should have been Mary, his mother of matchless faith. Yet, he did not take her into the Upper-room.

Being an apostle doesn’t make one more holy. We see the example of Judas who betrayed and Peter who fled. Women were charged with spreading Christ’s words and deeds, asked to witness miracles, give prayer and sanctify their households. They were not told “Do this in memory of me.”

From Genesis to Revelation, men are chosen to stand in the person of God. In the Old Covenant; fathers of great dynasties gave mediation and in the New; chaste eunuchs. Women have always stood by man’s side, at the foot of the cross, at the side of the altar, offering goodly prayers, their undying devotion and sanctity.

Keep in mind that a bishop, no matter how holy he may be, can never offer motherhood to God. He can never offer a womb or a fairness like the moon. He lacks the jewel of creation, which is to be a mother, daughter and sister. Man stands in the person of Christ but woman, she spreads her arms in the venerable person of Mary. Christ was the Lamb of God but Mary was the Ewe. Man offers sacrifice but woman offers her glory which reflects like moonlight, a glory never to be stolen away or diminished.

 

I have figured it out, the reason why I feel such a burning love for priests and the priesthood: Because it all reminds me of the true Beloved of my heart, Jesus Christ. You see, all along, I have wanted to marry a priest! I speak here of the heavenly High-priest who I am madly in love with, who I want to walk with me, who I want to stand beside… who I want to be my Husband.

It is religious life!

mother of priests

 

It was my fault. I asked for it. Yes, some years ago, I asked that the Lord would make me the spiritual mother of a priest. In His greatness, He chose first to show me exactly what that meant. You see I thought this vocation entailed nice theological discussions, gentle mentoring, sending packages with cookies, crying at ordinations, joyously partaking of the altar and assisting with advice. My vision of sunshine and roses was shattered in the month of May, 2013. God showed me a way laden with pain and sorrow, which was not a flowery image but an echo of Calvary.

Without divulging the events of the past month,  I will tell you that after pleading so long, it was finally shown to me the requirements needed to be the spiritual mother of a priest. The mother of a priest lives in uncertainty, trusting everything to God who sees beyond the human realm. She is not Pollyanna- but Mary who hears a prophecy of arrows, tends a poor and bruised child, hated from birth, walks with him to the rugged cross and sees him buried in the cold tomb. She who would be mother to a priest must feel the pains of the mother of Christ. She must lose him for three days, find him in the temple, declaring independence from earthly things, must watch him be scorned, rejected and despised, stripped of everything so that he even cries “My God why hast thou forsaken me?”

Priesthood is a bloody, painful affair, fraught with dark nights, the sweat of Gethsemane, the agony of Calvary. Brave enough, a man must give himself up, but as Christ died completely, in body, soul and spirit, upon the cross, so a man must utterly die. More sorrowful still, the mother of that man who must witness it all.

In a short time, compared to the whole span of life, I relived Mary’s seven sorrows. I lost something that was cherished immensely and buried it in the earth. I said goodbye to my dreams and desires, to my complacence and happiness. In turn however, I gained a trust in God, a closeness to Blessed Mary and a promise of future resurrection. We live the gloom of Good Friday and wait through the emptiness of Holy Saturday so we may rejoice at Easter Sunday. It is always darkest before dawn and so the darkest eve of despair gives way to glorious, golden sunrise.

I also know now that the devil ruthlessly attacks those destined for the seminary door, before they have even stepped foot in it. God taught me how to put up defense, asking for the shelter of his angels. The fragile, sheet-metal casing of my heart, He hammered into shining, iron armor. With the ore of my soft, pampered hands, He chiseled a broadsword. And with that sword I will slash the devil. I will not forget but fight, my every prayer forming a fortress for our future priests. The sorrowful mother is wounded- and allows herself to be so. She lets the serpent bite at her heel so she may savor even more the moment when he is crushed. She endures crucifixion so her face may shine even more radiantly at the resurrection.

And when the mother of a priest kneels before the altar, wearied by that battle, the copious blood of Christ washes over her. The sweet, Eucharistic chalice is balm to her wounds, polish upon her sword, fire within her heart and the pledge of forsworn victory.

 

Mary, Mother of Sorrows, Companion at the Cross, Ewe of God’s Lamb, Light of Confessors, Queen of Apostles, Mother of Priests,  pray for us.

A Retreat.

Here are pictures from the retreat I went on. At first I was skeptical about the whole matter, wondering if I would ever be yanked out of the horrible spiritual dryness that plagued me for months. Soon enough God began to work. He sort of acted the part of a surgeon, cutting me open and doing some much needed operation. I learned a lot of things about myself, which hurt at first but I realized that God only allows wounds so that he may heal them. I learned about love as a gift we give and not a shallow feeling of happiness.

I also met two wonderful Dominican sisters who shone with the joy and light of Christ. There were role models for me, reminding me of that Marian “yes” we can give to God. I also met a priest who had only been ordained for 2 weeks. Yes, he still had the tags and the new priest smell 🙂 God gave me this priest as a brother, in place of my real brother who abused me emotionally when I was young. In the place of an absent father, God gave me the priesthood that I may always admire it and learn the ways of Christ.

The climax of this retreat was when I got to stare Jesus in the face as He was held up in the monstrance (not monster- Jesus isn’t scary!) His glory and radiance surrounded me in a dark room, everything faded away. It was just me and Him. I asked Him to empty me and make me whole. He is the Lord God, the Son of David, the King of Mercy, my Sweet Savior and the Beloved of my soul. He can do anything! Pure awesomeness!!

 

 

Last week a friend visited me. We got to talking about the Mass… and I showed her a video on Youtube of a priest consecrating the Holy Eucharist ad orientem. No, this is not the name of a famous Chinese restaurant- it means facing towards the east, towards the altar. Inadvertently, I started gushing about the priesthood, what a gift it is and how it is a profound sign of romance with God.

To begin, the Mass itself is shrouded in nuptial language and symbolism. Paul refers to the Church in his letter to the Ephesians: “And the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” (Eph 5:31-32) The book of Revelation was originally called “Apocalypsis” from Greek, meaning “unveiling” and it describes in detail a heavenly liturgy and the sacrificial wedding feast of Christ. Christ himself used wedding imagery in his parable of the King’s banquet where those without proper garments were cast away. Most telling, one of the angels gathered around heaven’s throne in Revelation exclaims:  “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (19:9)Everything about a Mass is nuptial. When Mass bells ring, it is a summons to all, to come to this wedding feast. Wearing garments, the priest approaches the altar from the church’s central aisle, as do a bride and groom. The penitential rite asks for God’s forgiveness, so we may be cleaned of sin and given the white garments of grace. We approach the Holy Eucharist from that same aisle, bowing in humility and accepting the flesh of Christ, our Divine Spouse.

Now that this short background is given, I will speak just of the priest, because it was what I saw in the priest that brought me to such admiration. A Catholic priest is one wedded to the Church- and to Christ. The sacrament of Holy Orders unites him with God Almighty in an unseen bond of untold power. It melds his soul into the soul of the Church, which is the Holy Spirit sealed by the blood of Christ. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the consecration, ad orientem. (note: I am not going into liturgical politics here and am aware that consecration ad populum or facing the people, is wholly valid. So please do not misinterpret things)

The priest becomes closed to the world and opened to God. He stands there, partly in silence, sometimes muttering and sometimes speaking plainly. A conversation is happening there, a dialogue so hidden that we dare not pry, we don’t ask “Father what were you saying back there?” It is a conversation so tender that the very heart of Christ seems manifest before us. We perceive Calvary and we gasp at the horror- and sheer beauty of it.

While an epic scene unfolds, the priest becomes less like a stuffy celibate and every minute more like an enraptured spouse. He leans close, whispers sweet nothings to God, his Beloved and gazes into the space between heaven and earth. The man without a wife and family experiences the greatest of intimacies. In amorous poetry matching the Biblical Song of Songs, the soul makes love to God. Here, the priest seems to say: “My Dearest, My Only, I am here…I worship you… I love you. Stay with me and never leave!” The priest becomes as John, the Beloved who leaned upon Our Lord’s breast and who, captured by love, ceased to worry.

Someone who relinquished what is so natural and so goodly for every human man suddenly realizes why. In that moment, nothing is worth more than God. Nothing beckons and calls but God alone. The priest realizes only he can approach the altar, only he may caress the sacred host or raise the precious chalice. Only he can place his head on the breast of Christ, place his hand into His saving wounds and draw out the sacrifice which is mankind’s salvation. What a gift! What profound intimacy and divine love! All the mercy, long-suffering and tenderness of God revealed here!

 

ad orientem

 

Our only proper reaction is to shrink back, bend low and weep as did the Israelites when smoldering clouds wreathed the mountain of Sinai. We can say, “Jesus Christ, my Lord and God, have mercy!” One thing we absolutely cannot do is ignore it, shrug or say in prideful impatience: “What is going on? Will he hurry up?” Even non-Catholic and non-Christian persons cannot pretend that something mysterious is not happening. Whether one adores or despises the priest, he can’t look away; he can’t help but be moved on some level. God is at work in the hands of a priest. He declares His love through the whispers of a priest. He uses lowly men, both wicked and saintly men, doubtful and confident men, ugly and wondrous men, selfish and loving men. Yes, God, who created the entire Universe in ages primordial, chooses mere man that He may draw all men to Himself.

A Short Story

Let us lie in wait for the righteous man,

because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions.

Let us test him with insult and torture,

that we may find out how gentle he is,

and make trial of his forbearance.

 Let us condemn him to a shameful death,

for, according to what he says, he will be protected.”

–          Wisdom, 2:12, 19-20

 

 

Slick snow covered grey pavement, exhaust rose into the air lost in the clutter of many feet. Dennis glanced up folding a textbook in his backpack. It would be 1:00 soon and he’d have to rush off yet again, get back to the small city university, sit in a crowded lecture room and listen to a boring physics professor.  As he stood, a silence settled over the cool afternoon. The crowds had cleared, scurrying to finish their day’s work. Suddenly, on the frozen street emerged a lone figure, a tall man with closely-cropped, brown hair. Most noticeably, a long, stark black robe swirled behind his silent footsteps.

Dennis had seen a Catholic priest before but never like this, walking so conspicuously down the street. Shivering, tightening his jacket, Dennis watched the priest’s otherworldly, almost ethereal silhouette glide over the snowy ground. Far as Dennis knew, no one else was there. He stood, not understanding exactly why this priest transfixed him, demanded his attention. He actually felt silly…

Another person strolled past, utterly ignoring Dennis as if he were an unassuming icicle on the nearest wall. This person was undoubtedly male, thickly-built, his face wrapped in a red scarf. He approached the black-robed priest. Meeting him, he raptly yanked the scarf off, showing his meaty neck, stress-creased face and small lips which opened to speak:

“I was raised Catholic… now I know Jesus Christ.”

The priest timidly turned.

“I am glad you know Him,” he answered.

Such a demure, cool reply seemed to only unnerve the man who shoved an indignant finger into the air

“And you never told me! Some Gospel you preach… buried in a heap of piety and false motions!”

“I am sorry you feel that way…” began the priest before he was cut off.

“AND, you lied to me, told me I had to confess my sins, pray to statues and bow to the pope!”

The priest cleared his throat. He had an explanation; he wanted to explain and would have explained if only the man ceased hounding him.  Hands trembling, he pulled a worn, black covered Bible from his coat pocket. Dennis saw the heavy book then briefly remembered his class. He needed to go right now or else be late. However, he stood there motionless as yet someone else came forth: a teenage girl clad in a tattered, leather coat. She spoke but the two engrossed men didn’t hear. Determined that her voice would be acknowledged, she stepped between them and raised a bony hand.

“The hypocrisy of the church is why I don’t believe in God,” she asserted.

The fervent, Bible wielding man paused, certainly baffled. His mouth tensed and waited to announce salvation to yet another lost soul.

“A priest refused to help my sister who was penniless and pregnant- and why? Because she could never pay back the money she needed!”

The Bible-toting man hesitated, silently debating whether he should tell the poor atheist girl of Jesus or adjoin more complaints about the Catholic Church. But, the young woman seemed very sensible…she after all, had been scandalized, pushed away by the glaring hypocrisy of false religion. Thus, he decided to leave her alone. This priest had dared show his face in public, to flagrantly display his religiosity and therefore, begged for a challenge.

The teenager beat him to it. She impatiently ordered, “Yes, please tell me how we’re supposed to believe that bread and wine somehow, miraculously  turns into the body and blood of Christ? Tell me how you can swear off marriage in some fancy ceremony and then prey on widows and even children?”

“I never harmed a child,” the priest objected.

Anger flashed in his eyes. He would have fled these two, dogged accusers but he cringed, cheeks flushed with humility, stung by a sense of injustice and grave sin. A deep voice suddenly erupted from behind Dennis. He clutched his backpack, shivering and let an elderly man step past.

“And you Catholics are racist!” he yelled, “Think that blacks and women are second-class.”

He then pointed back towards Dennis. Noting his light-brown complexion, he now brought attention to the fact he was mulatto, half African-American.

“Bet you would tell this boy he shouldn’t go to college?  Say he’s better off cooking fries in some greasy restaurant?”

“I never said that, nor would I ever say that…” muttered the priest, “My religion doesn’t teach that…”

Growing calm for a second, the teenaged-girl crossed her arms. She would assert herself, dominate the symbol of patriarchal society who trod her down. It wasn’t good enough to make him think, to make him question faith…she needed to crush him just like she had been crushed.

“My sister had to get married at sixteen, to an abusive prick because her family said if she got an abortion, she would burn in hell. She can’t even pay her bills, she lives in a trailer, in some hick town- you ruined her life!”

Finally, they backed the besieged priest into a nearby alley. He leaned against a wall, huddled, closing his eyes and said, “Please leave me alone. Stop tormenting me!”

“Oh you dumb kid,” admonished the elderly man, “You have no clue about real torment. Twenty years ago, I was stationed in Vietnam. I saw good friends, guys I went to school with, die. They died for your freedom, with twenty-five pounds of gear strapped to their backs, so that dandies like you could parade around in dresses!”

“Don’t say that to me!” the priest finally shouted back. He straightened, gaining courage, and faced the old man.

In return, the old man scowled. He lifted his fist, saying:

“Back in my day, kids who smarted their elders got slapped across the mouth.”

When the priest attempted to bat the old man’s hand away, he abruptly jerked and with one swift stroke, struck him across the mouth. Dennis now quivered. He didn’t know what to do. Could he pull the old man away? Would his combativeness then be unleashed upon him? No, it was better the adults dealt with it….

At once, Dennis’s gaze turned to yet another oncomer. Wearing a blue, buttoned, uniform shirt, strolled past a security guard. Likely, he was on patrol, rounding the nearby construction site and seeing him, Dennis sighed with relief. Maybe he would put a stop to this? See the disputing men and direct them to take their disorderly conduct elsewhere? He did speak however, his voice grated, almost angry, definitely harsh:

“This guy giving you trouble?”

Ironically, this question wasn’t addressed to the priest but rather the old man.

“Nah, just a young git who thinks himself better than us,” the old man replied.

The teenage girl added, “He’s pushing religion on us!”

“Really?” said the guard, “This guy here, harassing a defenseless, old man?”

Recovering his bearing, the priest then interjected:

“He is not defenseless. He just hit me!”

Nearing the priest, looking into his eyes, the menacing, security-guard jeered:

“Maybe you deserve to get hit?”

Yet the guard let that question hang above them and hastily departed, for he had more important business elsewhere.

Cringing, the priest stepped aside. He shook his head in sheer disbelief.

“I didn’t do anything to you, to anyone!” he hollered.

Desperation marred his fairly-youthful face. Dennis realized he could be no older than forty. He saw his intense, bright blue eyes darting with fear.

“I didn’t do anything either,” remarked the old man, ringing his cold hands, “In fact, I was once a hero, then when I was done, they threw me away. For my reward they called me a burden, a good-for-nothing old crock!”

Raptly, as if seeking an outlet for anger and long-accrued spite towards the world which used fellows like him then simply threw them away, the old man grasped the priest’s shirt. He growled then thrust him onto the hard ground. The Bible-carrying man, who had since been deathly silent, clutched his book of Holy Writ tightly to his chest, nodded his head and came forth.

“Oh, leave him alone,” he pleaded, “He’s just a wretched sinner in need of God’s grace…”

“You gonna preach to him?” asked the old man. Rather satisfied, convinced he had expressed himself enough, he shrugged and backed away.

Indeed, our goodly, Christian man, reached down, offering the priest his hand and said:

“Come on, come and repent of your sin…surrender to the arms of the Lord.”

Eyes flashing fearsomely, deeply insulted, the priest shoved this hand away. He climbed to his feet, wiped his face and retorted:

“I know Christ. It is you who fails to see him.”

At this, the Christian replied, “Oh yes and you know Christ? You who serves the Whore of Babylon stained with the blood of God’s holy people, who murdered the saints throughout the ages, who plundered and made a fortune from conquest?”

“I didn’t do those things…nor did any Catholic alive today,” the priest stammered, “and the Church, she is not a Whore but the Bride of Christ.”

“A very filthy and adulterous bride!”

Sighting a way of escape just beyond the alley’s edge, the priest took his chance. He swerved to the right then dashed away. In this frenzy, his feet suddenly slid over icy ground and stumbled.

The Christian man looked on coldly while the teenage-girl giggled. A clever smile crept across her face. Ever youthful, ever pure, her countenance glowered with dark and most impure sadism. She approached, halting the priest mid-stride and snatched him in a playful embrace.

“You’re just a poor boy…” she crooned then in a darker tone, added, “and you remind me of everything I hate!”

She shoved him backwards then spit on him. A sudden quiet settled. Soon, a young male figure entered the alleyway. About Dennis’s age, he may have easily been his fellow-student. Noise and voices drew him and coming closer, he gazed curiously. Immediately seeing the black-robed priest, he cleared his throat and declared, loud enough for all to hear:

“The Catholic religion is nothing but a disease….Inquisitions, Crusades, Oppression, hypocrisy, child-molestation…A damned crime against humanity!”

Dennis gaped, beholding the surreal scene.  By now, several onlookers had gathered, standing at the alley’s mouth. Dennis could hear their rusting feet and faint muttering.  It seemed a small mob had gathered off the city streets and assembled into a court of law. A nightmarish jury clothed in snow and smoke, they stood ready to sentence the unfortunate clergyman and his entire church. He shook his head to be sure he wasn’t trapped in some strange dream. What were they doing here? Where did they all come from? Why did they so greatly loath this lone priest? Why didn’t anyone stop the student as he drew a set of keys from his pocket and rushed upon their “defendant”?

Wide-eyed, Dennis couldn’t help but watch. Something like a bad movie unfurled right in front of him. The student, built like a jock, overpowered the priest and then landed two good-sized cuts across his face. At this point, the Christian man who once proudly touted his holiness and true love of God, fled.  The old man stared in surprise. However, he didn’t act. He merely wagged his head, as if silently saying: “That’s what he gets.”

The atheist girl quivered with excitement. When the student swung another blow, she shrieked, jumping up and down, yelling: “Oh, my hero! Show him! Make him pay!”

Frantically, Dennis peered directly at the small crowd, his plaintive, brown eyes beseeching them. There were four of them. They could easily stop this fray, could calm everyone down- or at least, call the cops. Yet they stood frozen, unmoving, unable- or unwilling to do anything.

A shape fell at his feet. Face oozing with blood, the priest hugged Dennis’s pant-leg, wordlessly pleading for help. Panicked, heart pounding in his chest, Dennis began tugging on the old man’s coat-sleeve.

“Please do something!” he hissed.

Jerking his arm free, the old man replied: “Get off me!”

He turned away. Consumed by his own fear, Dennis nearly forgot the student that now faced him. He panted like an animal, marveled at his show of strength, gazed upon broad, blood-stained hands. Then, rather casually, he wiped them on his pants.

“What the hell is wrong with you,” Dennis blurted out, fearfully backing away.

“Oh, I have just begun,” answered the student.

His dry, chaffed lips twisted into a calloused grin. He was demented, Dennis realized, he was mad with the deadliest sort of wrath. Glancing towards the four onlookers who still stood there dumbstruck, he mouthed: “Call the police.”

All hope was lost as the student intently drew nearer. Effortlessly lifting the priest, the student glared at Dennis with piercing, black eyes. He asked him:

“You go to that fancy university, I know you do. So you can tell all about the Catholic Church, all about its history, all about its horrible clergy who did and still do evil things…”

When Dennis hesitated, the student spoke louder:

“Come on, college-boy; tell me, what do your textbooks say?”

Downcast and defeated, Dennis finally answered, “It’s true… They did horrible, evil things. By the fourteenth century, the Catholic Church became so corrupt and immoral, that Christianity had to split itself in two. That is what the textbooks say.”

A crushing woe struck Dennis. It sunk into the pit of his heart. He had to accept the grim facts he was taught, that Catholicism existed as an opportunistic, self-serving religion. He knew nothing else. He bet even the five who watched knew it. They had also learned nothing else. If the priest served evil- then he was evil and maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing for him to incur punishment. Maybe it suited that he endured the lashes of their anger, suffering and indignation.

Suddenly, the unspoken sentence was decided. The crowd, the old man, the girl, the student and the textbooks all said one thing. Dennis drifted into a dreamlike haze. He could hardly believe he remained there as the student tossed his priestly victim down and delivered a hard kick to his side. The girl laughed aloud and Dennis thought, just for a second, he heard the old man mutter, “I’m washing my hands of this…”

A second kick thudded, hitting bone and for a first time, shrill cries jarred the crowd from their stupor. Two walked away, one drew close for a better look and the rest indifferently stared. What was wrong with them? Dennis wondered. What was wrong with him? He strained to speak, at least to say this was getting ridiculous. The student, who once decried cruel acts of history, seemed increasingly hypocritical as he pummeled the priest with his booted foot. Dennis longed to stop this but he could not move. He also feared the student’s wrath, realizing he might turn on him, cut open his face, snap his fingers like pencils, send him down to the ground. No, he didn’t want to follow after the priest who writhed bleeding and helpless on the icy pavement.

“Don’t just stand there!” Dennis scolded himself inwardly, “Help him for God’s sake before that lunatic kills him…do it because he is human.”

That last part echoed resoundingly in his mind, repeated itself over and over. People who did bad things were still human. For all their wickedness and hypocrisy, human beings possessed living, breathing souls, sometimes capable of great good. Wasn’t it a beautiful thing when a gangbanger turns to God? When a hooker gives up the fast life? When hardened-killer on death-row, finds pardon? Didn’t Dennis faintly remember hearing in Sunday-school long ago that God came for sinners? The priest did nothing. He was innocent. It was not expedient he should pay for the others’ sins.  Dennis would no longer stand by and watch him get beaten to death.

“Stop it, damn you!” he shouted, moving to grab the student’s arm.

With a single gesture Dennis was shaken off. He tripped backwards; eyes closed as he hit the stone wall and opened them to see a lifeless black lump at his feet. It was too late…