Father Sal Has The AnswersShawn Mihalik
(Editors Note: The following post is a short story by Asymmetrical author Robert Isaac Brown.)
Father Sal Has the Answers
by Robert Isaac Brown
A man walked into a cathedral. He looked up at the chandelier and peeked his head into the sanctuary, where three women sat on the same row with their heads bowed. A child, a toy airplane in his hand, sprinted around the sanctuary flying it. None of the women tried to quiet him. The man continued toward the back of the building, where the confessional booth was. He looked down at his dusty sneakers and then entered the booth and slid the door shut. He hadn’t shaved in six days and his hair smelled like expired pomade and burned rubber. His shirt was drenched in sweat, the cracks of his mouth full of crust. His eyes were red and puffy. He felt the warmth underneath his denim, streaks of sweat trickling toward his socks; he had walked seven miles from home in the Louisianan heat.
“Father,” the man said, and then he closed his eyes.
“What have you done, my son?” Father Sal said.
“I haven’t done a thing—a matter of life and death, and death has won.”
“Pardon?” Father Sal said.
There was a long pause. The man opened his eyes and tried to look through the woven section that separated him from the priest, a priest whose voice was croaky, his hair silver, his fingers gone, his views slightly radical for Catholicism. The man heard the noisy boy who was still running around the sanctuary.
“Yes, my son.”
“Innocent people, Father. Why does our God allow innocent people to get killed by such treacherous nonsense? I don’t understand.”
And he never thought about understanding, because there was no such thing as understanding why innocent, upright people were allowed to suffer because of someone else’s wrongdoing. From day to day, the tragedies reported by the world news didn’t mean too much as he watched; he’d shake his head and say “Father, have mercy”—not thinking about how his empty words would not bring back those who were victims of senseless catastrophes—and continue along with his own confusing but mandatory daily life.
Father Sal cleared his throat and hummed along to the hymnal that came from the two speakers above the entrances to the back of the church.
“Because of His mercy, my son.”
“Because of his mercy,” the man said. Because of his god-damned mercy, he thought.
“Yes. His mercy is giving all of us a chance to win souls. He allows tragedies to happen because of His mercy, my son.
“Because of his mercy.” He could not believe the foolishness Father Sal was saying.
“Yes our God—”
“Your God, Father!”
The women looked up and the boy halted and turned his head toward the booth, and seconds later he continued flying his plane.
“Keep your voice low,” Father Sal said. “Yes God is concerned about the bombings, and yes God is concerned about the killings, and yes God is concerned about the madness that continues to fill this wicked world.”
“He couldn’t spare my wife?”
“Do you watch the news, Father?”
“Yes, my son.”
“The rape that happened last week to the woman on Cadiz Street….”
The man kneeled and wept, a string of snot hanging from his left nostril. He felt an immediate pain in his stomach. His head throbbed and his feet ached.
“My son, listen. He lets these things happen so we have hopes of winning at least one soul.”
“Father, I still don’t understand.”
“If God was to end the world today—listen to me closely—do you have any idea how many people would open their eyes in a burning hell?”
“How many, Father?”
“Too many. Millions. God must get the glory.”
The man said nothing. He did not know where his wife was, but there was no reason for her to further suffer in a burning hell, he thought.
“Hell, heaven, purgatory—doesn’t matter,” the man said. “They are all just words, Father.”
“My God.” Father Sal looked toward the man, his eyebrows downward. “At the end of the day, at the end of our lives, we have to give an account to God.”
The man stood and slid open the door.
“My son? My son? Read 1 Timothy 4:33. Meditate on that.”
“There’s nothing left to mediate on. There’s nothing left to think about. There’s nothing to believe in. There’s nothing you can do to save the lost and confused people who come in here and speak to air and scented candles. There is absolutely nothing to live for. I’m a mistake. You’re probably a mistake, too. The people who made us were mistakes, too, I bet. We’re all a bunch of mistakes deteriorating until it’s time for us to go poof. Sayonara. Dust. Rubble. Scum. Finito.”
The man walked out of the booth, slapped the airplane out of the boy’s hand, and walked out of the cathedral. He lit a cigarette, inhaled long and hard, choked a bit, exhaled, and began his long, strenuous walk home, a home in which he’d have to suffer without a wife all because of mercy, or simply unnecessary violence.