I finished a book, got it on the market, so it is time to move on to the next project.
Here is Chapter 1, still in need of a little editing.
Father Frank Santini approached the front row of pews in his ornately decorated Catholic Church.
There were a few other parishioners saying prayers, but they were not his concern at the moment. He needed a silent moment to talk to God.
He performed the sign of the crossed and knelt in silent prayer.
Heavenly Father, I have pondered long and hard the question of how to make a difference in the world You have so graciously gifted to mankind. I am absolutely certain You have a plan. However, I am now of the belief that the number of people worthy of being welcomed into Your heavenly presence is rapidly shrinking.
I believe that mankind is failing You. I can’t allow that to continue.
I would never be so arrogant as to question Your plan, or Your implementation of it. However, I can no longer agree with the bishops, cardinals or even the Pope himself in their opinion that my part of the plan is to wait and observe as it evolves…that I am to merely sit and wait for people to enter the parish doors seeking Your words.
We must go out and bring people in.
We must seek ways to get people to come through those doors and hear Your Scripture.
We must not just sit and wait for them to wonder in accidentally.
I am certain that we priests are part of Your plan to restore society to its former glory. We can help bring peace to all mankind.
Perhaps it is we who have interpreted Your plan incorrectly.
This society has decayed beyond a condition You deserve. It did so very slowly at first but now it decays more and more every single day. The pace is now so rapid that I feel I must make a change in my behavior.
I must actively seek to stop this devolution.
This society clearly no longer represents Your glory. No part of me believes that it does. You deserve better. The Church no longer is part of the lives of an overwhelming number of people. The Church, Your Church, has been transformed into a passive participant in this society…a society that is desperately in need of spiritual guidance, now more than ever before.
I must take actions to bring back Your glory, by any means necessary. Business as usually in the modern Church is just not working.
I am merely taking a lesson from history. In centuries long past, we servants of Yours were far more active in bringing Your Word to those who did not bother themselves to come through those doors into Your light. Gone, for the most part, are the days of the missionaries. Now those on missions are merely vacationers under a different name.
I am not saying this should be done by force, although history has shown cases when that has happened. There may be modern examples of when we should protect Your followers by force. There are precious few, and they should be protected just as a mother bear protects her cub.
We should expand Your influence by doing more good deeds, and not just within our own congregation. What form those good deeds take on may vary depending on the situation, but we can do it by living our lives more publicly so others can see for themselves what the result of following Your teaching can be.
It is becoming increasingly challenging for me to sit and wait for people to come in the Church seeking Your Glory. I have been idle for too long. We must take it to the people where they are. If parishes around the world do what must be done for their local community to accurately represent Your Will this world will become a much better place. It will properly reflect Your glory.
If it were not for my being called into Your service, I know I would have ended up dead or in prison by this point in my life.
Now, thankfully, I am a man of peace. I give You thanks for helping me to realize that one man can, indeed, make a difference. I am sure I am part of Your greater plan. I must be more active in bringing people into Your light and protect those already here.
I have huge concerns for those who refuse to repent for their sins. Their numbers are growing. They sometimes come into confession to ‘repent’ for the same sins over and over.
They are not repentant.
I have yet to determine just how to handle these people. I can’t possibly offer them absolution. Someday, perhaps, it will become clear to me how to deal with those undeserving of the gifts You have presented to mankind.
I know You did not form countries. The nation of earth are merely formations of people…of men and women that you DID create. As the nations of the world to continue to bear witness to the devolution of morals, a reduction in ethics, an absolute pummeling in the standards of interaction with one another, does that not directly impact Your followers.
I know You are not going to send me a personal message. That is not Your way. Someday I hope to be able to fully understand Your plan. Until then I will continue to be Your humble servant to the best of my meager ability.
He performed the sign of the cross in what was the traditional “bookend” to Catholic prayers.
As he got to his feet he was unaware of the beads of sweat covering his forehead. They were present despite the chill in the Church. This far into New England, this late in the year, at certain times of day, a chill was just unavoidable. This Church was an outstanding example of one such building.
He slowly, reverently, made his way over to his place of duty in the confessional. This was all part of his normal Friday afternoon routine.
His Parrish offered confession seven days a week. He always took Friday afternoon duty for this task. He always said a prayer to clear his mind before offering others absolution for their sins.
Immediately after he had settled into the confessional an older woman entered the confessor area and knelt. The priest slid the divider out of the way to find the woman had removed the privacy screen on her side so the two could look upon one another.
Father Frank preferred confessions done in this more intimate style. It showed no desire by the confessor to hide anything.
It also allowed him to see their eyes. Once he became a priest and began hearing confessions on a regular basis, he had come to understand that the eyes offer a window to the soul. In his mind, the soul was all that mattered.
“Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been one week since my last confession,” Sister Mary Anne Margaret said. She was one of a dwindling number of nuns faithfully serving the Catholic Church.
“Sister, I hear your confession every week. May I say something before you begin?” inquired the priest.
“Of course you may,” replied the old woman.
“You have worked as a volunteer nurse for what, three decades?” he asked rhetorically.
“In addition to healing the sick, you have worked tirelessly to help the homeless and educate the adolescents. You are a superb example of a woman of faith and one of the most dedicated nuns I have ever met. While I know you will continue to come here every week seeking forgiveness, and I will continue to offer it, I must say you are, in general, being too hard on yourself. In the past some of what you have confessed I would not consider a sin. In some cases, these things would barely be considered a concern. I beg of you to stop being so hard on yourself. If you feel bad about that fifty dollars you took off me during the poker game, please forget about it. You had the better hand,” explained Father Frank Santini.
“Father, you, perhaps more than most, know that we all have sins. Humans are flawed beings. Now, may I continue,” asked the nun.
“Continue if you must,” he waved his had dismissively and silently wished that a large number of confessors and the public at large possessed even a few of the character traits of this woman.
“Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It has been one week since my last confession,” she repeated herself.
“While I would not consider taking fifty dollars from a silly priest who bets with far too much confidence on a pair of jacks a sin, he should know I donated his money to the International Red Cross. I do, however, consider intolerance and attempted violence a sin. I have, unfortunately, been guilty of these things,” she said.
He could not imagine this woman committing a violent act. He could not believe it was in her to do anything that would physically harm anyone, at least not without some amazing set of external circumstance.
She took a deep breath before continuing, “I was amazingly rude to a man while working at the hospital. I had just come from nine straight hours of treating the same teenage boy, his son, who was brought into the Emergency Room overdosing on some drug. We never could determine what it was, or how much of it he had taken.”
Her voice quivered as she continued, “In the end we were unable to save him, and he died. It was a horrible, painful death. The drug was obviously not what he thought it was. He coughed up so much blood I knew he would pass-on and hour before his body finally gave up the fight.
“I took the unfortunate duty of informing his father of the boy’s passing. I just could not cope with the man’s response to the news,” her voice became more resolute with each word.
“What was the man’s response?” he asked. He was still having problems envisioning this woman treating anyone rudely must less physically assaulting them. He was starting to understand that she had been under serious stress.
He suddenly realized that he had moved forward on his seat and was completely caught up in the woman’s far from routine confession.
So far, this confession was not even in his top ten worst, but considering the source, he was caught up in it.
He wondered if he was caught up in this as part of his desire to be more involved in changing the world for the better, to more accurately reflect His glory.
Perhaps it had spawned from his childhood, and more specifically from his teen years when he got in a lot of trouble. He wanted to help this woman, but he wanted to be active, his soul was tired of being passive. God must have wanted an active priest, why else would he be here wearing these robes?
“He told me,” she made air quotes with her fingers, “that ‘I have been telling him to get out of the crap he was into. Services his dumb ass right.’ Father, such disregard for human life, for his own son, I snapped. I could not help myself. I shouted such things at the man. I am ashamed of myself. I screamed obscenities. I tried to physically attack him. If there had not been an Orderly holding me back, I swear I would have. The man was completely devoid of human emotion. He just stood there as I was screaming and shrugged his shoulders.”
Father Frank felt as though a switch had been thrown in his head. He could finally envision this woman behaving in such an uncharacteristic way. He wondered how he would have reacted in the same situation. Probably the same as she had, if not worse.
He wanted to help this woman. He did not want to just offer absolution but also let her know what she had done was exactly the right thing, and not a sin in the eyes of God. Clergy are meant to protect people from evil.
“From the sound of it, as we used to say when I was a kid down in Quincy, that the man needed a beatin’. I am sure that if virtually anyone else on the planet had been there it would have been far worse for him,” Father Frank said.
He paused for a moment to gather his thoughts, “I think the Lord above will understand your actions. I also believe He would like you to learn more patience,” he said.
He couldn’t believe with one ounce of his being that this woman needed forgiveness. He didn’t consider her response anything other than a human reaction, and certainly not a sin.
“Perhaps your actions stirred something in him. Perhaps, in the long run, your actions will save him from eternal damnation,” he said attempting to put her at ease.
“Sister, in all the time I have known you I have seen you do a great deal to spread the Catholic Faith. However, it occurs to me that I have never once heard of you doing any work with the youngest of His followers, for example, with children in the kindergarten or first grade age groups. Do I have that correct?” he asked.
“You are correct. I have never worked with children that young unless they came into the hospital in need of treatment,” she clarified.
“In order to be absolved of your sin you must learn patience. I want you to spend all week working mornings with our new kindergarten teacher. She needs as much help as she can early in the day. That is when the children are at their most rambunctious. They have just woken up and in many cases their parents have filled them full of sugary cereals. As a result of the bad nutritional choices these kids are really bouncin’ off the walls and you must be patient with them,” he instructed her.
He suddenly realized he was letting his rarely heard Boston accent make an appearance. He sometimes slipped into the less formal verbal style on those occasions when he felt it was necessary to remove stress from a situation.
“Now, please, go, do what you normally do after coming here. Go to the hospital and volunteer for the hectic Friday night shift in the emergency room,” he finished.
“Thank you, Father,” she said as she left the confessional.
Last Friday, while hearing confessions, there had been a line of people waiting to confess their sins. This week was difference. There were scarce few parishioners, Fridays were like that.
He sat in silence, lost in thought for a few moments before the indicator light came on signaling someone had entered the confessional to his right. He slid aside the wooden divider. On the confessor side he saw a woman who, like the nun, had removed the privacy screen.
The confessor was even more unusual than merely removing the privacy device. She was on the younger side of forty, amazingly physically fit, and was looking at him directly in the eyes This behavior is extremely rare among confessors.
She did not speak for a moment. Perhaps it had been some time since she had confessed, if ever, and just didn’t understand, or remember, the traditional process.
He knew from experience how to get the ball rolling when this sort of thing happened.
“How may I help you my dear?” he asked the woman whom he had seen at Sunday Services, but had never spoken with directly.
“Father, I have been bad. Sinned, I guess you would say. I have not admitted that in many years,” she said maintaining constant eye contact.
A smirk crossed her face. Father Frank found himself annoyed by this. Typically, at this point, confessors who initially looked up had cast their eyes downward in shame.
Did this woman have no shame? No remorse for her sins? Was he just misreading her?
Surely remorse was in there somewhere and she was just that rare person who made eye contact no matter what the situation.
“Please, continue. You should have no fear of your statements being known outside the confessional,” he felt he must be misreading her. That had to be it.
He was glad to have a confessor who had returned after what appeared to be a long absence from the confessional. Returning people usually indicated someone search for help, or even better, an awakening of the soul.
He found himself happy about the fact that she was here making an attempt, albeit an odd one.
Despite her non-traditional approach to confession he was sure he could help her just as he had absolved so many others of their sins. Through his fifteen years of experience hearing confessions he had developed what he considered to be a flawless methods of determining who needed to do some work before peace with God could be achieved, and who was at some level ready to be forgiven.
“Oh, it isn’t fear. I am not afraid, and I am really happy with the person that I am. I am just searching for the best way to explain this. I guess I will just start from the beginning, as it is a little complicated,” she said.
She took a very deep breath before continuing, “I am married. My husband and I are very happy, for the most part. He is my emotional soul mate, if you believe in that sort of thing,” she paused for a moment.
Her eyes cast momentarily downward at the mention of her husband. Then just as quickly as she had looked down, she went right back to her direct contact.
“He is a very talented engineer, and I am a housewife. We have no kids. We tried to for a while and eventually discovered we can’t for medical reasons. That’s fine, I have no internal angst over it. If we weren’t meant to reproduce then we weren’t meant to.”
“Life as a housewife is just so boring that I began looking for ways to make my day-to-day life more exciting. You see Father, I have always loved adrenaline. I like a little danger in my life, thanks to that feeling, that rush I get through my veins. It is amazing,” she explained.
He preferred to let people confess in their own way at their own speed if time permitted. It helped him understand the person, and their motivation behind their sins a little better. Once he understood the motivating factors, he could determine their worthiness to receive absolution. This woman was certainly taking her time, getting to the actual sins in a roundabout way.
“Over a decade ago, I started finding ways to fill that adrenaline need by taking mixed martial arts classes. I love them. They help me to stay sexy which I like, and for a long time made me feel good by offering that hint of danger I was lacking in my life. My trouble all started when I got pretty good at it. As a result of my skill level increasing, the rush I got out of it declined, and my need for adrenaline was no longer being met.”
Father Santini was listening intently as she spoke. So far this was the most unusual confession he had hear in some years. He was still not clear what, if anything, her sin had been. Perhaps his concern about her lack of remorse was because she had nothing to feel remorseful about. Perhaps she was just looking for someone to talk to and that was the only real reason she came in. That sort of thing happened from time to time.
She continued to look him directly in the eyes, “I also love sex I just can’t get enough of it. My husband and I probably have the best love life any married couple can expect.”
“About a year ago my martial arts classes really stopped providing me any kind of rush. So, I started looking for ways to fulfill my adrenaline need, so I decided to combine the two things. I asked my husband to try some new things with me, sexually. Bondage, that sort of thing. He tried for a while but none of it really worked for me. He wasn’t really all that into it. The whole thing was just awkward. It wasn’t in him to do it right.”
“After that, I slept with the man who lives next door. I did it in such a way we could have easily been caught. We didn’t get caught, but I also didn’t get a rush out of it at all. I tried a couple of times in riskier and riskier ways for tit work for me, but it failed. Then, recently, I gave up on that useless idea and decided to try something else. So, I started hiring myself out as a prostitute,” she said almost proudly.
She was still staring him directly in the eyes with no sign of shame or remorse at all. At her final sentence Father Frank involuntarily jolted. This was perhaps the worst sin of betrayal he had heard in his many years on this side of the confessional. The covenant with her husband had been violated in ways he could not yet think of words to describe. Her oath before God during the marriage ceremony had not just been violate…it had been shattered.
She continued before he could bring himself to utter a sound, “Father, it fulfills my needs. It filled it VERY well. I know what I am doing is dangerous. I know I could get hurt or even killed but knowing that just adds to the rush. I know I should probably stop, but I also know nothing else will ever give me this kind of rush. So, what choice do I have? I have to keep on doing it.”
“The problem is that I just feel a little bad about what I am doing. I don’t want my husband to find out. At the same time, I don’t want to stop. The situation just makes me feel a little guilty. Now, all of that ‘feeling bad’ stuff will go away if you can just forgive me in the eyes of the Lord. Once you do that, I can keep doing what I am doing, and everything will be juuuusssstttt fine.”
The priest was simultaneously glad this woman had come to confession and aghast at her behavior not to mention her request. He thanked God for sending this woman here as a test of his abilities.
Perhaps his prayers for new challenges was being answered? But this?
“My dear…that Lord will forgive many things, but you first most do everything I ask of you,” he said.
“I will do anything,” she said matter of factly.
“You must STOP! Immediately. You must not behave in this fashion any longer. You must seek help from a professional psychologist. They will help you find a way to feel fulfilled without violation any of the promises you made to your husband in the eyes of our Lord. When you were married you promised to forsake all others. Have you forgotten this?” he looked at her for any sign of regret and found none. He hoped his words would get through. He very much wanted to save her from eternal damnation, but he had to see some signal from her she was ready to be saved, if one was in there.
“Once you have done that, come back here to the Church, and in your own words, say a private prayer. Explain to our Lord that you have changed your ways and how you plan to be a better wife going forward. Do these things and I am sure you will be forgiven. Through His forgiveness you will, ultimately, be welcomed into Heaven. Without taking these steps, I have no way of knowing what God has in store for your eternal soul. However, I feel confident in saying it will not be pleasant,” he said.
He was trying to be direct with her, hoping against hope that she would listen. He knew, long term, these would be just the first steps on the long road to redemption.
“Father, wait, didn’t God create us in his image? Because of that isn’t He responsible for my having these urges. It has to be His fault. It can’t possibly be mine. I don’t want to stop. I can’t stop. I just want this guilty feeling to go away. Is there not some prayer I can say? Perhaps some volunteer work I can do? Then God forgive me, and my life will be in balance. The good I would be doing would be balancing out the bad,” she replied still staring him unwaveringly in her direct eye contact.
He hoped she did not take note of his frustration. He knew this type of “I can do anything I want” attitude was growing societally, but this was the worst possible manifestation of it he could have imagined.
“My child, that isn’t how this works. This isn’t a traffic court you go to when you had one too many speeding tickets. In order to be forgiven for our sins we must actually be sorry for committing them. This is very clear in Scripture. Premeditatedly committing them, knowing they are wrong really only makes matters worse. You must stop! I beg of you!” He hoped his insistence would help this woman see the folly of her ways.
He hoped her soul was not already gone. He also hoped no one outside the confessional could hear him yell at her, as his volume was certainly rising.
“Well, thanks anyway. I just can’t do that. All I really wanted was to not feel guilty. I guess I can just go out and do it more often. I guess then I will be so busy I won’t have time to think about it. That could solve the problem,” she sat back from her kneeling position and prepared to depart the confessional.
“Father, perhaps someday you and the rest of the clergy will understand where everyone else is coming from. Keeping one’s physical self-satisfied is the modern way. Is it, in reality, the most important part of life. I don’t want to tell you how to do your job but if God really did create us in his image it must be ok. Maybe you should study some more. I am sure all this is in Scripture somewhere. Try Googling it.”
“Besides there is a huge event in the theater district tomorrow night, and I can’t miss the fun,” she left the confessional with the Priest sitting alone and confused.
Father Frank could not understand how anyone could attempt to pervert Holy Scripture in this fashion. How could she interpret Catholic teachings in such a way as to justify this behavior?
He sat and listened to confessions for the next hour. He could not help fuming at himself over his lack of ability to help that woman. Perhaps she was beyond any help other than what the Old Testament taught. He felt perhaps this woman was one of those people who could not be dealt with passively. She needed a boost.
This could be a person who did not deserve to live in the world God had so graciously gifted to mankind.
How could he, a man of peace, a man of God, protect the innocent from such evil?
Lucifer himself must have sent his woman to earth. God surely had guided her into the Church, but she could not be His creation. She must be a challenge sent here to test a mere clergyman.
The innocent people such as this woman’s husband must be protected from the evil within her. She must be sent from Satan to infiltrate the world and draw people into the evil pathways that only lead to eternal damnation.
There must be a way to protect the innocent from such evil. There must be.
He must find a way to offer that protection.
Perhaps it was too late for this woman.
Her soul must be lost. He had to think. What was it that he was meant to do in this case?