Alright, I thought, this could be quite good or quite bad.
"Think of what we sang at the beginning of the liturgy. The polyeleos repeats 'For his mercy endures for ever,' but that is just an extract of a much larger psalm about mercy. He brought the Israelites out of freedom, and his mercy endures forever. He parted the Red Sea, and his mercy endures forever. He smashed Pharaoh's armies, and his mercy endures forever. God's mercy is part of Who He is and what He imparts of Himself to us. This is what culminated with the Cross!"
This is much better than what I expected! Fr. Facile never gave a bad sermon. Some were quite good and the rest tried very hard to impress, but often fell short by overemphasizing relevance to daily life, at times passing by opportunities to focus on Who God is.
"My friends—and I know this is a controversial topic, which we rarely discuss here at St. Saccharinios—my friends, we witnessed a great act of mercy this past week." Fr. Facile paused for a moment. "God brought the Israelites out of the darkness of slavery. A similar and monumental event in the history of our country happened this past week. A great many people were brought out of darkness when their civil rights were expanded.
"Now, I know we have people with very passionate opinions on both sides, but let us remain calm in discussing this matter. This Supreme Court decision ends the conversation about this subject for our country and it has no influence on the Church."
Alright, I concluded, I know where this is going. The parish was priestless and run by church-ladies, including the notorious Helen Hawkins, prior to Fr. Facile's arrival. It is a divided parish and he is trying to placate both ends.
"The conversation in the Church is on-going...."
"....and we need to show more mercy to each other in having that conversation here and everywhere in the Church. We have bishops and even a pope that are receptive to greater mercy. We are obligated to show that same receptivity to mercy. I look on Facebook and see some of the nasty things people write about each other when having this debate. In this debate I find opponents of this new right calling those in favor of it all sorts of mean names and the proponents of the new right in return are quick to call their opponents bigots, although they often are."
Hitting a priest is a reserved sin, I recalled from a catechism class. Still, that would mean a trip to Rome and Fr. Facile could use some fraternal correction.
"We need more mercy, like the mercy of the Cross and the mercy of delivery Egypt from bondage. For His mercy endureth for ever! Oh God, save Thy people and bless Thy inheritance!"
* * *
"We can never go to St. Saccharinios again, even 4 holy week," I texted to John Grump. "Meet at Cafe Preténse for breakfast?"
"Cya in 10", indicated the reply.
The clientele of Cafe Preténse
Cafe Preténse appealed to a young crowd of late teen and twenty-somethings still living off their fathers' new money. Patrons frequented the establishment to write their perpetually unpublished novels on MacBooks gifted for Christmas, to have inexpensive morning "dates," and to been seen wearing the latest boat shoes and sun dresses. An improbable assortment of National Geographics, Michael Crichton novels, and an old copy of Debrett sat on the shelves on the bookcase either as decoration or conversation pieces. No two walls were painted the same color. On a red wall sat two dozen examples of abstract bosh priced from $75 to $400 each. A pair of hipsters manned the bar.
"A pot of Earl Grey and a spice scone, please," I asked.
A sign on the counter displayed the words "Authentic European Coffee Shop." I wondered if the proprietor had ever been to Angelina's of Paris or Florian's of Venice.
I found Mr. Grump seated outside off the patio and joined him.
"How was Tradistan today?" I queried.
"Quite a standard low Mass. The sermon raised the question as to whether or not one can become demonically possessed by listening to rock music. One fellow had to be exorcised after hearing the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album once through. Father did not wholly endorse the theory, but warned us that listening to rock was a risk we ought not take. Apparently a recent beata, Blessed Theodora Obscuria of the Hands of Joseph the Worker, had a vision of pagans dancing around a resounding noise kept in rhythm by percussive bangs while a woolly man sang mockingly of heaven. He insisted she had a premonition of a Led Zeppelin concert. "
"That last item makes the rest of it believable. Anything else?'
"There was also the weekly reminder that we aren't allowed to go sedevacantist or Greek Orthodox just because the pope is a bit loose. Other than that, nothing new. How was St. Saccharinios?"
I proceeded to discharge my memory of that horrific sermon and the unambiguous ambiguities contained therein. John barely sipped his cappuccino, listening with intent concern.
"How sad," he commented, finally taking a sip from his cup. "If he was willing to talk like this, he probably gave up inside a long time ago."
After breakfast I produced a Partagás from my jacket and peeled off the upper-most cap. "You know," I began, "I had a friend who went down this road in a rather dreary way. My best friend at university, you know." I struck a match and toasted the cigar. "I met a fellow during my first term at school after a gathering of the College Rabble Rousers. This man, name of Christopher—never Chris, noticed I was wearing a tee shirt advertising a defunct American car maker called Packard.
"'Does your family have one?'
"'No,' I replied. 'But my father had one forty odd years ago.'
"We grabbed dinner and became quite close thereafter. We were both Economics students. He told me his parents were from Armenia, but now lived in San Francisco, having escaped the Red Russians by the width of his father's ever vanishing hairs.
"Every free night I tore him away from those damn computer games he played so we could have dinner. We immersed ourselves in prolix discussions over matters of the day, but never personal matters, at least not for Christopher. He asked why I was a Catholic. I told him for the frightening reason that I really believed it all, which stupefied him."
I held up my burning cigar for John to see. "At some point during the second term Christopher bought a box of these things, imported from Cuba via some shady fellow in Canada we only knew as Matt. One night, after insulting a preacher's daughter at a university dinner, we lit our Habanos and strolled the Arts Quad, the lake, and the plaza.
"He asked me why God should matter in our lives. From a rational perspective, God must exist, but why care. 'Because,' I told him, 'because He cares about us. Whether or not we understand why God cares about us is quite unrelated to the fact He does. He intervenes in our lives personally and has since the time of Abraham. I remember once in high school having a breakdown over the troubles of a friend. No, I won't tell you how, not now, but God very literally intervened in my life. It was because I cared for this person. I learned that God's love isn't a nicety or a Santa Claus doting. It is the emptying of one's self for another entirely. It's what we Catholics believe Christ did for us and what people we called the Saints continued to do since.' His reply was 'I don't understand why people should matter. Their existence is somewhat annoying. Isn't the point just to reproduce and pass on wealth?'"
"Perhaps," John interjected, "you and your catechism could instruct these waiters on the finer points of fear of the Lord, or at least of a bad tip. I am sitting here surrounded by no coffee."
"Right! Well, I went off to study in England the next year and left him in the hands of a mutual friend of our's, Craig Lex. When I next heard from Christopher he told me he was tired of Craig ranting about some Frenchman named 'Lefeber' and the Pius X society, so he bought some cheap Porto and got the runt drunk out of his mind. It was Good Friday, too, he said. He accompanied Craig to the Novus Ordo Good Friday and was feeling better than other people for having gone to Church, so much better that he had no qualms about fibbing to the campus security concerning his under-aged possession of the Porto. Christopher was a good friend and an even better fibber.
"I suggested that the three of us meet in Rome for the break between Hilary and Trinity terms, which coincided with their vacations. Something was different in Christopher at that point. When we went into the Blessed Sacrament chapel in St. Peter's Basilica he asked us how to reverence the exposed Sacrament. I told him that he did not have to as a non-believer, but he insisted. He stared in amazement at the Latin Novus Ordo sung Mass at the throne that evening and gawked through the Lateran cathedral. At dinner he passingly mentioned that his father was out of America on holiday, visiting establishments where the women are 'cheap and clean.' I almost lost my Italian excuse for a steak.
"Later that evening we returned to the Vatican square and shared in some of Christopher's Cubanos. He kept staring at the full moon and repeating that God is good. A couple got engaged, which made him smile. Before boarding the plane back to JFK he hugged me and, perplexingly, thanked me for being a 'good influence'. I started to pray daily for his conversion.
"The next year he went to Oxford and I was back in America. He was received into the Church by a priest on St. Giles Street and soon thereafter adopted an not entirely healthy religious attitude. He could never take a joke at face value, always accosting any humor when the salvation of souls was at stake. At mere mention of the Mass, especially in Latin, his eyes faded into ecstasy. Immediately he wanted to become a monk!"
"I take it," groaned Mr. Grump, "that this story has a point, or, even better, an end?"
"Yes, yes, yes," I said. "We parted after graduation and spoke infrequently. In the Fall he had dropped the 'salvation of souls' angle and returned to the evolutionary produce-and-inherit line. By the Spring of the following year we had fallen out of contact. Then one afternoon, working from my home, he calls me at tells me, 'I've just been released from a hospital. I've gone cold on that whole God thing. You see, I'm a woman.'"
"Damn!" exclaimed John. "You've made me spill my remaining coffee."
"It's a favor, friend. Wool in the Texan summer? Really?
"Regardless, I asked if I had missed something like ambiguous genitalia, XX DNA, or something of the like. He said that I hadn't, that he was simply born with a female brain and that an operation to 'clean out of the basement' would make him a normal and accepted member of society, that 'I won't have to hate myself everyday now.'
"We talked and he confessed that his parents fell out shortly after coming here from Armenia. 'That whole God thing,' he commented, 'made me deal with them a little more, but I cannot go on with a lie. If I don't do this I'll kill myself. I've finally found who I am.'
"I tried talking some gentle sense into him a few days when he was still on an emotional from his great discovery. I pointed out some basic things, like that being a woman entails a physical experience related to brain chemistry, that he could have an incompletely male brain but not an actual female brain. I brought up his family situation, his history of embracing one new lifestyle after another. He didn't care. He asked me if I could 'accept this' and I asked him what that meant. He was a friend and I loved him as a friend, but he didn't care. He wanted affirmation and I wasn't going to give it to him. 'Bugger off,' he told me, 'until you get over your bigot bull$h!+.' That was some time ago and I have no anticipation of hearing from him again. Last I heard he had frozen some sperm with the hope of fabricating a child one day.
"The liberals have taught us the lesson of acceptance and they've taught it well. We don't question anything anymore. Anything different is now just an alternative expression of the same thing. Shacking up, divorce, single parent households, and now gay families are really just as good as straight families, if one ignores the impact on the kids. We can't ask why people are as they are. One theory behind homosexuality blames pre-natal secretions; another claims it's a recessive gene; and yet another, less accepted, says it's the result of nurturing. Even if it were a combination of the three, we still can't do anything about it. I knew a therapist who told me that in twenty years of practicing psychology he had never met a gay man who had a normal relationship with his father. It's only anecdotal, but still pretty significant. The people behind the gay rights movement are not looking for equal treatment. They're looking for personal affirmation that many of them don't get as individuals and they'll remake society to do it. It fools people. It destroys friendships. It destroys love. And it has destroyed a very good friend. Christopher, or 'Eleanor'—as he now likes to be called, was an extreme case. Still, how much of it is really normal?"
My cigar was down to the nub.
"Fr. Facile bought the movement hook, line, and sinker. No use crying about the decline of Western society. I could read Russell Kirk or John Senior for that. Both of them enjoyed anti-technocratic existences. I rather wish I could be a hermit. I wouldn't have to worry about anything other than prayers and maintaining a few books."
"Amazing," John said. "Amazing how indifferent people can be."
"Yes, and to patrons with empty cups. Next week we should meet somewhere else, like Grandoise Grounds. Sad about your friend. People are more and more indifferent to God, too. Trads need to stop talking about abstract ideas of 'truth' and first get people to understand that there is a necessary good in the world beyond their own immediate gratification. Friendships fail for the same reason nowadays. It's not even a conscious selfishness anymore. Broken families are replaced by shiny toys from Silicon Valley or, a baby from a test tube. Whatever fills my emotional vacuum now will do. Your friend's perspective is likely the only one he can imagine."
"But it wasn't always like that," I continued. "Or maybe it was always like that. Perhaps he was sincere once. He once conspired with my girlfriend to have a surprise party for me. He bought me walking stick for my birthday once and a box of cigars just because he thought I might enjoy them. There was goodness there. Now he claims he has never had a good memory of another person, not until he found his true self. Lex orandi lex credendi. How long will he have to behave in his new religion until he is convinced he believes it?"
"I think he'll cave before I get another cup. No coffee here, but plenty of Glenfiddich at my place," John suggested with wry enthusiasm.
"It's not even noon!"
"It will be by the time we pay up and get back to my place."
"Alright, alright. The point stands. The people going down that road are not generally well off. All talk of acceptance and mercy, no care for their actual welfare."
We settled our bills with some wrangling. We picked up our jackets as I snuffed my cigar.
"How many more people," I pondered, "must go up in smoke, either in this world or the one to come, before Churchmen learn their lesson?"
"Best drink it away," assured John. "Come to my place. We'll drink 'til we've had enough, and then just a touch more."
"Isn't that a sin?"
"No, that's being drunk. I'm talking about the Point of Hilarity."
"It's not yet sloshed and quite happy. It's a Chesterton idea. He might be a saint and he was lubricated all the time!"
"Let's get hilarious!"