BY ROBERT GREEN
Copyright is held by the author.
“FINALLY, HE’S here,” Natalie whispered aloud, straightening her dress, while dabbing beads of perspiration from her forehead. Even though she looked comfortable in her pale sleeveless yellow dress, deep down she was a wreck. She’d just seen the funereal grey Buick come to a stop in her driveway.
It looks so out of place in this neighbourhood. That should set some tongues wagging. And then the doorbell rang.
Oh please Lord, let it be good news, she prayed silently.
She paused, took a deep breath and opened the door.
“Hello Mrs. Miller,” he said, extending his hand. “It’s so good of you to make some time for us to meet.”
“Thank you for coming, Father. I don’t know what to do,” she said, wringing her hands, her bottom lip quivering as she ushered him into the living room.
“You said on the phone Willy’s been turned down again.”
Father Xtacie was a tall thin man in his early 30s. His bearing was austere. Sometimes, while speaking, he’d break into an embarrassing smile for no apparent reason.
Natalie’s eyes were drawn to the immaculate white collar protruding just below a large Adam’s apple, which seemed out of proportion to his scrawny neck. His nondescript suit jacket, trousers, highly polished brogue shoes and heavy horn rimmed glasses were the unremarkable basic black street attire of a Catholic priest in the 1960s.
“Please sit down Father. Can I get you anything?” Natalie asked, regaining some of her composure.
“I’m fine thank you. Let me come right to the point Mrs. Miller,” he said in the hushed confidential tone of the confessional.
“After speaking a second time with the Registrar at Holy Cross Seminary, as I told you on the phone, they refuse to budge on their decision denying William entry into their Order. As you know, when you chose to marry outside the Church, after your civil divorce from your first husband, the penalty was excommunication. As a Catholic, you can understand that it’s William’s family background that makes him ineligible for the priesthood.”
“Oh my, that was my biggest fear. Willy has wanted to be a priest since he was an altar boy at St. Michael’s. It’s my fault this is happening to him. Is there any way to fix this Father?” Natalie’s brown eyes were brimming with tears again, as she dabbed them carefully without smudging her make-up.
“Please bear with me Mrs. Miller. There is one way under Canon Law that your circumstances can be altered.”
Natalie gasped. A ray of hope, she thought.
“Please go on Father.”
“The Church will allow you and your husband to continue living together if you will agree to live as brother and sister. This will permit you to be reinstated and receive the Sacraments. William will be granted entry into the local diocesan seminary. Since, as you indicated earlier, your husband…is it Thaddeus?” he inquired.
“Yes…yes Father, Thaddeus.”
“Since you indicated Thaddeus had no desire to become a Catholic, this special dispensation would be the only option available to you.”
Father Xtacie sat motionless, staring at Natalie, with a smug expression on his face. His ecclesiastical aura momentarily fell away and for the first time, instead of a parishioner, he saw a vulnerable, attractive 36-year-old woman in the prime of life.
The room was hot, the tension, the silence, his own subliminal desires coming to the surface, all of it brought a thin shiny line of perspiration across his upper lip.
Natalie sat partially doubled over, feeling like she’d been punched in the stomach. Her mind raced, as she thought about what the priest had just told her.
They are willing to set aside my excommunication after all this time?
Tad and I must live as brother and sister?
Her cheeks flushed. She tried to control her sobbing, but her shoulders began to move up and down uncontrollably.
I’m an adulteress to them and this is my penance for disobeying.
Finally Father Xtacie broke the awkward silence.
“I know this must be upsetting. And I also know how hard it is to accept.”
Suddenly, his words barely audible, jarred her back to reality.
She sat up in her chair, looked directly at the priest and spoke to him in a determined tone of voice.
“My husband knows what my Faith means to me. But I don’t know how he’d react to this. If this is the only way my son can pursue the priesthood, then I will make it work.”
Father Xtacie sat up erect in his chair, pleased with himself. His awkward smile seemed inappropriate to Natalie. Putting both hands on his knees, he stood up relieved and said, “I’m glad you understand Mrs. Miller. And that you accept Holy Mother Church’s stance in your situation.
I’ll let the bishop know you’ve agreed to the terms of our dispensation. William should be hearing from the Admissions Department shortly,” he concluded.
As he turned toward the door, Natalie extended her hand to him, squeezed it a little tighter and said firmly, “thank you Father. My conscience is clear now.”
“I’m glad. And thank you Mrs. Miller. You’re making the right decision. Let’s hope there are no other ‘little Timmys’ to surprise us. Goodbye and God bless.” And with that Father Xtacie was gone.
No other “little Timmys.”
“I’ll leave that one for you to solve Lord,” she said aloud.
Natalie’s reconciliation with the institution that barred her from her Faith and her son from his dream, had been resolved in a half hour meeting with a priest. She stored these things in her heart without question, cynicism or bitterness. She was grateful that she and her son were the beneficiaries of some obscure exception in Canon Law.
Timmy’s brother, Douglas, arrived unscheduled, a couple of years later. Natalie couldn’t help thinking as she smiled to herself, God’s Way is not man’s way….thank heavens.
Willy entered the seminary in the fall of 1963.
Natalie’s beloved Tad went to his Eternal Reward a happy man. To his last breath he remained blissfully ignorant of Natalie’s pact with the Church.