Three Hail Marys
When the phone rings, try not to let it catch you empty handed. No one calls to say, “Father, things are going great. Just called to say hello.” No one calls to say, “How are you?” They call to say, “Father, I am at the end of my rope” or “Father, you have to help me” or “Father, the walk in front of the church really needs shoveling.” When they wake you at six AM, hissing, “there is no heat for choir practice!”, do not remind them that spirits warm as well as fire. Do not remind them that seminary did not include a course in furnace maintenance. Say three Hail Marys, flip the red switch, and hope the heat turns on. Remember that you are a symbol of sacrifice. Chastity, poverty, obedience. These are your three vows. Try not to wear them like badges. Occasionally, they will call to say, “Father, let me tell you what was wrong with your last sermon.” At these times, remember that this is His blood, poured out for the forgiveness of sins. Pour a glass of Him. Find it empty. Do this in memory of me.
It is Saturday morning. You have a wedding and two funerals; events that function as pivotal points in the average person’s life. For you, this will be just another Saturday. You will see more weddings than you will care to remember. If you find a way of forgetting the funerals, let me know.
Remember that the happiest and longest lived among us are monks and nuns. Remember that you are neither. You are on the front lines. Try not to think how perfect preaching would be, how peaceful the church, were it not for the parishioners. Let yourself long for just one moment alone with the Lord. If you find it, ask him all those questions you dare not voice. Learn the perfectly good reasons not to pray, “I was overwhelmed with church business” or “I was too busy tending to the flock.” Learn the not-so-good reasons, like “I am just too tired” or “I will do it tomorrow.” Try to avoid the ultimate reason, “why bother.” Pour a glass of Him. Find it empty. This was his blood, poured out for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.
When listening to confession, turn off all sense of morality. It is not the good they do that will get them in, nor the evil they do not that will keep them out. It is faith. Just faith. “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been two months; it has been three weeks; it has been ten years; it has been five minutes, since my last confession. I swore at my wife; I got angry at my boss; I lied to my husband; I stole from my mother; I started drinking again.” These are a sample of the sins you will hear. Tell them to say three Hail Marys, Two Our Fathers, and One Glory Be. If it’s “I did something really terrible, and I need to get this off my chest,” then you might hear “He’s going to propose soon. I will stop sleeping with him if she say’s ‘yes’” or “I tell my wife that I work nights, but really I’ve been dealing again” or “I was just trying to teach her, but it went too far.” Listen, but do not judge. Do not tell anyone what you have heard. Ignore the trembling in your limbs; the palpitations in your chest. Do not tell them to step off a bridge. Tell them to say three Hail Marys, Four Our Fathers, and one Glory Be. If you find a way to keep your lip from curling when next you meet outside the vestibule, let me know. Pour a glass of Him. Find it empty. Do this in memory of me.
Return to your chamber, worn out more from the pain people cause than the pain they suffer. Remember that this is not your flock. Not really. In six years, you will be moved again. And again. And again. You are not a shepherd. You are a nomad. You are temporary. They are temporary. Do not mistake the brambles clutching at your calves for roots; the fake smiles or real sneers for family.
Take heart in the fascination with which the community views you. You inspire them. You horrify them. You are a circus freak, surviving on bread and holy water, caged in oak and stained glass. Remember that the flock is first and foremost, concerned with sex. If you are handsome, they will think “what a waste.” If you are not, they will think “no wonder he became a priest.” Either way, they will wonder: “does he masturbate? Is he gay? Dear God, I hope he’s not a pedophile.” Pour a glass of Him. Find it empty. Do this in memory of me.
When a bereaved parishioner speaks of his beloved wife who is now an angel in heaven, do not correct him. Do not mention that the dead do not become angels. Do not mention that the book states that the dead become nothing, dust to dust, until the rapture. Do not mention that angels are a race of beings distinct from humans. Seraphim, Cherubim, Elerim, dominationes, virtues, potestates, principates, archangels. These are the eight classes of angels. They will not recognize these burning ones with cloven feet, covered in unblinking eyes. Best that they believe angels are loved ones with newly sprouted wings. This will help them sleep at night. If you find a way to sleep at night while thinking of flaming celestial beings with faces like oxen, lions, and vultures, please, let me know. Pour a glass of Him and find it empty.
Wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, gluttony. These are the seven deadly sins. I know you have learned these, but look at them again. Fifteen seconds. This is how long you can entertain an impure thought before it becomes sin. If you find a way to survive on a fantasy life lived in quarter minute increments, please, let me know. Avoid living vicariously through the sins of others. Avoid taking joy in misery. Avoid telling the young teen, bloated to bursting with child, that if she would only claim angelic visitation; Immaculate Conception; they might one day pray to her and her bastard child. Instead, tell her to say three Hail Marys, two Our Fathers, one Glory Be.
Remember that everyone suffers. Remember that your suffering is uniquely bound to the crucifixion. Remember that you deserve this. I won’t bother telling you the Ten Commandments. If you don’t know them by now, it is too late. Do not read the studies that show Christians are twice as likely to know the names of the four Beatles or the ingredients of a Big Mac as to succeed in naming seven of the ten. For the record, there are two distinct versions of the commandments in the book. Neither of them limited to ten. For the record, neither version takes a stance on rape or slavery. For the record, one of the lists includes “Thou shalt not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” But we don’t usually tell them that one. Direct. This is the relationship between knowledge of religion and atheism. Keep the flock ignorant. If you find a way to keep yourself so, congratulations. Please, let me know. Pour a glass of Him. Find it empty. Do this in memory of me.
Return to your chamber worn out more from impact than from exertion; what you desire to believe against what you believe. Pour a tall glass of yourself. If you are somehow able to find it anything other than empty, please…please, let me know. Pray for the guts to fill it with poison; for the strength to fill it with blood. Try not to grow tired of drinking only tears. Do this in memory of me.