View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

A not-so-divine comedy

Father Frank McMann looked at his desk calendar and sighed.

Nothing scheduled for the next two hours. No meetings at St. Syzygy’s Parish. No marriage preparation talks. No phone calls to return. No diocesan reports due.

And his Sunday homily was already written and practiced.

He smiled, and took from the book case a copy of the John Ciardi translation of the Dante’s The Divine Comedy.

Back when he was in college, his chaplain, Father Thomas Lombardo, one of the men who had inspired him to enter the priesthood, had been a passionate fan of Dante’s epic. References to the poem popped up in his homilies and conversations with regularity. He had often urged McMann to read it.

He promised he would.

He never had.

But two weeks ago, the diocesan newspaper published an article about the sixtieth anniversary of Father Lombardo’s ordination. Father McMann looked at the picture of the aged priest that accompanied the article, and happy memories of long conversations with the chaplain about life, and faith, and the eternal flooded his mind. He cut out the article, and kept it on his desk.

A week later, he bought the book, vowing that he was finally going to read it. Then he would call Father Lombardo and tell him after 30 years, he had taken him up on his suggestion.

He opened to the first canto, and began to read.

“Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray.…”

He had just reached the part where Dante lifts his eyes and sees the first light of sunrise when his phone rang. It was the parish secretary.

"Father, Joe Leopardi would like to see you. Are you free?

"Send him in."

He closed his book and put it back in the bookcase.

He made a sign of the cross.

Leopardi burst into the office.

"I've got a problem with the new pope," Leopardi boomed as he strode across the room and slumped into the easy chair by the window.

Father McMann's easy chair.

"Why? Pope Benedict hasn't done anything yet."

"That's just it," Leopardi snorted. "You know what that means."


"He's setting us up. The man is brilliant."

Father McMann nodded.

"He is smart."

"Smart?" Leopardi spat. "The man's a genius. He's sucker punching us, and we don't see it."

Father McMann knew better than to ask Leopardi to explain. He remembered previous lengthy conversations exploring such topics as Friday fast rules, the quality of liturgical music, Jesus' middle name, women's ordination, the meaning of infallibility, and, of course, Opus Dei taking over the U.S. Postal Service.

But he responded nevertheless.

"I don't understand."

"That's what he wants," Leopardi said, smiling, nodding, and leaning back in the chair. "He’s trying to fool us all. But I've figured it out."

Of course.

"You see, it goes back to John Paul," Leopardi said. "A good man. A holy man. Maybe even a saint, if you're into such things.

"But you know I had problems with some of his ideas."

Leopardi had repeatedly and regularly shared with Father McMann his problems with Pope John Paul II's positions on a number of issues. After Mass. In the pastor’s office. In the middle of a supermarket aisle. At a funeral. Over the buffet table at Leopardi's oldest daughter’s wedding.

"I hoped that when he died, the cardinals would pick a man who would loosen things up. You know, bring the church in to the 21st Century. Heck, the 19th century. Another John XXIII.

“A lot of us were hoping that. I even considered saying a rosary. But I couldn’t find it in my dresser.

"And then they elected Ratzinger. Ratzinger! I thought I was going to have a stroke. He'll bring back the index, the Inquisition. I expected an excommunication letter in my mail any day."

“Come now,” Father McMann joked. “If he didn’t get you before, why would he get you now?”

“Oh, that’s part of the cleverness of the man. I was convinced of that. He was keeping me waiting. A taste of Purgatory. I could see the mailman smiling at me every day. He knew. Opus Dei, of course.

"But then what does the pope do? He makes nice with Jews and Muslims. He smiles. He cracks jokes. He talks about reaching out. He’s pastoral, for God’s sake.”

"Is that bad?"

"Bad?” Leopardi sneered. “It's all part of his plan.

“You see, we all expected him to go far beyond JP II. Make John Paul look like a flaming liberal.

“But he crosses us up. He acts just like John Paul. He'll probably push the same ideas as John Paul. And we'll be so relieved that he's not as bad as we feared. We'll say, `Phew. I'm not happy about this, but it could have been much worse.' Then we'll accept whatever he dishes out. The things that we thought were unacceptable from JPII will suddenly become acceptable."

Leopardi shook his head.

“And we’ll thank God for it. Dang. The man's a genius."

The bell in the church tower chimed. Leopardi looked at his watch and jumped up from the chair.

"I didn’t realize the time. I gotta get back to work. But we have to do something about this. I’ll write a letter to the diocesan paper, if Opus Dei will let it get through. I'll email National Catholic Reporter and ask them to investigate. Maybe you could preach about it and warn people."

"Thank you for the idea,” Father McMann said. “I'll certainly give it the attention it merits."

"Just being a responsible lay Catholic. We’ll talk. "

Leopardi burst out of the office, loudly closing the door behind him.

Father McMann studied the door for a moment.

“That’s enough attention,” he mumbled.

He took The Divine Comedy back from the shelf and opened it to where he had left off.
The phone rang. He answered.

“Father, Leo and Lupi Longo are here. They say it’s urgent.”

“Send them in,” he sighed.

He picked up the article about Father Lombardo, and carefully folded it with the picture of the old priest on top. Father McMann smiled and stuck it in the book to mark his spot.

“I hope someday we’ll both reach Paradise,” he said.

He closed the book and put it back on the shelf.

Then he waited for the door to open.


Post a Comment

<< Home