Southern Pacific Review Editorial Services

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Miracle of St Angelicus

by
Joseph Grant
St. Angelicus had seen better days. Or at least this was the notion that was in the back of the minds of the decreasing parishioners of late. Similar could be said of the Holy Roman Catholic Church in its entirety in the wake of the appalling sex scandals concerning pedophile priests preying instead of praying upon innocent children that rocked the mighty organization to its very foundation. Many community churches in dioceses all around the world were facing the same fate as St. Angelicus. With each new scandal making the news, these parishes were in danger of becoming both morally and financially bankrupt.

In order to prevent this from happening again, many steps were taken and in particular, training for the priesthood went through an unmitigated change. Background checks were now becoming standard before a man could enter the seminary and psychologists were being utilized to get to the root of the crisis as well as seek out any obvious and not so obvious problem cases. A four year college degree in Catholic philosophy and theology was a requirement these days as well as the compulsory degree in Master of Divinity. In addition to this, the apprentice priest must spend about 6 or so years as a deacon even to be considered for The Rite of Ordination by the bishop. If the bishop decides not to call the deacon to Holy Orders, it is thus decided that the candidate does not have the vocation to the priesthood. The bishop's word on this matter is unconditional and cannot be challenged.

Father Michael Malone smiled as he recalled those days only a short couple of years ago. He was on his way to interview with Monsignor Wilson. He clutched the rosaries in his pocket that his mother had given him and touched his scapular depicting Our Lady of Mount Carmel on one and the other the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the other, beneath his shirt for good luck. Of his entire family, he was the only priest. He did have a second cousin who was a nun, but that was as close as his family got to the spiritual life. His father was an accountant, his mother a homemaker. His sister was a real estate agent and his brother worked as a phlebotomist at a medical clinic. Along with his mother, they had all given him their best wishes, little four leaf clovers and rosaries and such. It was the start of his first week at St. Angelicus and any blessings or luck he could acquire, he knew would be useful.

It didn't help matters much that two priests were cited and removed from the parish for inappropriate behavior with some of the school children. Allegations and excuses were hurled from both sides and while nothing was ever concretely proven, enough of a shadow was cast that the diocese saw fit to remove the two men under suspicion as a gesture of goodwill.

Father Malone was brought on board to fill the void, as one priest was all that was reasonable to the diocese budget until next year. He had been a marketing and economics major until he heard the calling. This was one of the main reasons the Monsignor sought to bring him on. He could help with the budgetary issues. Added to this and maybe even more important he had a clean record, even though some elders were perturbed he rode a motorcycle. He adapted well enough to make his home in the rectory of St. Angelicus.

Father Malone worked as any ordained priest did in his parish. He began his day with his fellow priests at the daily recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours, held confession, oversaw the baptism of the very young, became influential in the Pre-Cana Rites before matrimony, held confession for those that could make it to church and anointed the sick and dying who could not.

He was held in the good graces of the prelates and was referred to as "Father Mike", the "cool" priest troubled teens could talk to and not feel intimidated by or in danger in his presence even though now these visits were chaperoned by the church secretary most of the time.

His sermons were particularly riveting as homilies go and he spoke about interesting topics, rather than the old fire and brimstone tradition of scaring parishioners into redemption. He spoke of real-life issues and things that modern-day people could relate to, such as mortgages and stressful jobs and then tied it in with biblical themes that showed while times were certainly different, the human experience was not.

Father Mike poured his blood and sweat into his work. He saw little dividend for his effort. A fellow priest, Father Tim noticed his frustration as they shared a bottle of Scotch on the rectory patio.

"Why do you kill yourself over and over?" Tim asked as he lit a cigarette.

"I feel the calling. I need to get the Lord's word across to our masses." Mike said.

"Not to be a downer, but have you looked up from the pulpit and at the pews lately?" Tim asked. "No one's really listening because no one's really there."

"Aw, c'mon."

"Seriously, Mike. The parish is dying."

"So I've heard. I think it takes time and more than a little faith, Tim."

"You can't run a parish on faith alone!" Tim snapped.

"I know, I know." Mike nodded. "It's one of the reasons I was brought on here; to make things financially solvent again. With all my daily responsibilities, I just haven't had the time."

"Wilson won't wait forever."

"I know. I really haven't had the time. I've got to really go over the books when I get a chance."

"You were an economics major, right? Couldn't you fudge the numbers or something?" Tim smiled.

"Now how would that look if a priest was caught doing that?"

"Better than the other thing." Tim shook his head and sighed a breath of smoke into the evening air.

"You said it, Tim."

"Well, we'd better do something or we're gonna lose this church to the diocese, the lawyers and real estate developers."

"I have to go down and see the diocese CFO next week. I'm sure it's going to be miserable. I need a miracle, Tim. Say a few prayers."

"I'm afraid I don't know any prayers that big." He kidded.

"Sometimes I wonder why I became a priest."

"It's not for the girls." He joked. "Women love a man in uniform but I'm afraid we're in the wrong profession."

"Except for Father Bob over at St. Ignatius."

Mike laughed. "I've heard the rumor that the guy has cost the diocese thousands in child support."

"It's true."

"Get out."

"No, it is. One of my seminary school buddies is a deacon there."

"What's he still doing being a deacon?"

"He didn't get the official tap on the shoulder. I joke with him that he's always a bridesmaid, never the bride."

"You're awful!" Mike said.

"Deacons who don't make it are usually sadists or pedophiles in The Lamb's clothing."

"Stop."

"You'd be amazed at how many secretly married priests there are."

"That's blasphemy!"

"No, not really. Saying that Mass is just the daily ritualistic play that failed actors get to be in maybe. It's all performance art for aging drama queens." He shrugged. "I was a drama major and somehow ended up here."

"Wow."

"There are many reasons why men become priests, maybe because they couldn't hack it in society, I don't know. I think every guy who becomes a priest wonders if they've made the right choice. You know, marriage, little wife at home, a couple of kids."

"Yeah." Mike smiled as the Scotch began to hit him.

"You ever wonder about that stuff?"

"Never."

"You're full of shit." Tim scoffed.

"Well, hardly ever." Mike shrugged. "I do have my crises of faith like Mother Teresa. Wonder if the Old Man is really up there and listening, ya know or what things would have been like if Bishop Landon hadn't given me his decree."

"You had him?" Tim laughed. "I had old man Jensen."

"Didn't he die?"

"Yeah, he had dementia. Deserved it, too."

"Aw, c'mon, Tim."

"He did. He was a mean old son-of-a-bitch. Plus there were allegations about him too."

"Those are just rumors."

"Well, from what I heard, they weren't just stories." Tim puffed away. "He had accusations going back decades until around the time he came down with dementia. A fellow priest friend of mine used to say that was Jensen's way of forgiving himself by forgetting himself. He turned the other cheek on the nuns over at St. Bart's."

"What?"

"I had an uncle who was a plumber. He came home one day white as a sheet."

"Why?"

"They had a problem with the pipes."

"So?"

"They were filled with aborted fetuses."

"Oh come on! I can't believe that."

"That's what he said! Why would he lie? Either they were from the nuns or the students."

"That's crazy."

"I can get him on the phone right now."

"Well, I had Landon like I said."

"The old drunk!" Tim laughed.

"Stop."

"Seriously. He used to be so drunk sometimes during morning mass I've heard that he'd skip the entire homily just to get to the wine."

"I thought he did that as part of the new church."

"Nope."

"Wow. Well, I'm gonna start drinking full-time if I don't get my ass in gear with this financial business."

"We all will." Tim agreed and slurred."We'll raid the sacramental wine!"

"We'd just have to watch out for Wilson."

"Right..." Tim chuckled. "The self-appointed 'God's own Gestapo'!"

"I cringe when he uses that term. What does he mean by that?"

"I don't know. He's old school."

"Very." Mike nodded. "Then when he says that only those baptized in Christ will find Heaven?"

"Like I've said; very old school."

"Like Spanish Inquisition, old school." Mike joked.

"What're you two doing out here?" A voice boomed from inside the doorway.

"Shit!" Tim exclaimed. "I thought you were Wilson for a second."

"Is this a private soirée or can anyone join?"

"Pull up a glass, Stosh."

"Damn, you've got that Wilson impression down!" Mike laughed. "You almost had me fooled."

"I wish I had his money." Stosh muttered.

"So do I." Tim concurred.

"What're you guys trying to say?"

"He makes a monsignor's salary yet he drives a new Benz." Stosh said.

"They do get expenses."

"Don't be naive. I tell you old man Wilson is skimming. Look for that in your books." Tim pointed at Mike.

"I'm getting killed in taxes." Stosh kidded.

"Me too. It's like the Romans are back." Tim snorted.

"I hear ya." Mike agreed. "I'd be making five times as much as I do on the outside and I'm still getting taxed up the yin-yang."

"I'm getting crucified by the tax man." Tim slurred.

"Alright, think someone's had enough." Mike said pointedly. "Time to end this little get-together before we all go to Hell."

"No, c'mon. Let's stay and drink a little more." Tim griped.

"Nah, I have to get up early for a baptism in the morning."

"Aw, I just got here." Stosh pouted.

"Stay with me and drink awhile. I don't want to drink alone tonight."

"Sure, I'll sit with you." Stosh smiled and put his hand on Tim's shoulder. That was enough for Father Mike. He didn't know where this was headed and didn't want to know.

"Goodnight, you two. Don't stay up too late." He went inside, closing the door. When he awoke, he found that he had written a few lines for the sermon but not enough to fill the prerequisite ten to fifteen minutes. He wrote of how "...as humans we constantly bury things. We bury our emotions, we bury the past, we bury the truth, we bury the hatchet..." He wondered where he would go with the idea. He decided to wing it. It wouldn't matter one way or the other if he were ill-prepared; there were only a handful of people in attendance.

It came to him as he was reading from the pulpit that today's sermon was about "Resurrection" and how one buries something but also rises from it. He touched on Christ rising from the dead, touched on Greek mythology with the Phoenix from the ashes and Jewish teachings of Lazarus. Father Mike was pleased with his sermon as it went well with the theme of baptism. Monsignor Wilson who was crossing the courtyard, saw him and called to him afterwards as he was leaving the church. He was holding a piece of paper.

"Hello, Father Mike. I thought your homily was...interesting to say the least, this morning."

"You liked it, Monsignor?"

"I wouldn't say I like it. It was, as I've said, a bit uncommon. But I must point out to you that you don't have to use special tricks to reel the people in, no fancy Hollywood-type dialogue, Communications 101 parlor tricks or catchphrases. Stay off of Madison Avenue. You have a marvelous reference to go off of and it's called the Holy Bible. You can't go wrong with that. If you mix too many contradictory philosophies you're going to confuse your audience. Stick to the standards. As much as I admire the other religions, we don't have to advertise them. Bad for business, let's just say."

"Yes, sir." Father Malone acquiesced.

"Speaking of, how are you coming along with working the finance office?"

"I have yet to do that."

"This concerns me, Father Mike." The Monsignor cleared his throat and lit a cigar as they walked. "We need to do something. I've wracked my brain trying to come up with a financial solution and that's the reason why I hired you on. I couldn't do the financials and run a parish."

"Understood."

"And without a solid team member on my side to work out the financials, there won't be a parish if we don't get our act together." Wilson said and held up the letter in his hand. "This is a letter from the diocese that I've been dreading. In order to cut costs, it says that they're looking at some of the parishes like ours that fail to make a profit month after month. Again, that's us. It says that we could be in danger of foreclosure so that legal costs can be met."

"Legal costs to cover the molestation trials." Malone shook his head.

"Alleged molestation, young man." Wilson corrected him.

Father Mike nodded but said nothing.

"Now I hope your meeting with the Chief Financial Officer next week will bear some fruit for us."

"I'll do my best, Monsignor."

"We need more than that, Father Malone. We need a miracle. Pray that we get one."

Father Malone's best was more than adequate but still not enough to stave off the threat of a notice of foreclosure. The meeting with the diocese had gone well and there was a few thousand Malone found that had been allocated to the wrong spreadsheet columns by the previous accountant and some of the books could be tightened even more and expenses shifted around but it still was not nearly enough to cover the massive $345,000 that was needed to pay the diocese and the U.S. Government in back taxes.

The prayer that Monsignor Wilson had been hoping for was finally answered. Early one morning before services while vacuuming the red carpet near the sacristy, one of the school custodians noticed some dark stains beneath the mosaic of St. Angelicus on the marble floor. When he looked up, he was shocked beyond belief to see that the portrait was weeping. Not only was the painting weeping, but the tears were that of blood running down its cheeks. The custodian quickly told one of the priests who ran to get Monsignor Williams.

As more and more members of the clergy and staff found out and were taken away from their studies, work, sleep, prayer, breakfast or shaving and arrived in various conditions and dress, a sizeable crowd began to gather to study the phenomenon. Some crossed themselves or fell to their knees in reverence while others were more skeptical and doubting. A few began to take photos with their phones and send to others before the Monsignor Wilson has then cease. The Monsignor ventured closer than anyone else and studied the sanguine tears running down the portrait of St. Angelicus with great dedication.

St. Angelicus had been one of Monsignor Wilson's greatest devotions in life. He preached on the life of St. Angelicus and how this poor peasant from an Italian village stood up against the Romans in the 1st Century A.D. and held off an invasion with a golden ring he had received from an angel that was said to possess wondrous powers. He preached of the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven, of Jesus being the Messiah against Roman rule and was said to have very kind angelic eyes. He was captured and sentenced to death under Tiberius and put into the lion's den. The seven beasts bowed down before him. As punishment, his eyes were then put out with a burning poker and he was set adrift to walk the desert. He experienced great miraculous visions while wandering the sands for forty days and wrote about them or had a scribe write about them, whichever account one believed. His story of facing the Romans and his magic ring fell out of favor with The First Council of Nicea but he was canonized as a saint in the Second Century, regardless.

The tears of blood intrigued Monsignor Wilson. He studied the mosaic and took a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed it under the trickle and saturated the cloth for further testing. Others crowded around it and praised God. It didn't take long before the video was posted and the response to the video was overwhelming with over 100,000 hits within two days and when it got attached to social media websites and tv news stations, it went viral.

Crowds began to gather to view the blessed event. So many wanted to see the miracle they had seen on the internet and tv news that there was not enough room in the church and soon there had to be a rope outside to cordon off the teeming throng that stretched down the boulevard. Within a few days, the crowd had doubled, requiring a guard to be posted near the mosaic and extra policemen outside to control and direct the snarl of traffic from the multitude.

It was not long after that the diocese ordered an investigation. They carefully studied the delicate, antique relic and could find no signs of tampering, save for damaging the historic church by ripping the mosaic from the wall where it had hung for nearly 200 years. In the meantime, the diocese kept a cautious eye on the situation.

During the interim, the tests from the blood swatch that Monsignor Wilson had taken were back from the lab. The blood type was concluded as being that of O positive; one of the most common blood types. At the request of the diocese, a medical exam was conducted and none of the clergy were found to have any noticeable cuts or scrapes on them. The same was true with the immediate staff. This left the disbelievers dumbfounded.

The site of the mosaic became a pilgrimage for the many sick, indigent and dying in the parish and elsewhere. It wasn't uncommon to see wheelchairs and hospital beds being wheeled into the church in hopes of a miracle. This did not go unnoticed by Father Mike who felt pity on these people.

"I have a confession to make." Father Mike said to Father Tim as stood amongst the horde on line. For the very first time in many years, the parish was finally in the black.

"What's troubling you?" Tim asked. "I notice you've been keeping to yourself lately."

"Let's go into the courtyard away from all of these people where we can talk in peace."

Tim laughed."You don't like this racket it's creating, I gather?" He asked as they walked out of a private door and into their secluded courtyard. It was a small enclave where the priests could be out of the public arena and enjoy a smoke or a talk without prying eyes.

"Not particularly. Did you see? There's all sorts of people hawking photos and trinkets of St. Angelicus? I feel like pulling an overturning of the money changers in the temple on them."

"I know, Brother Mike. I've had to pull myself away from that temptation, too. Although there were a couple of cute guys out there." Tim joked.

"May I remind you lead us not into temptation, Brother Tim."

"I know. It's not a sin to look." He sighed. "So, what's up?"

Father Malone took a deep breath and sighed. "This."

"What?"

"This." Malone gesticulated. "It's all me!"

"What's all you?"

"The supposed miracle!" He exclaimed and then lowered his voice. "There's an antechamber behind the mosaic. You have to reach it through the attic. It must be an old vent area that the construction workers left behind the stone wall many years during the renovation. Few people know about it."

"You're kidding me." Tim shook his head. "No, no. I've been here for seven years and never heard about that. You're pulling my leg."

"I wish I was. I discovered it one day while cleaning the attic."

"Ah, the busy work we do to keep from being bored to death!"

"Right. So the one day I was up in the attic and you know how there's a hundred or so many year's worth of junk up there? I was straightening it out and pulled a rug out of the way and there was this trap door kind of thing. I opened it and peered into it. I thought it might have been an old laundry chute the deacons who used to live up there might've used, but I couldn't see squat. I went and got a flashlight and lo and behold, it went down to the first floor. I don't know what it was originally, like I said, maybe a vent of some sort, cos there's a ladder that goes down along the wall."

"Interesting. Maybe an Underground Railroad relic?"

"Maybe; this place is certainly old enough."

"Wilson did say we needed a miracle and well, we've got one."

"Yeah but a secular one."

"I know, I know. I was just trying to help and now it's all this."

"Take me to it?"

"No! There's too many eyes on it right now. How about tonight?"

"What time? Wilson extended the visiting hours to accommodate the long lines."

"Shit, that's right. Well, it closes overnight. Catch me before services tomorrow. I get up around 4:30."

"Okay." Father Tim said, shaking his head. "You're crazy. I hope you're just making this up."

"Looking at what's happened, I wish I had been."

He was tired of keeping it all to himself, especially when disabled people starting showing up, praying for a miracle from St. Angelicus that would never come. It began to eat away at Father Malone. He was losing sleep, concentration and worst of all, he was beginning to experience a crisis of faith.

Early the next morning, Father Tim knocked on Father Mike's door. Mike was dressed and straightening his clerical collar.

"Hey there, sexy." Tim kidded.

"Be just a minute."

"Not like I'm losing sleep."

"Fine, let's go." Mike nodded and checked himself in the mirror one last time.

They walked to the staircase and then up to the second floor where they could access the attic behind a locked door, for which Mike still had the keys. They made their way into the attic. Mike pulled away the rug and opened the trap door. He aimed the flashlight down into the crawl space.

"Wow, I've been here for years and never even knew this thing existed." Tim gasped. "If it's okay by you, I don't want to go down there. I'm not really comfortable around tight spaces."

"Could have fooled me." Mike kidded him.

"Stop." Tim chuckled. "So what is that set-up?"

"That?" Mike said with a proud smile. "That's the miracle."

"I see hoses."

"Tubes and an IV drip. I drilled two holes behind the mosaic in the stone wall. I have it timed so it drips at certain intervals. That's the miracle."

"Whoa."

"Wilson wanted a miracle and so I gave him one. I planned to let it quietly die out after a few more people started to come to Church but I never thought it would evolve into something like this."

"Careful, we're not supposed to teach anything about evolution." Tim joked. "That's brilliant. Where'd you get the blood from, if I may ask? You're not going to bash my head in with that flashlight and be some sort of deranged serial killer are you?"

"You see too many movies. No, I get the blood from my cousin who works in a blood bank. He sends me the old blood that's about to expire. "

"That's ingenious. Are you going to tell Wilson?"

"I think I'm going to have to."

"Well, good luck." Tim said and brushed himself off. "Knowing him, he probably won't take too kindly to being scammed."

"Knowing him, no." Mike said glumly. "C'mon, we have to get down to breakfast before anyone catches on that we're gone."

After breakfast and before the start of morning Mass, Father Mike knocked on Monsignor Wilson's door. The Monsignor was busy writing something at his desk. He was already smoking his trademark cigar and looked up from his paper. "Come in, Father Malone, come in."

Father Malone made small talk until it appeared Wilson was losing his patience. Finally, he came out with what he wanted to tell Wilson.

"I know who's behind the miracle."

"I'm sorry?" Wilson's eyebrow arched.

"I'm the one behind the miracle. It's no miracle."

"You wanna tell me what you're talking about, Father Mike?"

"The miracle...the mosaic. I'm the one."

"Don't sit there and jabber, son! You've just made a very serious statement."

Malone went on and described how he set up the miracle, had his cousin send him the blood and how he never thought it would explode into the phenomenon like it had and apologized profusely. Wilson was outraged.

"You mean to tell me that this is all some sort of prank by you and your cousin?" Wilson fumed. "Who else is involved?"

"No one. I swear. It's just me. Not even my cousin is aware. Well, he probably is now."

"Right. I'm sure there's no one else." The Monsignor sneered. "I'm going to get to the bottom of this. This is serious. Do you know what you've done? It's not enough that we have a serious trust issue with the public with the molestation trials-"

"Alleged." Malone reminded him.

"Don't you smartass me." He growled. "Good lord! What will we tell the public? My God, what will I tell the Diocese? The Bishop? He'll have my head on a silver platter! Do realize what you've done? You've placed this parish is a very precarious situation!" Wilson railed for over a half hour. "For the time being I want you placed under house arrest. No celebration of the Mass, no ecumenical duties, no baptism. Nothing."

As Malone walked out of the office, he heard Wilson mutter" "May God have mercy on you for what you've done."

Malone knew that the Monsignor had no authority to pull rank but knew he was in a lot of trouble, either way. He went back to his room now a broken man and lay on his mattress as his world spun around him and wondered what he had done. The Diocese would no doubt fire him and seek punitive damages. There would be lawsuits; he was certain of this. He was likely to be excommunicated, as well, if not sent to prison for fraud.

Then a curious thing happened. Wilson asked to see him. When he entered Wilson's office, the Monsignor was all smiles. He was not alone.

"Close the door, Mike, sit." He said and offered Malone a Coke and a cigar. "This is Mr. Cain, an attorney and his Eminence, the most Revered Bishop Randall, you know."
Malone nodded and shook hands. "I'm confused."

Wilson smiled through heavy cigar smoke. "We're all friends here. I was just having a discussion with the Bishop and Mr. Bale on the story you told me and we agreed that we needn't jump the gun on this situation."

"Huh?"

"This miracle that you've created? The bottom line is..." Wilson began before the Bishop interrupted him.

"It's created a solid bottom line for St. Angelicus." The Bishop beamed. "While the Diocese doesn't condone such, it's good for business and takes attention away from our other, shall we say, deficiencies. We'd like you to keep quiet about this and maybe we can move you up the ranks in a few years time?"

"I don't know."

"It's best not to upset the apple cart, Mike. His Eminence is offering you leniency." Wilson pitched. "Not all miracles are of spiritual bounds. We too can sometimes be miracle workers."

"Faith is a lot like the 'Fishes and Loaves' parable, Mike. Give the multitude their due." Bishop Randall smiled.

"True."

"We'd also like to task you with providing so-called miracles for other parishes in need. We could send you on fact-finding missions to other diocese."

"Isn't that dishonest?" Malone wondered.

"It's robbing Peter to pay Paul, let's just say. No one knows. No one gets hurt." The Bishop smiled. "You're a marketing and economics major. You can see our point? A little faith can go a long way, Monsignor Malone?" He winked at Wilson who smiled approvingly, nodding his head.
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<td><em>As a Pushcart Prize nominee, Joe Grant's short stories have been published in over 230 literary reviews such as Byline, New Authors Journal, Underground Voices, Midwest Literary Magazine, Inwood Indiana Literary Review, Hack Writers, Six Sentences, Literary Mary, NexGenPulp, Is This Reality Zine , Darkest Before Dawn, strangeroad.com, FarAway Journal, Full of Crow, Heroin Love Songs, Bewildering Stories, Writing Raw, Unheard Magazine, Absent Willow Literary Review.
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