“I think you should continue doing exactly what you’ve been doing, Cass. If old man Farley’s pissed, that’s his problem, right? Of course, probably wouldn’t be a bad idea if you could keep things under wraps a bit, eh? You know, maybe tell your parishioners to keep the good news to themselves, instead of calling the tabloids and the newshounds?”
Father Cass chuckled to himself. He could have predicted to the letter the answer he had just received from his best friend from seminary, Father Jacques DuMont, an ex-hockey player from Canada who had joined the seminary at the age of twenty-six after a life of hard drinking, two failed marriages, and a sudden epiphany after the death of his little sister.
He had taken to the priesthood with a passion rarely seen and often quickly burned out, but not so with Jack. However, as much as he was passionate about God, he was somewhat ambivalent about some of what he considered the church’s more archaic teachings.
“So, you’re suggesting I should lie about the prayer circles?”
“No,” he answered, “not lie, exactly. But who said you have to talk about everything you do? What are you - a woman? Do you have to blabber on about everything? Just continue on with the prayer circles, tell your parishioners to keep mum, and keep your own mouth shut. Where’s the harm in that?”
Father Cass shook his head as he looked back at Jack. Everything he said made perfect sense. But he just didn’t like being duplicitous; being sideways of straightforward didn’t sit well with him, just wasn’t in his nature. He would much rather be up front about things.
“The harm is that he specifically told me to stop. And what’s more is that Cardinal Marin will be here Thursday, and if he finds out, who knows what they’ll do?”
Jack got up and went to the refrigerator, rooted around for a minute, and finally pulled out two bottles of Canadian lager. He handed one to Cass, opened the other one for himself, and sat back down. This wasn’t the first time that he had taken on the role of older brother to Cass. Their relationship had begun in seminary. Even though Jack had been one year behind, he was seven years older. But this time he had a feeling this was going to take more than a lager and a “Get your ass in gear” speech.
“That’s not the real question, though, eh? The real question is what do you want to do? Or better still, what do you need to do, eh? Can I ask you something, Cass...straight out, real answer?”
“Straight out, real answer? Sure.”
“What’s really happening? With your flock, I mean...those few. Were they healed? I mean really, were they really healed? No semantics, no explanations, just yes or no, were they healed?”
“Well, then, I guess you know what you have to do then, don’t ya?”
“There’s more to your question than simply yes or no. There’s Farley and Cardinal Marin and..”
“Bullshit! There are the sick and the dying and the hungry and the suffering and there’s prayer, and if there is any way that suddenly God is actively listening to one of us, or any of us, or all of us, then we will not sit around and wait for permission! Are you out of your fuckin’ mind? There is way too much pain on this earth to wait for Mother Church to form a committee to look into forming a subcommittee to begin to wade through the red tape to begin a commission to look into the possibility that prayer might actually be a proactive way to solve some of the god-awful misery that is scattered all over this miserable planet. So, you have either jumped off the deep end of an empty pool or you are not the man that I have known for the last thirty-odd years. Now, which is it, Bub? Because, there’s no way I’m willing to share my last lager with an asshole who can’t see the facts as they are, eh?”
Jack slammed his bottle onto the table so hard that the fork that had been sitting on the half-eaten, congealing macaroni and cheese flipped up and over and landed on the floor at Cass’s feet.
Cass slowly bent over, picked up the fork, started to wipe the yellow mess off on the cuff of his shirt but instead handed it back sticky and greasy to Jack, who proceeded to shovel a short pile of the cold macaroni into his mouth. “You can’t be serious, Jack.”
“Of course I’m serious. I couldn’t be more serious. The Vatican can hang themselves for all I care, the bunch of fools.”
“The macaroni...I’m talking about that slop you’re putting into your body. How long has that glop been sitting there?”
“This? What’s the difference? The macaroni’s still sort of yellow, I don’t see anything fuzzy and I don’t see anything green. So it’ll do. I don’t have a nice Irish woman, comes and cooks for me every day like you do. I’ve eaten worse and I’ve eaten better, but we’re not talking about food, are we? Now then, what are you going to do about Farley and Marin?”
“Jack, I know you see this as an easy answer. You don’t even see this as if it’s really a question, but believe me when I tell you. There is a much larger picture here, and there are so many issues that have to be dealt with, so many people that will be pulled in. I have to be very careful.”
“Okay, then. I’ll play your game. Let me be your devil’s advocate and maybe then I’ll understand. Whaddya’ say?”
Cass sat very still and just looked at Jack, studied him as if he had never seen a human being before that very moment. Then he closed his eyes for a second, and when he opened them, he looked as he had always looked. Then he said, “All right, go ahead. Ask me whatever you like.”
“That’s better, much better. Now we’ll get at the truth, won’t we?” Jack took a long suck on his lager, squished the ale round in his mouth for a bit as if he were one of those wine-tasting sots, then swallowed, smacked his lips, and smiled as if he truly were Satan himself. “So, were you the one, then? Did you heal them yourself, with your own touch?”
“I don’t recall saying anything to you about touching. I told you we were praying, just a group of parishioners. And we were praying together. I told you that.”
“So there was no laying on of hands, no touching of any kind, eh? Not even a slight touch on a shoulder, a brief bit of fingertips brushing against a fevered cheek, then? What about the child with leukemia? Not a touch of any kind, nothing? Not once?”
“We held hands, those of us in the circle. We prayed in a circle and we all joined hands, so yes, we all touched. But I wouldn’t say there was a ‘laying on of hands’ as much as a joining together as one for a common cause. For the love of God, Jack, haven’t you ever prayed with your parishioners or with a troubled friend? Don’t you touch them, offer a hand or a shoulder, open arms, whatever is needed at the time? You know you do. We all do.”
“You’re right, some of us do. But the difference is, mine don’t walk away all fixed up the way yours do. So what’s the answer, then? What’s the secret? What are you holding back? Are you holding back? Or do you even know? Do you, Cass?”
“What do you want me to say? Do you want me to say that I dropped to my knees and a halo appeared over my head and I suddenly started to speak in tongues? Do you want me to tell you that I grabbed Mrs. Scanlon by the shoulder and smacked her on the forehead with the palm of my hand and laid her flat, and when she finally got up, her cancer was gone? Is that what you want me to say? Because if that’s what you want, then I can’t, I can’t say that, Jack. I can’t tell you that. I prayed with them, with each of them. That’s all. We prayed. I don’t know what else to tell you. I don’t know what you want me to say.”
Jack looked at his friend as if he were sizing up an opponent on the ice. What was he hiding? What little maneuver was he using to deflect his attention from the real issue? And suddenly he had the answer. The real issue wasn’t the how of the situation, tongues, the laying on of hands, bells and whistles. The real issue was that these people had been healed, in Cass’s church, when Cass prayed, and those were the facts, the only facts that mattered. Everything else was just spray, just show.
“All right, Cass. I only have one more question for you, then. A simple yes or no. No gray area, no explanations, just yes or no. Okay?”
“Of course, sure. Go ahead.”
“Good. Then, tell me this. Did you know, before you prayed, that they would be healed? Yes or no?”
Father Cass rose from his chair and took his empty bottle to the sink. He stood there with his back turned to Father DuMont for a full minute before he turned to face him. When he did, his face was completely composed, not a line or worry anywhere in sight. “That’s a ridiculous question, Jack. Ask me something serious.”
“I’ve already asked you something serious. Now answer me.”
“I can’t involve you in this any further, Jack. You’ve asked your questions, I’ve given you more than enough answers. I’d appreciate if you kept our conversation to yourself, should Cardinal Marin come calling; but that’s completely up to you, of course. I won’t hold you to anything.”
“You won’t hold me to anything? You bloody well haven’t told me anything! Although in not telling me, I believe you’ve told me everything. But I’m betting that there’s a lot more in that bottomless brain of yours. Don’t worry about Marin. I’ve met him, and he’s a stiff for sure, barely two brain cells to rub together. Course, that’s my opinion. I’m sure the Vatican has a completely different view.”
“Look, Jack, I’ve got some things I need to take care of this evening, so I’ve got to get moving. Just try and keep a low profile, will you?” He picked up his jacket and moved to the door.
“I don’t think I’m the one needs to be thinking about keeping a low profile, Bub. That would be you. See you soon.” He clapped him on the back, and the door closed behind him. “Mark my words,” Jack said aloud, “this will not end well...no it bloody well won’t.” And he went to the fridge to see what could be found.