“This is not a confession.” Father Tom began from the pulpit of St. Timothy’s. “Nor is it a plea for absolution.”
“I stand before you here today, a sinner.”
A near triumphant buzz of ‘I knew its!’ and ‘I told you sos!’ arose from the pews like a sour stench.
Father Tom had never been popular with the congregation at St. Timothy’s. A working mans parish located in one of the least affluent neighborhoods in the city, comprised mostly of callused dock workers and their families, Father Tom’s effeminate ways had met with much prejudice when he was assigned to serve as their parish priest.
Their previous pastor, Father Richard, had been a man’s man. A drinker, a gambler. A man not afraid to get his hands dirty, and never one to take umbrage at the occasional off color joke or misuse of the lord’s name. He had gone out of his way to emulate the lifestyle of his parishioners and in so doing had gained their trust and respect.
Not so Father Tom.
“A man wrought with desires which he has been instructed by Holy Scripture, to view as unclean.”
“I have not always been this man. For once, I was a boy. And my being a boy- Now, this was literally the worst thing that ever happened to me. Or so I had convinced myself at a young age.”
“Had I been born a girl, I used to try and reason with God, everything I feel and desire would be exactly what I should feel and desire– I became angry at this God who caused me to be born a boy. Angry at the heavy cross he had given me to bare.”
“I was fortunate at this very confusing time in my youth, to have served as an altar boy under a parish priest- much like your previous pastor, Father Richard. A masculine man in every way, as much sought after to help put on a roof as he was for spiritual counsel. Father Richard was in my young mind, as close to all seeing, all knowing, as I had ever imagined God to be.”
“I knew from the first moment I set foot on the steps to the altar, the golden vessel set to hold the consecrated flesh of our Lord burning a hole in my guilt ridden palm, that if anyone could see through the facade of my feigned masculinity, it was Father Richard.”
“And saints be praised. I was right.”
“One Sunday, along the third or fourth year of my service, I was late in arriving, and as I sped through the dank undercroft of the church on my way to the sacristy, I nearly ran smack into Father Richard, who never missing a step, called out to me as I ran past, ‘You’re late, McNamara. See me in the library after mass.’”
“After sweating through what I was convinced was the longest homily I had ever suffered through, I changed quickly and arrived at the library ahead of Father Richard. There I imagined every conceivable penance that could be meted out to me. I was convinced my meeting with Father Richard was less about my being late, than it was about the incongruities of my potential manhood. My differences, if you will.”
“McNamara!” Father Richard boomed as he burst into the library, “Until you nearly bowled me over in the bowels of the church this morning, I haven’t had the heart to tell you how desperately hurt I am that you have taken it upon yourself to doubt the infallibility of God’s creation.”
“Now like many of you, I had only ever heard the use of the word infallible as it pertains to the Holy Father, and I mistakenly took Father Richard to be insinuating that I doubted the eminence of the Pope.”
“Father,” I bleated, “I have never doubted His Holiness!”
“Perhaps not. But you have, and you do doubt yourself, McNamara. You doubt that you are exactly as God intended you to be. You question the perfection of God’s creation because you don’t feel yourself a right fit. I must ask you, do you think our savior felt himself a right fit? Singled out as he was by his own people? Cursed, taunted, beaten and eventually crucified for what others deemed to be his differences?”
“I will say one thing more about this situation you find yourself in McNamara, and that is this. There is one thing and one thing only that separates your differences from those of our Lord. Yours must never be acted upon. Much like the physical desires that make me akin to men who have not taken a vow of celibacy, must never be acted upon by me.”
“You know to what I am referring, McNamara.” He concluded, as he ruffled my hair, which by this time was plastered to the top of my head in a sweaty mess.”
“You’re a bright boy, McNamara, and you love God. Of these two things I am sure.”
“I left the library that day knowing Father Richard was right. I had two things going for me. I was a bright boy. And I did love God.”
“It was shortly after that, I decided to enter the priesthood. I did so because I realized- the church was the right place for a bright boy who loved god to be.”
“Of course, over time, I came to understand that a vow of celibacy sees no gender.”
“Alas, in the priesthood, I have found the place God has intended me to be. As among the ranks of my fellow priests,” Father Tom paused deliberately outstretched his arms, palms aloft, “I am accepted simply as another celibate. The norm. Not the anomaly.”
At this juncture, Father Tom bowed his head humbly, arms still outstretched in supplication and concluded.
“And this my friends, my family, is all I am asking of you today”
There was a sufficiently pregnant pause before Father Tom entered into the Profession of Faith, who’s opening line ‘We believe in God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and all that is seen and unseen.’ took on for me that day, a whole new meaning.
This piece was originally inspired by three prompts offered in different challenges by Peter Wyn Mosey:
However, when Crispina’s photo prompt for Crimson’s Creative Challenge #54 came in while I was writing it, I knew I would never find a more fitting depiction of the bowels of the church to grace this piece, and therefore, all rules be damned, I am using it here as well.
Thank you to both of you for the glorious contributions you made to this piece.