“That does not keep me from having a terrible need of – shall I say the word – religion. Then, I go out at night to paint the stars”
-Vincent Van Gogh
For Signs, and For Seasons
Vermillion morning rays penetrated the palpable fog that enshrouded the island off the coast of California, as the dawn-stars began to glimmer farewell. A small, frail lad scurried between the carmine clouds of dispersing mist as the blood red sun, glorious Aurora, lifted her head in summer splendor. Like the milk of Paradise made vapor and distilled in blood, the scenery arose before him. He almost tasted cherries, or blood, in those cerise skies. He suckled sweet truth from Washington’s severed limb and inhaled fruitful scents emanating from Nature herself. He shared Haydn’s boyhood reward and adult vocation to serve God happily, not sourly.
Betwixt the verdant deciduous, the lush grasses, the effulgent flowers, the palm fronds, a meadow sprawled. A cottage nestled in the halcyon environs of the jungle-forest, at the collar of Poseidon’s emerging breast, this hillock. A vast but confined expanse, partitioned to the purpose, constituted the front yard for this modest domicile, but only shrubbery cushioned the house’s back. A stucco wall, fife feet high and netted with clambering ivy and climbing flower, embowered the periphery of the square, sloping clearing. A hedge thickly lined the interior of the walls, with ornamental trees and flowers sparsely spotting the site, otherwise quite capacious.
But the boy, though sprinting over mossy rock and root, still drifted in his wayward path to his home. You see, in his seven years of reasoned romping over the island, he and his siblings blazed many a trail, but the old adage about all roads leading to Rome also applied to his home.
He must needs hasten. He knew full well that each particle of the hourglass made his mother’s eyes sadden in vapid pavidity. His mother perpetually inculcated that he return before dawn on summer eves, for otherwise they might see him. Last night, he drifted to sleep on the shore. His father walked to their home before he awoke, so as not to disturb his nocturnal, seaside musings. Only the sun salvaged his senses.
“I am still too far.” He panted in consternation, hearing the roll of ocean waves rumble on the sand. He consoled himself with the thought that he listened to the ocean from his own bedroom every night, due to the smallness of the island. With this logic, he averted his ears to the chips of birds that reverberated through every valley, nook, and cove in the island. He reflected that when preoccupied, he shut out noise. This proved detrimental when his ears precluded pleasant sounds from seeping in but essential in moments of crisis.
Finally, he glanced up, squinting in the rising sun, at the lovely cottage. The muggy weather of the island always moistened the thatched roof, which his father had constructed in such a fashion so as to aerate it from any insurgent mold spores. It looked to the boy like the cereal his mother sometimes poured them, Frosted Mini-wheats, still a sweet breakfast of champions in a society that had eliminated distinctions between assiduity and sloth. They had built the home as a two-story, an Irish-styled hut on the first floor and more of a British-gentry second floor. On the left side, a stable penned a number of farm creatures: 10 pigs, 4 cows, 6 hens, and their progeny, all derived from the parent stock his parents had brought from the mainland a decade ago. The family’s farm constituted the quintessence of Jeffersonian, agrarian self-sufficience. On the rigtht side, a single-story abutment to the rest of the house sheltered an intimate chapel, guarded by a security code only the family and their priest knew.
But the boy, while grateful for such a glad abode, did not treasure it until many years after he saw it no more.
The kitchen simmered with groggy-eyed and empty-bellied bustle. His mother stirred a sizzling pot of gruel, drizzled liberally with brown sugar. She also scrambled a dozen eggs with the other hand.
“Where’ve you been, Bert?” she inquired in a gruff contentment.
“I fell asleep but the sun woke me up. I don’t think anyone saw me.” Bert was mildly irritated he even had to worry about being spotted.
“Don’t do it again,” she pronounced gravely as she poured yellow fluff and mud grey slime on his plate. When he looked at her though, he thought that she only tried to look so serious. Bert was obedient enough that her reprimands almost condoned his defiance.
Bert let the wooden door creak to its hinge behind him and squirmed into his heavy chair at the table. He scooped a voracious bite of egg into his small mouth. He closed his eyes in bliss, savoring the steaming softness cool on his tongue and slip down his throat in fulfillment. He dwelt in every succulent piece, detecting pleasurably the sour sea-salt and spicy pepper. He felt a guilty enjoyment of sucking the more undercooked portions of his eggs, though his father always reminded him that uncooked egg was unsafe to eat. Somehow, he still liked that creamy saffron gel, too.
His 5 brothers and sisters had awoken and bursted from all rooms of the house into the kitchen. They raucously filed to their seats with some jostling and petty disputes. The baby still slept upstairs. Bert prided himself in primogeniture.
Bert commenced with the still warm oatmeal. The gooey golden ambrosia cloaked his tongue. He drank it down, warming him inside. Every so often a piece of less cooked oat needed chewing, so he ruminated on it contemplatively like a calf at pasture or a farmhand chewing a wheat grain. He queried his father.
“Do you eat the eggs, then the oatmeal, or both at the same time?”
His father glanced up at the busy back of Bert’s mother and replied absentmindedly. “Oh, suppose I eat ‘em at the same time. Never thought about it. I read books that way, too.” He took a pensive sip of coffee and crinkled a classically morning-scented newspaper up to his face.
“How do you mean, ‘bout books?”
“I like to read two, three, several simultaneously. That way, if I get bored with one, I read the other, and vice versa. Besides, sometimes what they say overlaps and one puts the other in perspective. Soft egg, gritty meal. Some books are best read when another goes along with it, like the Bible and the Church Fathers, the Confessions and the Summa, or even Coleridge and Wordsworth.”
His mother talked to the stove as she put the two pans, now clean, in the cabinet. “You’ll read them at some point. The Church Fathers wrote soon after the Biblical authors. Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote the other two books and they are somewhat different philosophies. Wordsworth and Coleridge wrote poems together.” She sat at the other end of the table from his father and poured herself a glass of grapefruit juice form the pitcher on the table; then, she replenished everyone’s glasses from her seat.
“Oh.” He looked about the rosy kitchen in his satiety. The mahogany floors gleamed and the red walls brightened in the lambent shaft of light filtering through the cottage panes. A green door, exposed to the plein air on the top half, opened to the square, stuffed room. A black stove and white refrigerator visually mediated by oaken cabinetry, constituted the left wall. The table, clustered with many chairs, covered the other half of the room. Two apertures led to the other parts of the house, one near the refrigerator on the left-hand wall, the other in the wall opposite the façade, where the door stood. On either side of the door, a cross-hatched window unclosed its eyes on the pretty glade and surrounding forest.
“Ye done eating?” his father asked.
“Finished,” his mother corrected.
“Here, let me show you. It’s time your real studies get underway.”
They left the other children munching with their mother, happily oblivious to the joys and fears of deep learning. He leapt out of his chair and followed his lanky father through the left doorway. They passed a narrow hall with a mere bench near a window in the façade and the opposite wall with an icon. They went to the end of the hall, where two French doors made a display case of his father’s study. His father took a simple, old-fashioned key and undid the latch with a clank. He squeaked the doors outward, embracing them both. The bygone aroma of lingering smoke and ash, from pipe and fireplace alike, enveloped young Bert, as did the odor of the printed page. This room was painted green with florid molding on the ceiling. Mahogany floors and shelves dominated. The bookcases, some encased with glass and lock, encompassed each wall, with one big window in the front wall of the house and a desk at the opposite wall. Years of study accrued heaps of aborted codices, scattered pens that had died of thirst, depleted ink cartridges a couple reference books and, most conspicuous, a laptop computer Hermes might have wrought. Next to this, a minute personage stood: a statuette of Saint Thomas Aquinas. His father leaned on the desk and moved the sliding ladder from the nearest bookshelf. His eyes scanned. He snapped his fingers on the title of choice.
“Here it is – Lyrical Ballads,” he said triumphantly. “You probably would be bored by it but it’s still more accessible than the Summa right now.” He handed it to Bert with a flourish.
Bert grabbed it gingerly and cracked the leather cover open, flipping through the yellowed pages with his thumb.
“No pictures.” He stated this more with awe than dismay. His father took it gently from him and returned the volume to its hallowed niche.
“Never mind about that. I might read you some later.”
“For now, why don’t you run outside and play awhile. Mum’ll call you in to study, later, alright?”
“Yep.” He sprinted resoundingly down the hall and through the kitchen to the soft earth outside. His mother’s mild reproof at his undue tromping drowned with the drenching sound of birds and leaves and waves.
The boy traipsed with the trees, skipping amongst the frolicsome boughs whose leaves tickled his cheek as he turned from the meadow and into the forest. His body at play could not hold his mind at bay. He pondered what he had learned in his short life as he pranced. He told his beads and heard Mass solemnly. He also knew how to read and how to write in cursive. His parents’ pedagogy had consisted thus far in the rudiments of reading, writing, ‘rithmetic, and religion, the last the reason for all the rest.
He felt a tincture of remorse at his recalcitrance under his mother’s tutelage. She often had to cajole him into applying himself in Hooked on Phonics, Kumon, and the homeschooling packets she diurnally dealt him. He would not comprehend the merit of these studious endeavors until the world contrived to deprive him of them.
As this peripatetic penitence beleaguered his youthful heart, his feet had kept apace. Now, he had entered the thick of the merry wood. As children are wont to do, his mind lifted at the sight of his hiding place. Long ago (for him) he had dug a small pit in the soggy earth. Its texture gave one the impression of coffee beans ground in water. He had cached a sizable treasure chest, of wood and rust, in this indentation of island and concealed it with the dirt he had extracted. Now, he was brushing away this top layer of sediment to disclose his prize. He flicked the hinge and snapped the chest with a bit of a bang. Inside, his eyes alighted at the sight of his favorite playthings. A handmade bow-and-arrow, a rubber dagger with rawhide sheath, a cap gun, a wooden sword and shield, a relatively high-power telescope and a 400X microscope, a couple of action figurines, a child’s rosary, and a minor anthology of children’s devotionals comprised his collection. He guarded them meticulously, examining them every morning for proper alignment and quality. He coveted these things deeply and protected them from his brothers and sisters.
He stuffed the dagger in his left pocket, his cap gun in the right, his bow-and-arrow on his back, his sword and shield in hand, and left his more delicate accoutrement in the receptacle out of expedience and caution. He was ready.
For the prescribed hour, he explored his jungle, imagining himself to be a hero of the fantasy stories his father read him. He collected scarabs and worms and tripped after butterflies. He swung and fired and lunged and hid in his childhood paradise.
Either the sundial of nature or his mind, or both, reminded him of his father’s injunction. He slowly meandered back to his roost. As he approached, he heard a rustle. A boyish head peeped at him and scuttled off with a squeak.
Oh, the horror! The agony of the groping arms at the withdrawal of the desired! His telescope lay shattered on a small outcropping of rock near his chest. He screamed in fury at the head he saw bobbing in the meadow. His brother, Jude, did it. A year his junior, Jude already claimed a couple inches over Bert. But Bert sprinted after him, undeterred. The legs of the leopard suffice the heart of the vengeful and the craven alike. He whipped out his bow and slid the arrow in. He espied his brother standing on the rim of the clearing, 100 yards off. Bert pulled back the taut wire, aimed, and released. The arrow whizzed in the morning sunlight until he could no longer hear but could still see its marvelous flight. The rubber suction cup met its mark, splintering with a harsh thump upon Jude’s narrow breastbone. The stricken fool clutched impulsively at his heart and slumped to the grass, the wind utterly pumped out of his chest. He could not breathe. Warm air swarmed around his mouth but he simply could not suck it in. The tears came but choked him all the more. He feared for his life. Poor Jude heard the heavy crunch of his brother’s fractricidal feet.
Jude scrambled on his fours with a whimper and leapt into the forest as in to a pool. Bert followed stealthily. Every murmur of the forest was a fewmet of his prey. His hand grew sweaty on the hilt of his sword. He admired it passively, its length commensurate to his own. His arms cramped lumpily, throbbingly, as he had been clutching his blade for over an hour now. Just when he turned it inot a walking stick, propping him up for a respite, his brother dashed madly again for the clearing. He could barely distinguish Jude’s tawny scalp in the dense growth. He ran, every step cursed with twisted root and piercing nettle.
But Jude cleverly opted for the scenic route. He tromped the trail that flirted with seacliffs on the east side of the island. And he reached this destination by scuttering across the scrubby scree.
They were in broad sunlight now, on the sloping pinnacle of a calcium carbonate precipice. Yet again, Bert found himself digging into the ground with his sword-turned-crampon. They shuffled in a circle a bit, kicking up nebulas of white dust in the puissant sea breeze.
“I’m sorry, Bert. I won’t do it again,” he importuned in youthful lisp. As Bert swung once, he ducked, squealing, “Daddy’ll fix it!”
Bert’s eyes iced over. He raised his sword above his head. He swiped it down upon Jude’s crown. The sword cracked apart near the handguard. Seeing another of his toys asunder, he renewed his violence, unsheathing his dagger and proceeding to plunge it into the prostrate body at his toes. He cast it to the side after bending its point out of commission on his brother’s back. He ripped his most modern arsenal from his other pocket. With a bang that resounded over the entire island and forced the peregrination of not a few sea flocks, discharged and not willing to soil his knuckles in brute fisticuffs, Bert retired from the vile sport and wheeled away from his sore sibling.
Just as he pivoted, his next youngest kin, Mary, materialized from the wood at the fringe of the rocky outcrop.
She gasped with compassion, marred by tattling, at the sight of her unhorsed fellow and his ruthless master.
She crunched back into the jungle, already calling for her mother.
Much gnashing of teeth on the part of his mother had muted his yearning for revenge. Every possession would be recompense for Bert’s Cainian abuse. Not only did he lose hope of the repair of his beloved telescope, but his father bequeathed all the remnant of his estate to his younger counterparts. He left Bert only with his religious books and rosary, of which his parents declared, “You certainly need to use them more often anyway if you have the gall to attack your own flesh and blood like today’s little display. Go to your room.”
He ran upstairs to his modest quarters. He flung himself in limp abandon upon the quilt of guilt over his plush bed. He sunk his face into the pillow and sobbed silently. His eyes gushed like a reamer until his breaths spasmed. Finally, his eyes ceased their flow with a dry stinging. He rolled over, his eyes blurred and nose running. His mother came in. He always loved her visits, how she put everything to rights. With a swift embrace about his shoulders, his mother inspired the most genuine repentance while redressing his harsh penance.
She hugged him. She whispered in his ear. “Why did you do that today?”
He broke down. “Because,…I,I,I…was mmad he bbroke my telescope…It’s my…favorite.”
Her lips uttered a bubbling brook, “Shh,shh, you can calm down now. I know, it’s your favorite. But did you need to beat on your brother?”
“Y-yeah, you and da always want…me to learn. I use the telescope for that, and he broke it. He’s such a jerk sometimes.” He sniffled, swallowing salty snot.
His mother was perceptive to his recidivism to rage. “Hush, okay. But you have to understand, Jude is younger than you, and he wasn’t trying to be mean. And even if he was, I am not going to raise a boy that cares more about a stupid telescope than his own family.”
“Now, listen. I know you were angry, but that’s no excuse. I don’t care how much you learn if you’re not a nice kid. You may know everything there is to know about the matter, but if you don’t have enough common sense to be nice to your own brother, or anyone for that matter, what does it matter?” Her emotion expressed itself in pleonasm. “You won’t be able to function in society, let alone become holy that way. Besides, the Benedictines, I told you about? They arent’ allowed to say ‘my.’ Get it out of your vocabulary. You need to share.”
She gazed at the ship over his bed, then continued, more reminiscently. “A long time ago, I read this philosopher. He said, ‘Knowledge, without wisdom, is not only useless but dangerous.’ When I see that you put the wisdom first, when you know right from wrong and do the right thing, we’ll buy you a new telescope, okay? But until that day, you are to be reading those books and trying to be good. Does that sound fair?”
He nodded sullenly but with interior bliss. He sipped the consolation of conversion, the eucatastrophe that simulated the citrus-scented tears of Hesperides.
She put his face to her bosom and said, “I love you. You’re a good boy. Have a good night’s sleep.”
She creaked up from the mattress and shut off the light.
“Good night,” he murmured. He saw her fleeting frame in the open doorway, silhouetted by the light issuing from the hall. He looked around his room, scrutinizing everything. He tried to escape into the world of the painted vessel over his head, the other side of the globe on his desk, the intricate streets of San Francisco in the map on the desk, his half-open closet and the monsters who dwelt there, the green fluorescent stars glued to the ceiling, and the crucifix hanging near the door.
He curled his chest inward to his elbows. His chins clutched his quilt up to his face. He reveled in that the wind outside his window could not chill his blanketed personage. From his pillow, flattened by many moons, he craned his neck to see the panorama of stars outside his window. He thought that the night sky seemed much more splendid than the stars on his ceiling.
The matters of the tumultuous day settled, he contented himself in the Land of Nod.
The children slept soundly upstairs. His wife was retiring presently. He slouched philosophically in his wing-back leather chair, its fluff bursting the cherry leather at the seams. He puffed with grim purpose on his pipe. How many great minds nourished their creativity with the ancient fumes of nicotine in rich tobacco? He almost crossed his eyes looking down at his meerschaum, the smoking bowl of which emanated the universal weltanschauung of humanity. It smelled like licorice heated on wetted wood.
His thoughts transformed every mundane detail into a profound theory. As his bespectacled blue eyes traced he wispy contortions of grey breath, he wondered about the application of chaos theory to the z-coordinate, the third dimension. He sighed with a brilliance that he refused to acknowledge.
He distracted his concealed conceit which he knew to be unjustified, by moving his slippered toes nearer to the crackling tongues of fire in the hearth at his feet. The orange light proffered enough brightness for his late speculations.
He closed his eyes tightly. He looked at the marmalade eyelids. He forced himself to recall his nonage. This was difficult for a man not inclined to melodramatic reminiscence, but he felt like it after his behavior with Bert. Something cathartic, he guessed. He thought deeply, gradually submerging himself in his unconscious like a timorous boy incrementally steeps himself in a cool pool of water. Then, the hatred and the ecstasy of his boyhood flooded over him, literally prickling the hairs of his neck and metaphorically threatening to drown him in melancholia. He dozed uneasily and unawares.
“Gerard Bellarmine.” The teacher spoke with an Irish brogue.
“Here is your paper.” He grinned grimly.
Gerard waited to examine the red slashes on his masterwork until he had returned to the privacy of his desk. When he had sat, he looked at the mark. D+. D for damn, he thought. Fury ebbed and flowed deliriously in his turgid mind. His eyes were welling up with tears so he shut them. He failed in his vigorous attempt at composure. His pursed lips, jutting jaw, squinting eyes, and furled brow drew in his customary antagonists.
“What’s the matter, Jerry? Grade didn’t go as planned?” The big brute next to him goaded him with his elbow. His youthful shoulders were too broad for the scholar yet to narrow for the soccer thug.
After restraining his emotions as best he could all day, listening to the drone of his tormenter at the smartboard, the bell clanged electronically. He bumped into the other children with unusual rudeness in his feverish haste to avoid the censure of his peers or pedagogues.
He burst out the door and into the jostled hall, his e-book tucked casually under his arm. As he walked outside into the pipe-smoke grey afternoon, it began to mizzle again. He just reached the stop sign at the corner when his assailant lurked behind him.
“So, watcha get?”
Gerard surpassed every immaturity with impeccable composure.
“I got a D…+. Not up to my usual standards, eh?” He guised his lachrymose mien with gaiety. The bullies looked even less pleased than him.
“Your usual standards are gobshite. Now, the teacher is just getting a whif of it.”
“That may be,” Gerard conceded with a chuckle. He turned away to cross the street as traffic dispersed. The bully wrenched his shoulder.
“I don’t think you properly know what’s up.” He snatched the paper violently from Gerard’s pocket. He stuffed it in his face.
“You suck. You’re retarded, that’s what this means.”
Bullies indeed master psychological manipulation, as only a future psychopath can. Alas, Gerard’s cordiality waned, but he managed to mask his growing vehemence for his prime persecutor. “Well, if I’m slow in the head, I am. Howe’er, God made me, so I’m happy.” This last sentence constituted a grave impropriety in the new Ireland, and Gerard knew it.
“Oh, forget God! That’s why I’m so happy our nation has forgot him. So jerks like you are filtered out through the abortion mills and society’s better off. You, and your siblings, should have been killed before you were born, so I’m afraid I’ll have to do it myself.”
The bully had angered Gerard enough. But contrary to the usual repartee of a well-deserved blow to the face, he bolted, not out of fear but honor. He would not stoop. He would glide away before the bully could set a finger on him. Just as he torqued for a speedy departure, the opponent’s arm thrashed out and stole his laptop from under his arm.
“Retards don’t need such equipment.” He made off as t dash it on the cement.
“No, please. I can’t afford another.”
The bully dropped it daintily with a clatter. Gerard stooped to pick the scarred instrument, the receptacle of all his learning, when he received a swift kick to the side, flooring him groaning.
“They would be able to afford it if they hadn’t had so many children.”
He jumped up and raw, seeking succor from he who had gave the bully pretence for these atrocities, he who had gave the bully a reason to impugn his intelligence. His face soured with a pursed scowl and peaked brows, in careful fury.
The bully pursued with threats veiled to passerby but betrayed by his knee-compressing strides on the tremulous pavement.
At the stair to the school, the bully impeded his flight with a jarring choke of the throat. He squaked. The bully dragged him through a cavernous alley behind the school taking a right to a vacant lot. There he threw him over a small fence and hassled him towards the bank of an electric railroad track.
“You always talk in class, but can’t talk now, can you.” He threw him into the brick wall, his grip still tight.
“Know what I’ll do, you bloody curr, you cretin? See the train passing behind us?” Gerard stammered with stifled breath, not cowardice. “I’m going to throw you in front of it. No one will believe I killed you. Me, the mayor’s son? No, no, no. Of course, we were playing a polite game, and you tripped like the dumbass oaf you are.” The bully clutched each of Gerard’s shoulders and dragged him along. Gerard’s last thought was that he wouldn’t be able to confession. He had been so proud, mean to his siblings, bad in many ways. I’m sorry, God, forgive me, I…
He heard the eerie horn floating towards them. It became more and more shrill as it approached. Then, the idea came to him. They were at the edge of the tracks.
“Hey, if I’m so much dumber than you, why is the sound growing higher as the train comes to send me to my God?” He spoke fluidly. The words gasped in quick succession as the whistle blew again.
“Shut up, you criminal.”
“No, come on. You’re smart. You’re real smart. You’re so smart that you’d kill me in front of the whole faculty!” The provocateur reared, but saw no one but oblivious children.
“Who the hell are you talking about, curr?”
The horn kept ascending its tonal apex.
Gerard evaded again. “No, answer me, you churl!”
The bully proceeded to lash into Gerard with a series of vulgar epithets ubiquitous in modern Dublin, whereupon Gerard responded, “Ay, but you wouldn’t have the decency to call me Oedipus!” The disembodied sprit sailed higher and higher. Gerard slurred through a broken jaw, “It’s the Doppler effect. And we talked about it today in class. You care so much about how I’m doing in school that you don’t realize how –“ Another punch silenced him.
“Shut up, shut up, you fool!”
The horn deafened them.
Gerard screamed madly in the bloated face attempting to restrain him. “The problem with you is sloth! That’s worse than any lack of intellect.”
The train sang in a pitch to shatter glasses, freeing Gerard from the bully’s verbal flagellation, unutterable words made unhearable by the implement of death racing toward them both.
The steely chariot had been prophesied by her sirenic blast and beaming lime fluorescent headlight in the growing Irish fog. No witnesses were present for the execution. Gerard had struggled against his oppressor the whole time, but every slight against the bully’s mastery earned him another welt. However, now the moment came. They felt the wind, the modern afflatus that hails the greeters and kisses the mourners alike, stroke their ruddy cheeks and ripple their corduroy leggings. Death might suck them in. The train became the banshee’s carriage.
Gerard struck against his jailor, summoning all power. The blows merely glanced from his bulk. Finally, Gerard kneed him in his ribs savagely. Immediately the bully relapsed his constraint and crumpled with a pitiful murmur. Gerard whispered sorry in his ear and dashed for dinner, the train panting in his wake with a metallic gallop. He was ten, then.
Recounting these events eidetically, the now elder Gerard, Bert’s father, sought to explicate his treatment of his son.
Memories like that repulsed Gerard from putting his children in his old milieu. He sighed and looked in the mirror of the brightened windows.
He was a tall man, even when sitting he formed an imposing stature. He had chestnut hair combed neatly, with only a slight hint of age in his sharp features: a straight nose, prominent cheekbones, protruding blue eye and marble forehead, and jutting jaw. His limbs were thin; he did not neglect the body but only preferred the strength of the mind.
The vague impression of the darkened windows opposite his desk and to his right made him look more stately than in reality. Seeing his own doppelganger peering back at his nodding glances and confirming him for his own capacity for firmness, in past and present life, disheartened his typically sanguine demeanor and urged him to bed.
Every afternoon, in the parlor, Bert’s mother tutored him. She deciphered the cryptic figures on yellowed pages. She taught him how to pronounce each letter of the alphabet and how to rearrange these symbols to make words. Words that ignited in his mind the image of what they conveyed, not through the conveyance itself. The word and its import both enlivened his heart’ pursuit of pulchritude.
Though these lessons began with much travail, his mother eventually triumphed. What once he loathed, he now loved. She made him read the series of C.S. Lewis, which he waded through groggily at first. Many years hence Bert recalled sunny hours pass nauseatingly, as he sat on the bench watching the ray track across the floorboards and make the black lettering of the books turn green after a while in the obscene brightness.
Gradually, his distaste melted before his tongue could utter it and the ecstatic loveliness of what he read melted in his mind and heartened his heart. He looked about himself, he smiled at his family, he played and studied, and he transformed every mediocrity into alacrity. Words did that for him. By looking at his world through the words of books, he translated fantasy into reality. Every day became an epic adventure; the familial skirmishes an international crisis; a compliment, a treaty; a meal, a feast; an expository paragraph for school, a manifesto; everything he did based on everything he read.
This passion, this zeal – the act derived from the thought and the integration of imagination – both encouraged and frightened his parents. They nourished his book-lust abundantly, but not with the poison of nihilism that would abbreviate his literary existence. They gave him books that swell the life of the living, revive the life of the dead, mourn the lives of those who never got to live them. Art made sacrament, indeed. The arts – plays, music, visuals – invigorated his spirit, blurring the line between the mind and the soul, the autonomic need and the plastic want. His parents acted Oscar Wilde, church pageants, passion plays, T.S. Eliot, Shakespeare, and everything of dramatic worth. They played and sang songs – Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Pachelbel. They showed the children art texts: Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Fra Angelico, Giotto, Rubens, Tissot, even Dali, for instance. Sometimes, they would paint together in the meadow. Just nothing profane or traumatic. No portraits of cloven feet or hirsute pelvises tormented their dreams.
But they ingrained not only English. He learned Latin and Spanish, quite facilely one might add. His malleable mind absorbed the subtleties that oversoaked intellects cannot manage. This constituted Bert’s exposure to the language arts, his first paramour.
As to the sciences, Bert memorized all the constellations and identified them gleefully with his father nightly. He also learned meteorology shallowly procuring clouds in a cup. They also grew flowers in the garden and inspected the flora and fauna of their marvelous locale, for biology. Bert examined the inorganic, too, finding fossils and shells and striated rocks. Geology, biology, meteorology, astronomy comprised his scientific studies.
But necessary for all these was math. He learned multiplication, division, addition, subtraction, using the most effective techniques, so as to divide 245900 by 16978 in his head easily. Sometimes the reverse is most straightforward. Most unusually, his parents told him about Fibonacci numbers, e, pi, the Golden Ration, and other wonders of more aesthetic use. Needless to say, he became fascinated with numerals.
The Queen of Sciences, Theology and its humble spouse, Philosophy, constituted the pinnacle of the curriculum. Philosophy permeated everything the family did. No action or word lacked a purpose. Everything made sense, even to the seven children. Everything progressed harmoniously and in constancy. In this home, reason married faith, and fathered docile minds.
As to theology, after learning to read, he started with color books of religion. By the age of seven, he focused on Baltimore Catechism, finding a bizarre comfort in its stringency. The world of color, of red and blue, white and black, green and yellow, is more pleasing to the eye than gray surroundings. The most distinct is also the most elegant, the most concise is also the fullest in expression.
On Bert’s mental palette, his parents grasped the brush of God and rendered His own image.
In short, the seven liberal arts led to the seven sacraments, seven days of the week. And shortly, Bert’s youthful soul would conceive his intellectual conception. He was seven years old. Sins forgiven, graces would befall him. The grate and rail were to be his eternal kneeling place.
Accidents and substances badgered his brain. Bert contemplated how there were many things in the universe that changed appearance but not reality as a cocoon yields a butterfly. But was there even an example in the real world of something with the same appearance but a transfigured reality? Though he did not yet realize it, people could act that way. Even butterflies gamboled likewise. For instance, certain butterflies appeared the same while only one poisoned its persecutors. Mullerian mimicry, his father told him. And what about heavy water – it looked like regular water, except the Nazis utilized it for radioactive experimentation.
The sky morphed from night to day, from compline to lauds with ethereal celerity, like a calgarisme fastforward film in his imagination. He realized that the appearances of the sky change while their existence remains perpetual. Just because he could not see the stars at dawn did not entail that they had vanished.
He had not read of this phenomena yet, but he would. Satellites sometimes seem to flicker, in liberation, as they revolve about their celestial bodies, even if this is not really occurring. Accidents are distinct from substances; appearances are not always of consequence.
The bells meekly tolled seven o’clock. His mother and father and six siblings filed martially into their private chapel. Their countenances reflected the gravity and lenity of God coevally, like hearing a Te Deum and a dirge simultaneously. Thus was the nature of the moment. All were present but young Bert.
In the rear of the chapel on the left corner opposite the two doors (one from without, the other from within the house) at the right-hand back corner, an oaken enclosure gathered dust and gilded splendor. Inside, Bert made his first confession. For months, his mother had lounged on the couch with him, reading from a book with pictures of lambs in oil pastel. He was yet a lamb, and the sacrament the book detailed sought to keep him as such. Certainly, minor transgressions had been his lot unto this blessed hour, as he reader well comprehends of the uncanny fiasco with his brother Jude heretofore described. But he was a good boy. He rehearsed in his quaintly furnished intellect the act of contrition and introduction. Gazing at the distant crucifix on the far wall of the chapel, he tickled his boyish heart with grief for his imperfections. Meanness, disobedience, sloth, gluttony, ran for a hundredth time across his simple conscience. Sins of another, more worldly sort, had yet to plague him. He had knelt, excited contrition, then walked with resolute humility into the secret chamber.
“Bless me father, for I have sinned. This is my first confession.”
“And God bless you, my son, and your parents, for your delicate observance of church mandate. Now, where has your young life gone awry, my boy?”
He uttered his sins.
The priest audibly nodded in the shadow of the latticed screen, affirming the boy’s true sorrow and relative innocence.
“I would like you to say 3 Hail Mary’s. God became Man to be Our Brother, therefore His Mother is Our Mother after all. Mary loves you very much, and she just wants to hear you say it as penance. Do you remember the act of contrition?”
“Yes, father.” He pronounced it with solemn joy.
The priest enunciated the rite of absolution with his sweet Irish brogue. “Peace be to you.”
The voice of the confessor be the voice of God, so God must have a pretty voice like that, Bert reflected happily. “Thank you, father.”
He prayed his penance. Father McMurtry, that was his name, strode from the unsullied wooden hut to the sacristy at the opposite wall, a mild smile on his somewhat amorphous, cherubic visage.
Bert stood up and sat with his parents. He felt like one who rises from a steamed shower with scented soap in a grand inn of a lonely city. It took humility. The knowledge that he just spoke with God, the priest in persona Christi, tempered any fear to shed the clothing swathed about his soul to molt the putrid flesh of iniquity and to don white linen. Confession refreshed him. God had bathed him as a mother bathes a babe, and the Mother who suckled God held hands with his and kissed his penitential face. Courage ameliorated, humility stultified, he had died and revived in the space of moments. He wanted to be the best he could be, “For he who has forgiven me,” he thought so joyfully.
Many visit psychiatrists, few visit confessors. Psychiatrists redress insanity, priests redress iniquity. Sin is irrational behavior in the sane, a deliberate aberration from the ways of goodness, truth, perfection. His soul sparkled in the brilliance of a gem restored, new hewn. He yearned to rescue the world and to start that struggle with his beloved family. As Father McMurtry continued to prepare for Mass in the hidden sacristy, the glory of an amended existence and blissful eternity hovered in vague bewonderment over all Bert’s thoughts, as breath’s mist enshrouds the living being who expels it on a wintry day. One cannot see this warm cloud without the frigidity. One cannot see the cloud of heaven on the horizon without enduring the bleak coldness of hell.
The chapel resounded silence. Yellow brilliance glinted in the orbs of each person’s eyes, their faces made rufescent by the light in the stained glass windows. The sun bathed the rich, brown pews in heavenly color, tempering the rays so that azure, carmine, indigo, emerald, and rufous spots dappled the entire chapel like God’s kaleidoscope. The shafts of light magnified every mote and perfected every imperfection that floated in the warm air. Dust is the incense of nature, its source is the censer, the man who unsettles the sacrosanct stillness is the thurifer. The light of the morning lantern invaded the chapel with the luminosity of Lucifer before the Fall.
But this luminescence purely illuminated the tabernacle, which housed He who had forgiven Bert and He who Bert was soon to receive. Years ago, some skilled craftsman had fashioned this gold intricately carved with the relief of angels. Seraphim and cherubim sheltered their Lord with golden wings. It was about two feet across and in stature. A fitting throne for a nonexistent king, the thief and the skeptic would scoff logically. Not so, with this family. For them, they looked at God and God at them through the gilt veil, like the peasant of old.
The altar bordered this dramatic resting-place of the Divine Savior, facing ad orens and opposite from the wall whose corners housed the confessional and the two doors. To the left of the altar, the sacristy gaped its mouth a little, as the door slanted in an angle that could only accommodate a slim priest, as Father McMurtry proved to be. A life-size crucifix towered in symbolism over the tabernacle. Unreal perception and unperceived reality faced each other tete-bleche in this chapel. To the left, a more diminished statue of Saint Joseph stood serious sentinel. To the right, a figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary stood, smiling in graceful benevolence.
Each stained-glass window portrayed, with the depth of a painting, certain saints, six on either side wall. The saints were quite modern: Saint Joseph Moscati, Saint Gianna Molla, Saint Gemma Galgani, Saint Maria Goretti, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, Saint Therese de Lisieux, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, Saint John Bosco. Others were more ancient, Saint Jude, Saint Tarcissius, Saint Robert Bellarmine, and Saint Albertus Magnus.
These noble visages of the Church Triumphant gazed sweetly on the resigned, anticipatory faces of the 8 members of the ChurchMilitant in the pews. The pictures served as a model for old and young alike to join their dazzling glory. Bert sought to join their victorious ranks; he sought the food for the battle. Yet his soul was still unquiet. His immaturity endangered his best disposition for reception of the sacrament at hand. He understood it only in a vague way, due more to his weak powers than to his parents’ instruction. He still knew, however, the grandeur God was drawing him towards. He felt intensely happy and excited.
The sacristy disgorged Father McMurtry. His feet tapped the veined marble of the tile floor. He bustled about his sacred space. He set all instruments aright – paten, chalice, sacrementary, lexionary – his cope and surplice flowering in his floridly golden wake.
His hair receded, like an ebbing tide of youth. It had a mousy tone, furry and fuzzy and brown. His nose plodded on his face, bulbous in texture. He had a pleasant line of lip. He was short in stature, slightly embonpoint. He emanated the sanctified alacrity of the missionary to deleterious terra incognita. His eyes looked younger than the rest of his amorphous face. He looked meekly at the congregation and commenced.
Bert knelt, beat his breast, supplicated for the intentions of the white-capped Vicar of Rome, and whispered reverently, “Behold, O good and sweetest Jesus,” as he looked humbly up at the benevolent eyes of the Crucifix. In an instant, the pangs of Purgatory, the sense of separation borne of many millennia and ages ago ceased. If his heart were to stop in his bosom, little Bert’s soul would be carried to heaven in a flaming ball, a chariot of fire, and melt into the bosom of the light-absorbing and light-emitting Savior. He almost laughed at the brink of ecstatic, ageless tears.
So that was it. Nausea to bliss through an oaken portal. Through the latticed doors under blinking bulbs, Jesus rent Bert’s wrathful raiment and uncuffed him from humanity’s coffle. The blood of Christ washed him, the tears of Christ bathed him, the sweat of Christ perfumed. He was clean and pure like a baptized babe. He loved the feeling and committed himself to maintain his holy orientation and sublime understanding. He autochthonously expressed these vaulting speculations and undertakings as infused, not originating from the depths of his spirit. Binding loosing with Peter’s key, knowing when to forgive or retain by muffled contrition in his ear, this was the priest’s lot. The waters of grace rinsed soiled fingers and fell upon his white cope, staining his memory but invisible to his black cassock incapable of being besmirched. By allowing others to humble themselves before him, he became humble in that the grace of God prevented his own lips from having to utter such sins.
Bert looked at the face of Jesus and looked at Father McMurtry and saw a resemblance. Not a physical semblance, of course, just a spiritual affinity, an arcane similitude, a common kinship. They were brothers, as children of God – one adopted and ordained, the other the Alpha, the Omega, and the Divine Redeemer.
The face aptly represented the physical and spiritual beauty of the Man who had converted Bert. A chiseled nose and carved cheeks, a lip that almost quivered with unfathomable duress, a high and bleeding brow, a prominent and bruised chin, bedraggled brown locks resplendent with blood and sweat under a thorny crown. The act of Calvary marred his face, but prophesied the glory of the third day. He seemed to smile at his persecutors. His thin but taut arms were dislocated at the shoulders. His ribs concaved with asphyxiation, Bert could almost discern the panting throes of exhaustion. Jesus’ loin cloth draped his scraped and dusty thighs and hips up to the navel. His bulging knees and splintered shins sloped to feet mangled in blood and iron. INRI branded this monarch. Bert lamented and rejoiced in this portrait of scourged flesh. Jesus bore the brunt of his sins and constituted the instrument of salvation. As he examined meticulously the five wounds, Bert gasped with shock and sorrow when he realized that his own hands had whipped the lamb’s back, pierced the softly crackling wrists and ankles, and impaled the spasmed side. He was Saint Longinus. He wielded the deft spear and had his eyes healed with the water and blood of He whom he poked.
His heart screamed within. Eternal peace of the Trinity absolved the three aspects of his person: mind, body, and soul. He settled for Mass, saying an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and a Glory Be.
The priest, Christ alive, stood before the altar and tabernacle, with Christ ever-present. His hand rested mercifully on the red cherry wood of the Communion rail, like the hoof of a lamb on the fence of its modest enclosure. He spoke, reading demonstratively, with his marvelous elocution, the opening prayers. The pews creaked with the family’s standing. They stood up sporadically, like a “wave” in a sports arena, not a marine drill. Bert saw his confessor’s face bathed in light with smoke of the censer rising into his nostrils. Father McMurtry sniffed and guffawed slightly before progressing.
They sat courteously and listened to the two readings from Sacred Scripture. Whenever eyes roamed, souls soared, for every article in the chapel only redirected their attentions to the words their ears heard but minds were too slow to comprehend.
They stood solemnly at the Gospel, chanting an Alleluia. They listened attentively, feeling it more innately germane to their present existence, what with the Messiah’s potent preaching over the prophet’s prophecy of it. The Old and New Testaments illustrated the dichotomy between the artist and the subject he depicts, the historian and the event, the writer and the character, the created and the creator, the vision and the reality, the perception and the thought, the augury and the occurrence, the prophecy and the prophesied. They complemented each other magnificently. The relations between them make the one indispensable without the other. Lacking one canon or the other is like a cannon without a ball or a ball without a cannon. With the Gospel concluded, Bert felt as one might after a hearty collation – full and complete and ready to labor all the live long day, maybe after a nap.
Now the more principle elements of the Mass were underway, with the bringing forth of the gifts, the profession of faith, the communal Our Father, and, finally, the culmination. The priest in elated solemnity pronounced the words of Consecration. Bert rang the bells thrice and lipped, “My Lord and my God,” imagining seven years of scars from just retribution fading from the withers of his back.
“This is My Body.” The Savior draws His last breath again. “This is My Blood.” The river eeks over the new Jerusalem, through the sallow fingers of the Mediatrix of all graces, Jesus’ Co-Redemptrix, Jesus’ mother in body but spouse in soul.
Bert contemplated how it could be metaphorical. His father had taught him about a certain Bishop Fulton Sheen who explained that even when people started to reject Jesus as a cannibal for His bizarre pronouncement, He did not rephrase Himself to draw their dubious hearts back in. He said what He meant. He didn’t say, “this is like My Body.” And when He commanded His Apostles to do this commemoratively, He ordained them, along with the Rock on which He built His Church, not Churches. This was the way Bert viewed things at least. The priest had the faculty of a miracle, and one of the most profound thaumaturgy at that for, “Blessed are those who have not seen and still believed.”
Bert watched TV now and then. He was not that sequestered. Rather, only shows which nourished the mind were presented to him, none of those whose express purpose is to delight the carnal or the base in social convention. His mind was wandering until he realized the time had arrived.
He bowed at the railing, his eyes peering over his Sunday livery of blazer, Oxford shirt, and stirring necktie. He looked up at the bright crispness of the Host before his face.
“The Body of Christ.”
“Amen,” he responded in an amnesiac reverie. He lent his tongue so that the crisp Christ might rest His unseen head on it. He chewed. It tasted like something between cardboard and a cracker, not unpleasant actually. He swallowed. His soul seemed to titillate within the none too accommodating body of his. He smiled, knowing now what Saint John Vianney meant when he described Holy Communion as unique to Holy Communion. The only way Bert could describe it was an immediate cognizance of the Eternal presence of the Redeemer assuaging all pain, soothing all fear, comprehending all struggle between anticipation and experience through a holy vigilance. His heart held Jesus physically. It amazed him deeply and wonderfully. He heard beautiful cadences streaming though his mind, from an organ singing like a thousand angels tumbling through the clouds of Paradise. He almost laughed the Anima Christi as he realized the fallacy of every notion to offend the most loving, forgiving Personage within him.
Little did Bert know that sacraments do not always breed sentiments. The heart yields to the mind in all matters.
The priest said the closing prayers. He blessed them in exultation. He spoke simple words of congratulation and encouragement to his more mature charge, Bert. They filed to break their fast walking prayerfully out of the chapel so befitting – Saint Louix IX, a Catholic King who didn’t go to see when the Child Jesus appeared in the Eucharist because he already trusted that and did not want to corrupt his pure belief.
Bert sensed Jesus trot to breakfast with him, ubiquitous. He loved this companion, more real to him now than ever, as a friend, a brother, a father, a rescuer, an everything for wee Bert. In his ardent love and fervent compunction, Bert hated sin. He now found a simple truth: Love necessitates hate. He did not yet understand the practicality of the reality but the world would serve its purpose in rendering such an end. Yet with his faithful zeal, Bert would gradually become aware that in his humble struggle to be aware of Christ’s presence always, that dialectic overcame the transformation from boy to man. The boy’s dreams are the man’s fulfillment. He looked energetically to the future because it only entailed the execution of God’s will – and God had accompanied him since his youth, especially on this day. This day commenced the banquet eterne, distanced from the terrene. Food compels where stomachs waver. His hunger, his thirst, for the divine was quenched each time he received, and his parents taught him that it was the same as heaven, as it was the reception of God. It whetted his vigorous taste for the beatific vision. If angels could envy, they would envy our ability to pray, wrote Sheen. We can praise without sight; they cannot.
Lazy days lolled in languishing succession. Weeks transpired calendars like wind felling autumn leaves. However, the climate proffered little in the way of a seasonal dial, which only augmented Bert’s nonchalance towards the passage of the sand in the hourglass. His seventh year visited his ever-growing being for a mere millisecond in the eyes of the Almighty. In the3se years of study, as Bert became steeped in understanding God more through His reflective creation than overt contemplation (though the family maintained their share of the latter, with the Rosary and all), Bert formulated an aspiration to science and reason. He began to grasp that even observation required a certain degree of faith. Religion entailed faith in the unseen; science, a faith that the seen expressed reality adequately.
On this particular day, to provide the reader with a treatment of Bert’s routine, Bert sat without the house. He slouched on the moist soil of the glade, grass cushioning his slim, supine frame. He deigned for the sunny breeze and ladybugs to dance upon his naked limbs. He happened to be doing his literature for today, reading The Magician’s Nephew. He reflected on how the mad uncle who forged the rings to transport Polly and Digory to Narnia was quite like a scientist. Why hadn’t it been made into a movie?
He closed his eyes and accidentally dozed off. He dreamt that he had been transported to Narnia. Of a sudden, he saw the pool from which the witch swam. She emerged through the surface with a sound like glass shards being sucked into a vacuum cleaner. Her face bearing a freezing smirk, she chased him. He looked at his uncle’s ring on his finger. It scalded. He tried to take it off but he couldn’t. He screamed, waking. He detected with shut eyes the giggling of frolicking children. He opened his eyes to a sky closing its own. It was twilight. Time for supper. He went inside.
After their meal, during which the youngest daughter, Gemma, read a passage from the Psalms, everyone walked outside into the cool evening. They had performed their diurnal penance and charity by arraying the choicest potables of their humble evening table and giving this “plate of the Lord Jesus” to the needy. At the horizon, indigo hovered about the pitch and pitching ocean. The sky wavered between blue and black. The universe evidently had been bruised by the humanity it enveloped. It even bled from the nearest star, that orifice of the empyrean, the sun. The sun was sinking behind its watery blanket, its scarlet rays ebbing through cumulous clouds. It became orange and finally disappeared to the music of the rumbling tide.
The host hid itself in the seas of turmoil. Just as light filled every crevice during the day while the sun emitted this omnipresent luminosity, God’s light lit every nook and niche, though the Eucharist is the source of this presence.
Bert shielded his eyes from the deep beauty. He in his native perspicacity, fathomed that if you stare at the sun too long, it will blind you. Therefore, if you stare at the profundity of deity too long, it will spiritually blind you to the wayward world. Losing one’s sight of the world was a sacrifice that religious and even focused laity make at Adoration. But spiritual blindness proved beneficent, not physical blindness. For those who say they see d o not see. Only the blind will see, said Jesus.
The family followed the shortest trail to the soft shore, 8 pairs of eyes acclimating to the palpable blackness. They trooped like a band of itinerate monks, mendicants of natures’ multifarious wonders. Wandering and wandering, their feet bounced more readily as firm sediment yielded to plush sands.
Bert further gathered in these ephemeral moments with his own ubiquitous family that he needn’t fear maturity. For true manhood consisted in confronting adult trials with childlike resolution. Only the simple know the ways of God. And what better ways were there? Bert felt happy as the sun set and his family trotted on.
They came to the beach, foam lapping at their bare toes. They dumped their wearied bodies on the sprawling blanket the mother provided. His father assembled the telescope.
“Beware of the silkie,” his father whispered in a feigned ominous Irish drawl as he put the instrument together.
With the prospect of a seal-man arising from the depths, Bert cuddled up to his brothers and sisters in fortifying snuggery.
“Okay, methinks its ready,” his father finally ejaculated, speaking in a more British dialect to match Bert’s mother’s. He added more naturally in his mater lingua, “Who wants to look first?” He chuckled heartily as the children clammered for a peek.
The stars brightened with every passing minute. They glowed like all lanterns of the world. Each distant sun shed the brilliance at the same speed of light, just as Jesus occupies every church but is the self-same Divinity. The sky radiated like millions of glinting tabernacles. At the Sacrifice of the Mass, when Jesus dies for us again, we witness the same scene Christians did for over 2,000 years, Bert reflected, unheeding the shrill chatter of his kin. When he visited Jesus in the tabernacle in his Holy Hour each day, his father reading the Liturgy of the Hours aloud to his gathered flock with his mother saying the antiphon, he looked upon the same “hidden Jesus” (so Jacinto said) as saints of all epochs. In Adoration, at Mass, the family withdrew from time, the swell of sun and moon, and clutched eternity. They went back in time; they surged forward. As he laid on his back staring at the stars, he remembered the astounding fact that some of these stars no longer shone, having died ages ago but emitting light still. Even light is to slow for such distance, he thought. So in stargazing, Bert looked at the same stars humanity has seen throughout time. He saw things that had disappeared before humanity even existed. He felt small, yet somehow special. God knows every hair on his head as well as every star in the universe. Therefore, every person held greater esteem than the entirety of organic existence. His father had also told Bert how we are made from stardust. Bert saw himself in their light. Amazing, yet dizzying in its splendor, he thought. Jesus, too, died long ago. But His presence is still real, just as the light waves of a long-gone star still penetrate the rods of the cornea. In the Eucharist and the galaxies both present eternity for those who care to look up at them. As the eldest, Bert peered through the microscope. It magnified everything. He saw nebulas, coronas, shooting stars. And in each he saw faith. Nebulas were doubts. Coronas, the enveloping light of the mystics. Shooting stars were departing souls and the fleeting prayers their loved ones uttered. His mouth gaped at the coruscation. The darker it grows, the brighter it gets. The sky was a mourning mantle bedazzled with diamonds.
As the children dozed under the soporific sky, his mother took out a Bible. She read with a gentle British lilt the creation story of Genesis. In nature, of nature, about nature, they sat. Bert could almost hear the melody of the harmonious spheres, too refined for mean human ears. This hallucination of settling sleep, a hypnogogic state, sounded like the most wondrous synthesizer ever stroked. He felt as if he were in Church. As his eyes closed, the eyelids the shade of sky and shadow, God endowed his soul with tranquility. But as dreamy song became a song of dream, ecstasy supplanted tranquility. He grew excited, knowing not why. His nocturnal neurons hinted as to the cause. He longed to be an astronomer. As the irony goes, he would awake with a lingering sense of magic but forget his dream-borne revelation. He would spend his life regaining this elation. Only for now he would not see the stars as subjects of scientific inquiry. Rather, the pagan constellations came to nought. He sought to select the asterisk of the Magi over the Child’s head.
When he awoke in his own hermitage, Bert recognized that only one thing mattered: realizing Jesus’ presence within him at all times. What a great inhibition of ugliness of soul and impetus to beautiful virtue. Whenever tempted to hurt his family, he could simply recall that the Child Jesus was enthroned in the very flesh of his seizing heart. That was the primal struggle: simply to acknowledge God’s presence. All the problems in the world, which he had as yet only read about, derived from an ignorance of or a refusal to accept something beyond. He thanked God again for the chance to be reconciled and to receive.
A mystical foreboding flickered across Bert’s stream of thought. He challenged himself at the root. If I feel this religiously about things, should I become a religious? Alas, when he mused further, his heart sickened at the inaccessibility of the parish priest. Father McMurtry was lucky to visit them once a week, if that, and perpetually under grave surreptitiousness. The state encumbered the execution of the priestly duties. So even Bert, secluded from society, could not entertain a cenobitical vocation, due to an oppression he had not yet encountered overtly.
With this flurry of life’s doings, he leapt from bed, hearing again the liquid chirps of birds that squeaked like water drops from a leaky faucet. He felt refreshed and contented, ready for a new day. He was a page in some royal court of his fantasy reading. He went down to help with breakfast.
A sweetly visage girl knelt in the basement of her house in the countryside of England. Of course, Englnad was no longer a nation but a state, a member, not a whole, a component of the World Union. It was like a broader version of the EU or the UN in the olden days.
This particular maiden, about 12 years old, happened to be strewing flowers about the pedestal of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The fair lady’s features mourned, complimenting the girl’s Cimmerian environment. It was night, and all the lights were shut off.
This poor lass considered herself in trouble. She had worn a scapular beneath her clothing at school. She knew wearing offensive religious emblems was illegal in public. But the Scapular was subtle; no one had to see her private devotion to Our Lady. She wept as she remembered what they had said at school. Her pupil persecutor had accurse, shrieking, “She said something nice, like, ‘Well, I just try to love everyone.’”
“Why did she say that?” The police officer asked.
“Because I was having a fight and she tried to stop us. So I asked her why she’s always such a prig.” There was something frantic in the young feminine petulance. “Then I saw a little brown strap on her shoulder and I asked what it was, being in a bad mood and all. She wouldn’t tell me, so I grabbed it. She slapped my hand away, like the vicious beast she is, but I ripped it and pulled it out. Then she got very huffed up but she ran away into the schoolhouse. Here it is.” She held a tattered image of the same lady whose depiction the accused was praying before now.
Majella, that being her appellation, experienced a sudden tranquility. She knew that even by their standards she would be in the right. That girl at school, yes, she loved her, too.
Besides, Mary was simply a person no longer on this earth that Majella respected. Like a deceased mother, or any historical figure. Excepting, of course, how Majella prayed to her devoutly. If only they could understand that she simply was asking Mary to go to God for her, just as a person might ask a friend to talk to someone who could help them for something. That police officer, when in the field, probably talked to a sergeant because he knew the lieutenant at headquarters more familiarly.
This did not solve the problem at hand. What did ideological truth prove to brute force and a search warrant. Laws immune to truth and justice were the most potent forces of evil.
She heard a rattle of the doorknocker. She heard the door open, her mother’s voice, the officer’s voice, boots on floorboards, the slap of federal documents on the kitchen table, rising and falling of vocal inflections with query and solution; she detected the muffled raucous and all it entailed to the family’s doom.
For a second, she craved the crown of martyrdom. This government that dominated the youthful Majella only martyred those unconscious of it and Majella failed to fear the consequences of her actions. In fact, they consoled her bereavement. In the end, as our lives are weighed on Saint Michael the Archangel’s scale, often what we did not do will outweigh what we did, to our detriment. She wore her faith. Had she not, that might be worse than…she didn’t know. She walked determinedly upstairs to confront the onslaught.
Her oval physiognomy, with its creamy complexion, seemed of marble in the shadows. Her pink lips closed tightly. Her sharp nose bore a noble, yet defeated, mien. Her blue eyes, the shade of Mary’s mantle, looked forebodingly at the approaching door. Her brown hair was still neatly combed into a ponytail from school. The door opened for her. Did this commence the first Arabian night and the tales thereof?
“There she is,” her mother said, frightened. She wrung her hands in her apron, fretting like a novice nurse in the trauma unit.
“Hullo, young miss. Just wanted to ask you a few questions Not to be alarming or anything. We simply take incidents at school quite formally. Is there anything you’d like to tell us about that, um, ‘scapular’?” He faltered with the last word. Evidently, Majella’s mother had been enlightening him as to this humble sacramental.
She did not worship Mary. She simply regarded her for who she was: the mother of Jesus. Any Christian would concede that Mary is the mother of their Christ. By virtue of her motherhood, and thus the likelihood of her residence in Paradise, Majella reasoned that it was natural for Mary to be closer to Jesus than Majella was at present. Therefore, she would respect this Lady and ask her to pray for her before the Throne of Her Son, Jesus. Jesus is God. Isn’t it logical that Mary is the Mother of God? Who wouldn’t beseech the Mother of God to command Her Son as she had in His Youth, at the Wedding of Cana. Granted one had faith in Christ, as represented in the Bible, Majella could not understand why Mary would not be revered and implored. Majella, of course, also commanded a healthy trust in the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and the personal revelation of the apparitions of Our Lady throughout the ages. Any Christian would concur that God is all-benevolent and all-perfect, by His Infinitude. Thence, when He deigned to tread the earth as Man, He was all good and perfect. For that to be the case, however, genetically speaking, He was the son of Mary as well as the Holy Spirit. Mary must also have to be perfect, not stained with Eden’s residual. The random Christian knows that the Bible says God was born of a Virgin Mother. If He can be born of a virgin, a divine parthenogenesis, why can’t that Virgin be sinless, too? Anything is possible for God, but He chooses to obey the code of reason and to act with goodness and charity. A perfect mother for Jesus would not contradict His customs. All these refutations of Christian denominations long since extinct hovered behind her wet eyes as the impotent challenge to the atheist before her.
She spoke softly, contrary to her customarily more brazen confabulation at home. “Well, it is my private belief that Mary, the Virgin, guards me when I wear it. That didn’t mean I meant to show it to others and try to convert them or anything like that. I just…” She choked back tears of fear.
“It’s okay poppet. Relax.” He chuckled with almost grim levity. “You’re getting awful nervy on us. Now about this, uh, Virgin. What do you believe about her?”
Majella altered her stance between two stairs and leaned more on the banister. “I don’t want to impress my beliefs on you too now.”
“Oh, don’t be silly. That is not the charge you’re under.” When he glanced down at Majella’s trepidation, he guffawed, and added, “Sorry. Never mind.” His voice grew steadily graver.
“You see, sir, we Catholics believe that if you wear this cloth garment, the scapular that is, and are pure of heart and body, and say the Rosary, or a number of substituted prayers, you proclaim your veneration, confidence, and love and so the Blessed Virgin aids you in temptation, protects you from hell, and will get you quickly out of purgatory upon death.” She spoke rapidly, reciting much of what her grimacing mother had taught her. Her stomach dropped when she thought about how she never dreamt she would divulge all this to a state official of all people.
“Oh my, you do know a lot about your religion. If only you knew more about not infringing upon civil rights. I haven’t heard words like ‘hell’ or ‘purgatory’ in ages. In fact, I’m sure they became extinct before I was born. Now, my girl, you shouldn’t speak this way. It’s rude to those, like myself, who chance to disagree. Is this woman you worship – “
“We don’t worship. We venerate.”
“Small distinction. This lady, is she alive or dead?”
Majella wavered. She called upon Joan of Arc, a victim of like interrogations. “I would venture to say neither, actually. We believe God assumed her into heaven, body and soul.”
“Hmm. Yes. Does your affection for her outweigh your respect for the state?”
This meant the end. “I…no comment.”
“My dear, I don’t want to impugn you or anything. Use your loaf and respond.” His inflection became ever more strident.
The poor girl winced with his abrasive tone. “Yes, I lover her more than the state. She came before…”
This affirmation of all culpability on the part of the minor hurled the officer over the precipice of any deference. Here was a man who had been brainwashed into believing any reverence toward religion to be a blasphemy to human rights. How dare she expound upon her superstitions and all? The words “bloody curr” formed on his silent lips, over his grizzled jutting jaw and obsidian nose. His gray eyes stared into the girl. He stroked his hardened face, cogitating upon the gall of this maiden. It was as if she had uttered the f-word at his face. Worse. She had thrown out the possibility not only that a man might get laid, but that he might get damned for it. Yet societal civility prompted him to retain her pious politeness.
“You are a brave, little girl. I don’t know why, but you are. I’m sorry to do this; but we’re going to have to cart you down to the constabulary for a wee bit. No big deal. Just some further questioning over a few donuts, maybe. What do you say?”
Majella remained seriously silent. Her mother clomped down the stairs to her and grabbed her. “She’s going nowhere. You’ve asked her questions enough, you have…”
“Step aside, madam. She is a suspect in one of the highest acts of treason against our people. She has been found to infringe upon the separation of church and state. There will be a federal court case. I imagine she’ll be acquitted. But we must follow procedure.” He eased the grieving matriarch aside. He took Majella’s arm. She snapped it from him.
“Being rough are you, little cheek. You listen, I’m the one with the handcuffs. I don’t want to put you in handcuffs.”
Majella became furious at the tyrant’s bidding. At that moment, she repudiate any allegiance to the vile state and its bovine citizenry. She recalled a famous aphorism. It echoed in her skull, impelling her further. An unjust law is no law at all. I will not contradict my conscience or be taken by force for wrong regulations any longer.
“No.: She turned and stepped down the stairs. He wrenched her back. She shrieked as she tumbled into her faithfilled tumulus.
“Majella, go,” her mother pleaded. She went, by the will of obedience, not subjugation.
They didn’t do anything. Surely, it stigmatized her and her family as people to keep an eye out for, but she suffered no repercussions. It only dried the clay within her soul. The clay of her eternal interior had been formed into a sword.
Bert’s mother was asleep. Her shoulders rose and fell in her white night gown and bedsheets, nestled near her husband. She was dreaming of this incident. The characters appeared stylized but all very real and vivid in her imagination. She rustled, almost to the point of disrupting the fragile reality behind closed eyes. Then, she turned over in the contentment of sweet sleep and resolved nightmares. Unconsciously, she refused to have her own children go through that.
More Baltimore Catechism, augmented by hagiology, composed theology for Bert in his ninth year. Philosophy, its humble spouse, espoused a keen sense of logic. Bert learned how to think prior to learning anything else. Certainly syllogisms, inductive, deductive, and like terminology escaped his comprehension, but at an early age, he listened and expressed lucidly. In time, even his parents grappled with his sound arguments. Childlike simplicity of reasoning furthered childish aims.
Science embraced an exploration of more manufactured enterprises, including aeronautics, planned experimentation, and even a little medicine. Bert loved such applications, but in some mysterious way, he gravitated to the natural world. He did not view nature as naturalistic, or deistic, in any respect. He saw in the infinitely perfect machinations of the universe the need for a Creator. He had read from this same aforementioned Bishop Sheen that just as every painting, book, building, machine, or other human contrivance must needs possess an author, so must there exist a Prime Mover of all things.
Infinity admits of fathoming. The very nature of infinity’s comprehensibility renders it existent. “I think therefore, I am,” Bert’s father always quoted to him. Cogito ergo sum. If that be true, Bert thought, then, “I think it, therefore, it is.” Even chemical reactions create these ideas, so scientifically these chemical imaginations do indeed exist. Bert grew wearied of these mental wanderings under the trees of endless afternoons.
Math complemented science, though Bert was only growing more acquainted with addition, multiplication, division, and subtraction.
His adeptness with numbers and their theorems astonished his tutors. He progressed with preternatural haste from PEMDAS to SOH-CAH-TOA. Somehow, math was his indigenous perlance.
However, he did not neglect his study of the language arts. He acquired a prodigious lexicon and used it discreetly. He read great literature to exercise this vocabulary. His parents schooled him in the art of oratory. Bert relished leading his sibling schoolmates in amateur productions on the backyard stage.
He also excelled in the study of languages. To him, it was math. The words were numbers, and formulas comprised the grammar.
His parents taught him history, as well. He understood the theoretical and practical implications from both distinctly Catholic and unbiased perspectives. He eminently preferred the former but could not neglect the arguments of the latter.
In the way of graces, his parents taught him precise manners. Beyond simply “please” and “thank you,” his parents exhorted him to exhibit tact, which his father defined, like Lincoln, as “viewing a man as he views himself,” for a gentleman never unintentionally offends. He sometimes offends intentionally, his father added. Bert accustomed his speech to the humble diction of Saint Louis de Montfort to only speak when the salvation of another’s soul requires it. For Saint Arsenius knew that he never regretted keeping his mouth shut. A fellow monk went so far as to say, “Yes,” to true comments, and “I don’t know anything about that,” to spurious remarks. Bert knew never to speak ill of someone unless it was already public or to save their soul somehow. Bert did not quite concur with Saint John Climacus’ practice of never contradicting another, for, “All the devil needs is for good men to be silent.” With these guidelines in mind, Bert became a polite conversationalist, having endeavored to speak and to forbear on appropriate occasions.
Every name possessed significance. Gerard and Majella, their own appellations a monument to the patron of pregnancy, derived their firstborn’s name from that of the great scientist, Albertus Magnus. They gave their second son the title, Jude, so that he might endure travail, regardless how precarious. They dubbed the first girl Mary, mother of God. They gave the next son the name of John, that glorious evangelist and namesake of so many pursuant saints. The other son, Diarmuid, earned that name by mere virtue of his Celtic roots. Anne would become a good mother, her parents called her after the mother of Mary. Joseph wed to Mary and guarded the Most Holy Family. Genevieve aspired to a savior of France. Elizabeth tried to be queenly and a pious pedagogue. The parents hit upon these names gradually through a refined perceptibility of how God calls forth His adopted ones, from thought to being at the moment of conception.
With his intelligence and ample training, he attained a cheerful maturity in his mere 9 years. His parents suspected his brilliance of character and intellect, so they administered a couple of tests. Sure enough, he registered a 180 IQ. Unlike some slothful talents, Bert also applied himself readily, enjoying his studies, and almost seraphically seeking to please his likewise diligent parents. Such was Bert’s assiduity that he ascended quickly to the fifth grade. He was an amenable pupil and an affable gentleman. His pleasant demeanor melted his eccentricities of genius.
He reveled in the whiled days of study. He habitually lounged beneath a huge eucalyptus tree. The fragrant leaves bristled his naked nape as they drifted from their lofty Eden. The sunlight tickled his face, feeling like a hand thrust near the hearth in winter, and the sea breeze ruffled his tousled brown hair. He would lift his head from dry words or numbers on the page to scrutinize the turquoise leaves, transparent above him with light filtering through them. They rustled, like the echo of an ocean wave in a cove. He smiled up at the cottage near the glen. He would keep his body active in his explosive sprints across the sward.
He was kind to his brothers and sisters. He counted eight among his siblings now. Jude and he were closest though he led them all.
He acted out imaginary adventures, more frequently with action figures than in person. In these solitary games, he would squeal, hum, impersonate. Any witness might have thought him a lunatic, or at least a child with attention deficit disorder. Bert would maintain later that these plays made him more creative than anything else could. They also imbued his diaphragm with passion. His games sounded stentorian in the forest or in the family room of the house. His future lectures incorporated this vocal vivacity.
The plays often involved elements of his current reading, but usually flavored with more violence. Though it may have been morbid, he relished the taste of blood in his plays. Unlike the children who nourish the need for death and destruction by utilizing divers forms of media, all violence he imagined derived from his own experience or capacity for visualization. Thus, he relieved his youthful soul from the need to murder. He expelled the primal instincts without violating a sense of childhood. He saw, and therefore conjured up, nothing he was too young for. What he could think, he could handle.
His play customarily did not admit of interlopers. He often whined for his siblings to depart from him while he thought. He often pined for his mother to let him fantasize. Playing exhausted his energy and encouraged him to study. The cycle flowed smoothly. The more he studied, the more he desired to translate his study into play. The more he played, the more he needed to study. He studied to play and played to study. Labor fed rest. Reading the ideas of others most efficaciously stimulate his own.
But he still distinguished these two modes of life. Only later would he allow the two to coalesce. Working at what one loves kills the work. However, his mother had related to him he tale of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, who said that he would continue to play a game he knew to be pleasing to God if at that moment summoned before His Throne. And Bert always remembered “work is prayer” when he tired of study. So in the long run, it only proved a matter of realizing that if work is prayer, and play is prayer, then work is play. Joys honor God as well as sufferings, when sufferings are not averted in favor of joy.
Bert might be deemed quite the introvert. He spent most of his time reading or engaging in these internal activities. What many might fail to realize, though, was that Bert was honing his ability to relate to others. He read brilliant dialogue when he studied and wrote it when he played. The third dimension of his existence, prayer, served as ample opportunity to converse with God. Throughout all this, he gained more intimate knowledge of his own soul – his attributes, his triumphs, his failings – as a child than many do in a lifetime. The years of childhood were monkish years for him. As a monk divorced from society acquires a more ardent love of humanity through prayer, so did he. He related to the rest of his family, the remnant of the world, more especially by introspection.
When he did speak, he spoke concisely, incessantly striving to employ the best word to every situation. He spoke with eminent courtesy. He even tried to emulate the great saints who could convert with a glance. All who were to meet him in real school were duly impressed by his mature presence, erect carriage, and facile oratory.
He loved life, but yearned for the life beyond.
So Gerard Bellarmine grew up in Belfast, Ireland. He huddled in lush verdure rather than expose himself to dreary sky and muggy cloud. He wafted discreetly through grade school, renowned amongst his classmates for his brilliance. He entered the preparatory college at a secularized Clongowes. When they read Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the abundant allusions to Catholicism bewildered everyone but Gerard. Gerard, with his schooling from his parents, knew the references as part of his own experience and lamented the impotency of his fellow’s understanding. After Gerard’s aforementioned incident, he ceased to venture any religious explication. Instead, he impassively allowed the teacher to dispassionately dissect the novel’s religiosity, favoring the late agnosticism of the protagonist and merely hinting an atheist preference.
Gerard hated school. Not that his classmates begrudged him or anything of the sort. On the contrary, most were pleasant indeed. So pleasant in fact that he yearned all the more fervidly for the salvation of their sweet souls. He sought the elevation of their tender intellects and the development of their well-inclined dispositions as a fulfillment of his minor missionary zeal. He did a good turn when prudent, and they charitably returned the favor. Acts simply as offering a pen to a student in need, paying for another’s lunch, dispersing warring factions, sending notes to sick kids, befriending those detained for disciplinary purposes, tutoring those slogging in study, and like deeds arrayed a sizeable following and a degree of popularity among his peers. Not that he had performed good works for that purpose. He became popular by avoiding notoriety. He just plugged away at laboring intensely and acting nicely.
Prayer consummated these good intentions. He managed to visit his family every Sunday for Mass, and he told his beads before a crucifix they liberally permitted him to conceal in his dormitory. The spiritual preceded the corporal.
He loved all whom he dealt with, even if he did not always like them. They loved him in return for the most part. “If only, if only,” he sang in heart, “they knew that what we call love, friendship, is truly God. They would be happier.”
One day, a classmate of his committed suicide. There was a remembrance service. This event infuriated Gerard. He had known this student, though he had never talked to him. Everyone knew he was in his right mind and deliberate about throwing himself from the railing of the third floor of the building. He was selfish. Some people pitied him. Gerard did not. He regarded the act as murder, except the student himself was also the victim. Gerard prayed for his soul. His prayers grew arid. He wished for heaven, but imagined the fires of torment. He stopped thinking about it, in disgust. All he could keep wondering at was, “if that boy would have known what I knew…Had this stupid school told him of life’s purpose, he wouldn’t have gone and abandoned himself like that. But I guess there is no purpose without God, a monk once said. There is not.” He felt sickened the evening of the memorial and retired, pessimism filtering even through petition.
In fact, the world suffered from a crisis of killing oneself at this time. A cult to suicide developed. In a universe without a creator, life had no meaning. In a life without a Savior, suffering had no import either. The very intention behind existence dried. Hedonism supplanted deism even. Pleasure passed with a leg thrown over a rail. Assisted suicide ran rampant. Kavorkian clinics immortalized Dr. Death.
In this sable milieu of current events, Gerard discerned a medical vocation. Such he regarded it, feeling ill at ease when anyone defined it as a profession. He saw the white coat of the doctor as a cope he could don publicly. No one objected to humanitarian aid, corporal works of mercy. In a world devoid, Gerard thought this the best way to access people. Save the body, save the soul.
However, sinister forces lurked where the Divine Protectorate had been banished. As medicine too was now a department of state (which Gerard did not even object to, when free from corrupt practices), the state instituted euthanasia, abortion, birth control, and other suspect acts as integral aspects of any medical school curriculum. All were required to learn these procedures and perform them to pass. This impeded Gerard’s dream for the time being.
Meanwhile, he concluded Clongowes and proceeded to Trinity College, Dublin. He endured two years of medical training there. The third year involved the said malfeasance, so Gerard emigrated to a land where the name of Hippocrates had not become entirely archaic. He sought out an obscure, but accredited establishment that still demanded the Oath from the lips of aspirants. There he became an M.D. specializing in obstetrics, a troublesome focus he knew, given state-enforced practice. He obtained dual citizenship with the America and Erin, employed as a government worker in his field. When they offered him a position in Population Control, he kindly declined in favor of a job in rural regions, to avoid state laws governing his practice.
He met his wife, a teacher in the locality. They wedded swiftly. All went well, for a time.
Bert turned eleven. He enjoyed pleasing his parents. He was a good boy, no longer so innocent. His parents slowed his academic development to keep apace with his maturity level. He learned things he didn’t seek to know yet and felt guilty about it. The innocence of childhood sweated off in the heat of higher learning and lower passion. He became less wise and more adult. He began to engage in better conversations with his siblings, but also more detached from them.
The automatic door gaped for Dr. Bellarmine, inhaling him into the pure white of the hospital. A fellow physician approached.
“Doctor, would you mind performing an emergency abortion for me?” the colleague offered.
“Sorry, I can’t. I have to do a surgery on the third floor. I’d pr’y butcher it anyway.”
“Well, it wouldn’t really matter in that case anyway, right?” He laughed sardonically.
Dr. Bellarmine’s face tightened. “No.”
“If you don’t, no one can.”
“Why, is it against your religion?” He was being facetious.
That ended Dr. Bellarmine’s practice. He had amassed a modest fortune, which, carefully allotted, bought him a government owned property off California and reasonable means for a family to subsist. He bought the bleak outcrop fo Saint Michael’s in the Channel Islands, on the condition that he would maintain the environment. He developed the land without killing it.
He lived peacefully with his pregnant wife. He gained federal subsidies which obviated taxes toward immoral things. That was before they discovered how many children he had later on.
Bert was thirteen. As an adolescent, he frequently invoked Padre Pio, Dominic Savio, Maria Goretti, Pier Giorgio Frassati, Aloysius Gonzaga, Stanislaus Kostka, Gerard Majella, Therese of Lisieux, Gemma Galgani, and many more youthful holies.
Thee miasma of the teenage years dispersed through prayers, sacrament and sacrifice.
Majella went to the same school as Gerard after years of schooling in England. She was brilliant. She became a teacher. One day, a student asked her about freedom of religion in Civics Class.
She simply responded.
“Freedom of religion means that one can practice his or her faith freely.”
“What if that conflicts with the faith of others?”
“It can and does.”
“Then, how can they both live their religion?”
“They practice their own and respect others’.”
“What if someone is offended?”
She gulped and reclined on the blackboard, smearing her sleeves. “Well, religion is not meant for that. If that happens, as long as other rights are not violated, then… the person gets offended.” Belligerence crept into her voice.
“That’s not what my father tells me.” His father was the magistrate.
“If you asked him, it seems you already have the answer. Why do you ask me?”
He did not say anything.
She turned and changed the subject in a more professorial tone.
That ended her career. When she married, she began her vocation. She met her husband in college. She sustained life and life sustained her. The Anglican Church dissolved many years previous. Britain was again Catholic.
Bert banished every temptation of the flesh. Through frequent reception of the Holy Eucharist and Confession, combined with mortification, he grew in holiness, becoming more benevolent each day.
Enriching films and Catholic television programs nourished his resolve against sin. He was fifteen. He now had twelve brothers and sisters.
He sanctified himself through the Rosary, the Chaplet of Saint Michael, and spiritual communion, especially. He tried desperately to accrue virtue, particularly purity of mind and patience with others. He lived an almost monkish existence in these humble practices. In youth, his parents purged all pride from him. He fancied everyone to have an intellect like his own, if not higher. So when others were to dote upon him in the future for his intelligence, such appraisal failed to wound his humility. He understood that everything he possessed, God gave him, so why should he pride himself if god decided to bestow more abundant gifts on him than on others.
With the precision of the ephemeris, he matured. He had attained the acme of his home studies. Now, he was ready for college. But his parents wouldn’t send him to college. The college sent for him.
It all commenced aboard a yacht on hyetal evening in winter. As thunder pealed and rain swished on tumultuous seas, Father McMurtry navigated his mean craft to Saint Michael’s shore.
A speedboat careened into the prow of his vessel. The side merely scraped and sand within sight. Father continued to direct the ship to its destination. The speed boat returned and thrummed parallel to his boat.
An inebriated cackle erupted from Father’s seaborne friend. “Hey, man, what you doin’ out this late?” The voice laughed for no reason, accompanied by the air escaping from a fellow wine-sack.
“Oh, just heading for that spot of land up there.”
The alien voice spoke. “You’re not from hereabouts, dude, are ya? Man, here in Cali we’re little more laidback. This guy needs to chill.”
“Damn right. Hey, dude, why ye wearin’ all black? Think you’re Johhny Cash or something? Haha, ha, ha!” His machine-gun chuckle riddled the muzzled night. “You need a new wardrobe, I think. Doesn’t match the beautiful susnshine, here, eh?”
Striving for utmost respect, the good priest responded with a giddiness he tried to suppress. “Well, it sure ain’t sunny, right now, – What?”
“Hey, man, I am the king of fashion. My word is law.” The indistinguishable figure inched closer, edging his elbow onto the edge of the priest’s boat. “You mean to challenge that or something?” An ominous undertone broke his jocular persona. Belligerence rippled thorough buffoonery.
Father McMurtry nodded, “no,” with a meek grin.
The other man continued badgering. “Hey, this guy doesn’t wear all black. I see me a speck a ‘white. He’s really stylin’ now, how ‘bout it?”
Father saccadically glanced up at the island, searching for an excuse to break company.
The first antagonist rejoindered. “Yeah, I see it. You wouldn’t happen to be a priest, would you?”
The sway of sea and tinkle of rain drops answered.
“Answer me, man!” Addressing his companion, “What do you say we make him take that collar off?”
Both ruffians leapt into the priest’s conveyance, inclining it at a 45-degree angle. Father McMrutry eased himself backward cracing his elbow against an intrusive tackle and clambering over the bench in the boat. A sizzling sensation tingled his forearm.
As the men toppled upon him, he saied an Act of Contrition and a ream of ejaculations to God and His Holy Ones. He shut his eyes in a calm courage as the blows thudded on his head and up in his diaphragm. He tried to explain through the blood and loosened teeth as they repeatedly inquired, “Why do you wear that collar, eh? What’s the deal? Why do you? Why do you wear it?!’ They jarred his frame against the floor of his craft. He felt death wave his scythe past his cheek and consigned himself to martyrdom. The skull-crushing blow about came. But it didn’t. Instead, in a delirium of the storm, the inquisition, and the beating, he heard a crunch, a profanity, an obscenely high squeal. He fainted.
Father awoke, face clean but bruised, to morning sunlight. He was alone, drifting in the waves. The only answer he could muster concerning the previous night was his guardian angel. What a silly excuse!
“Good thing, too,” he pondered. “I’m the only cleric in the state of California!”
Gerard’s bespectacled eyes beamed with covert perspicacity. “It began with divine law. Religion in the schools, then in the offices, then in the houses of government, and, finally, in public life generally was discarded as irrelevant and even offensive.” His gray temples contracted as his eyebrows squinted in an agony of concentration. “Well then, they went for natural law, the use of reason and that. People realized that there is no reason to follow a consistent moral code in the absence of a God to give it. C’mon, Bert, why should I be nice to you when you don’t do anything for me, right? Selfishness became the law. The supreme rule stated that one cannot make a rule for another. Relativism, you know. Everyone simply pursued their own happiness even at the expense of others. That Jesuit I told you about, the astrophysicist, well, he put it quite nicely. They inverted the primacy of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Because if there is no afterlife, and this life’s all we got, we better make the most of it, eh? Heaven’s on earth. Their definition of heaven would be happiness.”
“So the law protected happiness as society’s chief aim. Sort of hedonistic, too. And it justified whimsy through ignorance of precedent. The abolishment of precedents ensured that history held no import. This only meant that society endured the same blows it had already absorbed.”
“Every branch of government defended the laws through a tacit practice of what I deem ‘constitutional anarchy.’ They manipulated the constitution to accommodate for the greatest pleasure in every case, changing rulings in favor of greater lavishment every other day. They rendered regulation impotent. One individual’s happiness conflicts with another’s. The law could never prevent that. It’s the embodiment of original sin. What they would deem naïve can be guised by a more elaborate phrase: the devolution of man. The most realistic evidence for God is the presence of His antithesis.” Gerard inhaled a great plume of smoke and gasped it out his intellectually flared nostrils. Bert simply nodded. This would be his last long conversation with his father. An ominous event was to abbreviate their discourse forever.
“Tell me about the college you attended again.” His father sighed resonantly. His very breath alluded to a grandeur only dreamt of in young Bert. “Well, everyone was modest, for one thing. That’s a tradition dead before you were born, Bert, and when you go to college pretty soon, you’ll be fairly knocked off your feet, I warn you. And we read what we wanted from the best books ever writ in Western Civilization. Christianity permeated West more than East. Therefore, we focused on that hemisphere. Of course, truth exists in every pocket of the globe due to God’s gracious bestowal of a common nature inherent to man. However, the fullness and fulfillment of truth is in the Catholic Church, and the Catholic Church heavily influenced and was influenced by European culture. Multicultural people didn’t like us, though we didn’t always mind them. Our religion teaches us to love all for love of God. But people end up not loving all because they don’t know, and so don’t love, the God who made those people. It’s like Aristotle. He didn’t think a god created men so what’s it worth to treat men with dignity outside one’s own city-state?” He sipped the smoke in contemplation, then cleared his throat to proceed with the conveyance of wisdom. His reverie imploded.
“There is only what and no why nowadays! The material precedes the spiritual. We mystics will struggle in a world of secular materialism wheedled by reason. Just keep to your faith and you’ll be okay. And as to that school, it’s dead. A form for all to converse peacefully about why we live and, thereby, how we should live, gradually disappeared. The government made it difficult and finally impossible for such a dangerous ‘institution’ to continue spewing forth such nonsense upon the new generation. Now, there are some alumni I could get you to talk with but I do rightly fear that many have been incarcerated.
“I would like very much to visit this school,” Bert perked.
“Oh, it’s deserted now, except for a Benedictine monastery up the road…disguised as an obsolete gas station, of course. Well, you go up to, the saintly name has been hidden to prevent an offense, and drive through the scenic route. You find a black gate. Over the hills, miles around, you’ll see the old belfry. That leads the way. Maybe I’ll show you sometime. Nearby, the only structure left is a cave with the inscription: Deus est omnique conservans mumdum. God is everywhere conserving the world.”
His eyes glazed over. “A message of hope,” his voice cracked.
“That’s where faith comes in. God only wants our bliss. We only want that for others. So really the God fearing and the godless both are after the same end. Except the others find it in the passing, while we seek the eternal. Because in all reality, they’re after perfection but can’t find it because God is perfection. So when their lives don’t go the way they want them to, when they encounter suffering, they have nowhere to turn, nowhere to go. They’re confused. Well, we unite our suffering to Christ’s so that when we die with him, we can hope to live with him forever also. From a very human, emotional, standpoint, I have to believe in God. Otherwise, what’s the reason to live? Why take crap from anyone? But when you seek God in the depths of others’ souls and of your own, you feel much better about things and are better able to cope. Even from a eudaemonistic vantage, we’re in the right.”
Just then, the storm picked up outside. Bert had been crouching at his father’s knee, ignoring the book sprawled over his own lap. Bert shut the book and stood, placing the volume back on the shelf nearest his father in the den. Gerard had a fire kindled on this eve too and the humid frigidity outdoors that whistled through pockets in the caulking nudged him towards the fireplace. He looked at the dancing flames. In the glare, he saw not the holocaust of some Walpurgis night but rather tongues of flame, breath of the above, the physical reality of his father’s lecture. He seated himself near it, shut his eyes, and watched the warm glow waver on the back of his crimson eyelids. He felt his face to be warmer than the rest of his person. His bare feet and hands stroked the cold wooden floor. He heard his father’s chair creak as he adjusted his comfort.
Rain began to pelt the windows. The rhythmic whoosh, splatter, they listened to in silence. Then, there was a horrendous clatter. It sounded like a delivery truck had plowed over a mailbox in melting sleet.
“What be htat?” Bert’s father exclaimed. He leapt to full height and stretched. “I’ll go see about this.” Then he yelled to Majella, “Did you hear that?”
A muffled reply proceeded from the family room, confirming the noise. The children were also reading in there. Religious, or at least educational programming, had long been off the air. No EWTN, Discovery, National Geographic, History, of yesteryear. Only porn with a plot, or else profligate violence, dominated the cables.
Bert heard his father burst open the front door and the pursuant wail of a heightening zephyr before silence resumed.
Gerard beheld a shattered vessel cast amongst a sandbar off shore. In the nebula of the storm, he detected a survivor of the wrecked ship struggling with Neptune’s furious locks.
“Need some assistance, friend?”
The torso sank deeper in response. Its movements hastened, then relaxed, like a spider floating in a full bathtub. Gerard ran across the glade, through the undergrowth, over the beach, and into the freezing waters. Seaspray suffocated him as he snorted powerfully with the current. It was like an aqueous ride at an amusement park except fatal. He imagined a mister to be spraying directly into his nostrils, his limbs flailing against a murderous whirlpool. He was a dead pet in a toilet.
Finally, Gerard saw a limp head before him. He seized the macerated hair and yanked the body up. He threw the dead weight over his shoulder and waded back to shore. He thanked God for his boyhood swimming in the Irish sea.
Gerard checked his vital signs and found everything in order. He dragged the incapacitated gentleman into his home.
For two weeks he cared for him like a mother. The man first had to be treated for severe hypothermia. Then, there was the ordeal of pneumonia. The man did not wake up for a week. When he did stir, he was delirious, uttering deranged profanities. When he finally regained his senses, he flew into a rage.
“Who the hell are you?”
“I am a resident and sole proprietor of the island you disembarked upon a fortnight hence. I also happen to be a physician bound by the Hippocratic Oath. I’ve been treating you for…”
“Screw you and your oath! Couldn’t you see I was trying to off myself? Who else would be yachting in a monsoon like that?”
“A foolhardy fisherman, a dutiful coastguardsman, a drunk. Divers persons risk their lives under such circumstances.”
“Ah, well, thanks anyway. I better be getting going.”
The man edged out of bed, indecently cast off the covers, and stumbled out the guestroom and out the cottage. Gerard scrutinized his belligerent guest’s every glance. He saw him look at the crucifix on the wall with grim appraisal. Then and there, Gerard debated seizing his charge’s throat for him. He felt wary. If word leaked out…The man bid farewell to Gerard’s twelve children. His patronizing voice complemented his dark gaze at Gerard and, more especially, Majella.
“Busy, aren’t you?”
“Yes, very, good sir.”
A coast guard speedboat picked up the man and zoomed for the mainland.
Bert and his brother Tarcissius knelt in the foliage, their knees indenting the verdant, wet moss. Amidst the rocks jutting from some ferns, a pelican picked at its pectal region. They quietly watched it pluck its white feather tufts and pierce its own tender flesh. Blood stained the floating fluff with scarlet. The creature offered its esculent heart in its ensiform beak to its dying young.
The rare whirr of a motor abbreviated their mystical espial. The boys slid down the escarpment to the beach, ignoring scrapes and bruises endured in the course of their descent. Their family approached within the next minute.
The very air they breathed enwreathed their souls with an obscene effluvium. Bert groped at an odor of emotions awry. He smelt the estival estrus of violence peaked.
The boat landed and a man in a dark blue suit stepped ashore, escorted by two red-clad Coast Guard chaperones. Their attire bespoke authority and the capacity for black deeds.
“Hello, guys. I’m with the FBI.” The suited agent flashed his badge with a banal flourish. “We’re just here to look into a couple things.” He smiled appeasingly. “Like the child-policy, for instance. It seems you are in direct violation of that.” He scratched something in his notebook. “Not to mention, homeschooling.”
He addressed Gerard. “You, sir, and your companion are under indictment for a federal offense. Treason, that is, for subversion of the education department of the United States of America. I’m afraid the children are under our custody now.” A pause, but Bert’s father rescinded any response, true to his retiring nature. “Well, we’ll have to place them in various public schools throughout California, no one institution could handle such a sudden explosion of population.” He laughed and continued more seriously, “We just don’t have the infrastructure.”
Gerard’s blue eyes peered back at the agent. Gerard’s reflective glasses only served to increase his detachment. His orbs were rays that pierced what they stared at. It intimidated the official.
“Okay, guys, load ‘em up. The adults, too. They’re headed for mainland California.”
Gerard spoke crisply. “No.”
“Sir, we have a warrant-“
“No. We’re not going anywhere.” Majella clasped his hand in dire objection.
“Sir, I have the power to press further charges with this sort of conduct. Don’t test me. You and your wife are already under arrest.”
He spoke with exasperation. “Why? How have we hurt you?”
“It’s not me you hurt. It’s him.” The officer gestured at one of the guards with his thumb. Then, Gerard understood. The guard was the man he had cared for. Gerard smiled benevolently, forcing his persecutor’s head down.
“So he pointed everything out to you?”
“Indeed. Sort of redemption, for him. He’s been on the fence with regards to some of the government’s more controversial policies, but this catch has confirmed his loyalty. Without him, we would have never found you.”
Gerard slumped over a tree and sighed. Just as he resigned himself to inevitable imprisonment, he looked up. Snorting with fury, the man he had saved was sprinting up the escarp. It all passed so quickly that Gerard would not have reacted had the gun been aimed at himself. Instead, the coastguardsman unsheathed his weapon and fired it at little Tarcy.
Everyone shrieked but Bert. Bert was at his side when the bullet passed through Tarcy’s heart, spraying blood and flesh on Bert’s face. The image of the exit wound gaping in the lad’s shoulder as he fell imprinted itself upon his mind. He would see that charred skin, once beautiful, issue forth its life’s fluid.
Tarcissius uttered not a syllable. He squeaked as he wheeled, falling on to his back. He looked about frequently beginning to squeal in agony and confusion as he tentatively tapped the blood oozing from his chest through his shirt. He started bawling frantically, his heart beating ever faster in the death throes. Sweat copiously doused his face and trembling limbs, as the agonistic fever scalded his vessels.
Gerard flew into physician mode as the impudent murderer was sedated by his fellows in the backdrop. Gerard became apathetic, his will bowed before the Divine’s, his heart inclined toward his son, and his brain working out a treatment. He rent his son’s garments and plunged his own clammy fingers into the trunk of his boy. He was a doctor, but no heart surgeon. Seeing the extent of the wound, he resorted to prayer. Getting on his knees, the whole family followed suit. He prayed an Our Father aloud and then whispered the Memorare into Tarcy’s ear. A smile flickered on the boy’s face as his eyes glazed over until the resurrection.
Gerard stood with a bizarre and disturbing presence of mind. His family whimpered behind him. He strode to the restrained murderer. The man expected, and deserved, much more than a spit at the face. Instead, Gerard spoke with a meekness rendered only by divine intervention.
“I forgive you. Tarcy, the boy (he choked) forgives you.” But God forgives you only if you seek forgiveness.” He stood in silence that mirrored the silence of his son’s passing, the most haunting cry of a child who is so impassioned with grief or agony that the tears suspend breath. “Come on, everybody, let’s set off.”
Gerard listened impassively to the FBI agent’s rationalizations.
“You see, sir, the laws have been liberalized so that children 5 years old and under can be euthanized in sickness or when in excess of the prescribed number of youth in a family. We were entitled to shoot you son.”
“An unjust law is no law at all.”
The agent silenced. Later, he absentmindedly pursued his clearing of conscience but Gerard would have none of it.
Bert peered passively into the chartreuse waters of the ocean. Blood swirled in sand and sea. From the rocks at the brink of jungle, the limit of his childhood’s physical recollections, the scarlet substance oozed in thick rivulets betwixt the dunes, frothing at the foamy head of the ocean, a tributary of personal sacrifice coalescing with the infinitude of graces. A child’s dead corpse sprawled near the forest edge, craggy rocks cradling its tensile frame. In a few months, only bones would remain, a monument to dead unburied but not unmourned
That was the last thing his blessed parents reminded him. “Whenever you’re lonely and feel despairing, don’t. Just remember that the Holy Family is always with you, not to mention the saints, angels, and sufferers in purgatory. Jesus, as John Vianney says, commands you to pray but forbids you to worry. Be not afraid.” And so they imprisoned Gerard and Majella separately. They sent the children to a different county school each. After a bitter parting, Bert entered one of the most prestigious universities of Orange County, Cal Tech.
Bert’s superior test scores and successful discourse with the institute’s professors effected his rapid promotion to university studies.
Little did he know the state of affairs that plagued students of the humanities. The curriculum of the California Institute of Technology consisted of mathematics, and physical sciences in the main. Bert had read enough about religion, literature, social studies, and like to last a lifetime, so he contented himself to browse the more discreet bookstores for those subjects he fancied.
He went to Mass at Our Lady, Star of the Sea, and said the Rosary beneath his blankets in the dormitory. Ironically, the most secular of all subjects – science – insulated him from the miasma of secularism swarming over other fields. Due to the very objective nature of his pursuits, he sensed nothing awry. In fact, excepting the absence of all familial relations, his new milieu did not warp his modus Vivendi in the least.
His brothers and sisters could not voice the same sentiment. Firstly, theology and philosophy, not the baser sciences, composed their dreams for study. Yet the public school contrasted strikingly with the friary and nunnery they craved. The realization of truth is difficult to achieve when the subjective is made objective and vice versa. Subjectivity must not tread upon objectivity, nor the reverse. As Bert studied strictly science, no subjectivity permeated his work. His siblings attempted to infuse their more literary subjects with religiosity, in term papers and the like, only to be rebuffed, and sometimes failed, by their teachers for indecency. References to God were refrained from. When this dictum was trespassed, repercussions ensued.
Bert’s disseminated epistles of a sort to his embattled blood but his exhortations to not give in only resulted in everyone’s expulsion, one by one. Only Jude remained.
This chain of failures reminded Bert of his gradeschool reading. His parents had made him read books about history, so that one day he might be able to confront and regard society in the proper context. One book had described the nature of the concentration camp: the faithless self-destruct, the weak convert, the religious are killed, and the merely faithful endure. His siblings wanted to become religious – priests, nuns, brothers – and they had been expelled with due haste, as was to be expected. There were no faithless in his family. He was faithful, but unmolested by authority, so he survived. What of Jude? He had always been the most skeptical in his family. Bert could hear in his head even now Jude’s querulous objections to his readings. Bert also heard the booming bass of his father crushing every objection with sound reason and genuine piety. However, Bert, through years of intimate knowledge of his brother, realized his innate rebellion. The knave, he thought. He’s a candidate for “win the argument, lose the soul” if I ever knew any.
Jude relied too heavily upon emotion. Had he been a girl, he would have acted even more petulantly, in the spirit of melodrama prevalent among acutely sensitive females. Bert thought he would shoot him an e-mail (all students of every grade needed a computer). He did so.
My affectionate brother,
I do declare I am rather disconcerted at your persistence in school. Understand that in these
Trying times, the Nietzshian motto, “Evil be though my good,” has been accomplished. Likewise, expulsion, once deemed disgraceful, is, to my mind, a noble prerogative in such circumstances as yours. I simply inquire as to your dutiful attendance at a warped institution.
Bert risked much in such a message, for all mail was inspected by the FBI these days as public property, and religious references were untolerated. After a fortnight with no reply, Bert strove further to see about matters. Had he known the end to which his message came, he would have been less ready to pursue the issue further. The FBI filtered his mail, so it never reached Jude. Bert proceeded to call the main office of Jude’s academy in Irvine. A cloying voice responded. Bert arranged for an appointment to see his brother.
Students roamed about the halls. No bells regimented their desultory peregrinations. It reminded Bert of an old Montessori school gone awry. Paint smattered the lockers, walls, ceilings, floors. Tile had been removed in some spots from the floor. Spit wads and pencils riddled the paneled ceiling. Stucco crumbled off the walls. Children skittered harum-scarum, divesting fellow students of their lockers’ contents. The doors of the halls literally hung obliquely from severed hinges. As he walked, he grew more unsettled. They seemed to him to be a band of feral children. Contrary to the respect he thought he’d be treated with due to his superior stature and mature bearing, children prodded him, poking him in the sides with shards of transparent, plastic rulers, and uttering bizarre obscenities at him while spraying saliva in his face. Bert simply shook his head and ignored them.
One spectacle was a bit too much to ignore. He saw a nude four-year old from the preschool staggering in a corner, urine trickling down his legs. He smelled rank. Bert, trying to surmise as to why the school was not under pedophilia, or at least negligence charges, approached the boy and asked him if he needed any help. The boy’s sunken eyes and ashen cheeks flushed as he looked askance. He matted his frousy greasy hair and coughed up some phlegm.
Bert backed away, a bit disturbed. He now sauntered to the upper school, wary indeed. The boys, all younger than he but attempting to exhibit their virility to him, dominated the hall. He spotted two youths grappling viciously in a corner. The one with the upper hand pummeled his charge in the side. Bert summoned his valor and approached them. The bully did not even look up Instead, he continued to revel in the bloody guffaws of his victim.
“Hey man, what’s up?” Bert inquired with alacrity.
“Go to hell.”
“Hey, now, how’s ‘bout you let out your aggression on me. Save this kid, here, a broken rib.”
Bert had read of this brave trick in a saint book; Saint Dominic Savio had diffused just such an ordeal with his resolute meekness. He sensed the sparsely clothed girls behind him gravitate toward the scene. Though Bert remembered reading, “Faint heart never won fair lady,” he did not have a mind to woo ladies not so fair. In fact, the words “slut” or “whore” came to his mind unconsciously. The girls were grossly immodest. They did not understand that those worthy of attraction would refrain from gazing at the flesh while those who would were not worth impressing. Nonetheless Bert aspired to gain a soul or two by impressing his spectators, his opponent, and the tormented with courage and unyielding charity.
The bully ceased to beat his fellow, shoving him into the wall, where the poor lad slid down, limply cowering. The bully glared at Bert demonically and struck the first blow when Bert’s composed gaze unsettled him. Weapons were his words. Bert parried the strike easily enough. His father had inculcated the principle of pugilism (a product of the elder Bellarmine’s Irish nonage) in Bert from his youth, and Bert had had ample time sporting with Jude, as physical exercise. Bert maintained his peace, heeding foremost the injunction to turn the other cheek whilst keeping in mind the other instruction to carry swords.
Actually, Bert was something of an intellectual in terms of fighting. He had read about great boxers who oriented their punches with scientific precision. He schooled himself in the more seamy ways of medieval German wrestling. He also memorized some techniques in the newer and more pacifistic form of aikido. He entrusted the care of his body and soul to his guardian angel and donned his helm of light.
Bert humiliated the bully by avoiding his hit so facilely. What Bert could not know was that he was embroiled in a hierarchy of might, and he, Lancelot, was facing the Sir Turquine of this school. Bert’s utter confidence, cultivated by primogeniture and prayer, rendered him a foe to be reviled. Bert cast not the gauntlet but the olive branch one last time. “C’mon man, give it up. It’s okay. It’s finished. Let’s just be friends.”
The bizarre offer turned the provocateur into further violence. He took an errant whack at Bert’s ear. He deftly ducked. The man threw another blow toward his gut. Bert leapt back. The bully swung at his nose, clipping the bridge of Bert’s face bluntly. He felt an eldritch tingling through the bone, a burning in the cartilage, an oozing in the nostrils. He saw stars. He let his guard down as his enemy proceeded to thrust his sternum repeatedly. Each blow struck hollowly, but resounded with a jangling sensation in his innards as if his organs were being jumbled. He felt like vomiting. He bent over and suffered a sucker punch to the occipital region of his skull. He shrieked and reared erect. Just wrath welled up in his arms, his veins electrified with adrenaline. He burst and ran, not out of fear but out of a repugnance for hatred. His opponent pursued, whooping odiously. Bert wanted to find an authority. He rapped on doors, but no response. He reached a dead end of lockers. The bully, at breakneck speed, rammed headlong into Bert’s shoulder, his head jerked on metal. His eyes went black for a few seconds.
He swung into a savage survival mode. He did it only out of love, to prevent his assailant from sinning further by inhibiting his ability to hurt him further. Bert thrust his knee into the enemy’s chest. He crumpled. As he groped at Bert’s shins in a daze, in a desperate attempt to fell him, Bert gave him no further opportunity to hurl him. Bert brought his elbow with crushing force upon the back of his head. He was awake, but nauseated. Bert commended that sorry remnant of oppression to God and disentangled himself from his dead grip. The girls cheered as the boys became hot with envy. Bert smiled in quiet alacrity but ignored the appraisal of all but God. He ignored who he could see and confided in Him who he could not see.
He saw Jude down the hall. Jude grinned impishly and Bert responded with a rakish flash of the lips.
“So how ‘ya been, Jude?”
“Fine. I like school here. I like the girls, at least. The guys, not so much.”
Bert’s levity evaporated. “Well, be careful about these girls. Just remember what Mom and Da told us. As for the boys, just be nice. How about school, though. I mean books and stuff.”
“Oh, it’s great. Nothing worrisome.”
Bert could read that his preachy comments had irked his brother again. Their proximity in age had made Jude recalcitrant to his slightly senior brother’s somewhat priggish injunctions. Bert had to continue, though. “Let’s go somewhere more private.”
“What do you mean?” Jude had already acclimated to the private made public environment. “Nowhere’s like that around here. They let kids do as they please, even though cameras stalk us all the time.” He spoke sotto voce. “Even in the bathrooms.” Then, stentorian, “Hey, it’s better than we had at home, eh? Not so stifling. I didn’t know life could be so much fun.”
Bert spoke gravely but gently. “Yeah, fun’s good. ‘Love God, and then do whatever you pleased’!”
Jude’s smile faded. “Hey, don’t mention Him around here, what do you think you’re doin’?”
Bert stammered. “I…uh, what are you talking about?”
“They don’t let us talk about…Him…around here. Besides, the kids won’t approve.”
Bert snapped slightly. He could see now the defiance his parents had always deplored and he had always ignored in Jude. He feared. “That’s exactly what I’m trying to do. If you deny Him, He’ll deny you. What, you think it isn’t cool, or something?”
“Oh, I’m not sure I believe too much in that old stuff anymore.”
“Jude, just go for Truth and when you find it, act on it. If you don’t, well,…”
“Wait, don’t say it. I’ll go to hell. There’s a word said a lot around here. I think you’d better leave, Albertus Magnus.”
Bert smiled grimly and pivoted off. The encounter disturbed him. Jude was an impossible case after all, so it seemed.
He left the place of brooding violence, a house where chaos was order, and every man his own law.
Bert’s studies went well. His genius permitted him to excel his peers with less consumption of time. He dedicated his abundant spare hours to the composition of scientific inquiries, literary essays, and poetry. And he prayed, reading the Bible and spiritual works every day. He thought of his family frequently, excepting one member. The memory of Tarcissius, little Tarcy, fled from his intellect altogether. He could not bear the image of that sweet creature wallowing in his own blood.
One night, after even his long-studying roommate had retired, Bert dreamt an intriguing reverie. He saw Tarcy. Tarcy had rarely spoken in life. Even though he had attained his fifth year, his excessively taciturn disposition had prompted a diagnosis of autism or some like deficiency from Dr. Bellarmine, Gerard’s father. Tarcy would trot about all day, his frmpled blond hair willowing in the wind. His older siblings would play learning games with him, but to no avail. Everyone finally grew accustomed to simply hugging him and letting his broad smile warm his own face. The rage that welled up in Bert the day of Tarcy’s death would have incited him to kill the killer or die for the young martyr. But it all happened so quickly that such courses of action could not even be considered by the quickest wit. Besides, had such fantasies enticed Bert’s lower sense at the time, prudence and the counsel of conscience would have dictated otherwise.
Yet in this dream, he relived the horrid episode. He saw again the bloodsplattered shirt, the growing pallor in Tarcy’s countenance, the eyes slackening saccadic glances that yielded to the glaze of eternity. He smelled the hot innards, queerly blended with seaspray and foliage and sweat. He heard the shrill cries of his mother, the grunts of his father, the bickering of the officers over the incident, the sweet wimpers of the dying one. He touched his brother’s wet, seizing body with bitter affection as his father feverishly tended to him. He tasted death.
His brother had spoken but a few words that he never said again: “nigh-nigh,” “no,” and like baby-talk. Otherwise, he remained quite breviloquent. He stayed silent in life, and in death. So whenever there was no noise invading the sanctum of his thoughts, Bert heard his brother. It was as if he had never left. He only missed his beautiful smile, a smile too big for his own face.
This night was different. After he saw his brother die, his brother woke up. He dreamt that his father had saved. Tarcy approached him. He smiled as if Bert had tickled him as he had so many times when Tarcy was alive. He spoke. His voice sounded like maple trickling from a tree on a summer’s eve. IT sounded perfectly natural, so apropos in fact that Bert could not distinguish that he had never actually heard it.
With glowing, vibrant blue eyes, Tarcy said: “Hello, Bert. I’ve always wanted to speak with you. I can now that I’m in heaven., Give everyone my love. Yes, even that man who shot me. But remember, there are others who die even worse deaths than I did. I’m praying for you.”
Bert awoke. He tried to remain asleep and savor more of his brother’s words. He awoke without remembering he had been asleep, thinking that either Tarcy was alive or he himself had expired, such was the lucidity of the dream. Despite the almost prophetic quality of the dream, Bert lay awake, unsurprised. He relished the ethereal feeling that rippled over his person; he fondled the nexus of life and afterlife that inebriated him with both utter fear and utmost consolation. He shivered in numinous awe. Luminosity swathed him. A disquieting peace settled in his soul. The feeling impressed him not to go back to sleep, either to guard himself from fiends or to watch for further enchantment. Even though he panged when he realized it was a dream, he rejoiced in its state of vision. He thanked God, rested his head back on his pillow, and tried to decode its meaning as he relapsed into slumber. He spent the rest of the sleepy eve in bliss, notions from mystics informing his imagination. Even unconscious, he applied his reading. He reasoned that the dream was not improbable given his religious bent while awake, and Saint Therese of Avila had thought it possible for any diligent Christian to ascend to the heights of infused prayer in the interior castle. But when he had awoken, he experienced the searching feeling of scrutinizing a painting close range without searing what the brushstrokes were meant to convey. A vague confusion had overwhelmed him. He felt also like one who has read a fine novel, watched a cathartic film, seen a potent painting, all in one day and is at a loss to make sense of the excess of emotion. He needed to take a step back to let the stroke become the face, the detail the whole.
The nocturnal event had somewhat transfigured Bert’s whole outlook. His diurnal routine seemed like a good sculpture of an apprentice perfected by a master. His life seemed more distinct. Tarcy had uttered a warning, and he meant to heed it.
As of now, he was taking comfort in God’s pleasure. He had blessed him with health for one thing. He had fluid locks of black hair combed neatly over a high, tan forehead. He had a sharp nose and defined cheekbones framing deep –set blue eyes. His slight mouth curved perpetually in a wry smile of contentment that only saints know. He was lean and relatively tall. He strode spryly and made the most of his economical movements.
He was in the state of grace and his growth in holiness was all that mattered: God lived in him, though he could not deny that the overt presentiments of the carnal that enveloped him sorely tried his chastity. Ejaculation saved his conscience whenever beset by the slightest temptation.
He had friends, though he would have been happy with no one but God. He preferred the company of kin, visiting his relatives often. He saw his mother and father in their adjacent cells. HE frolicked with his siblings (with Jude’s conspicuous absence) in the yard of the Juvenile Detention Center for Remedial Education.
His professors confide that by next fall, Bert showed forth the aptitude to become an assistant professor. He simply had to do well on finals, as per normal. They queried as to what subject he would choose to dwell upon. Bert immediately asked for a position in the teaching and research of cosmology, the creation of the universe and its concomitant astrophysics. They assented to his request, and he signed a contract. That afternoon, Bert nearly skipped down the marble stair from the towering brick building, seeping in the radiance of day. He saw rays of sunlight from that nearest daystar, flickering through the fluttering leaves of the ancient trees that lined the solitary sidewalk to his upperclassmen residence. He was only nineteen.
That fall, Bert donned his tuffs and mounted the podium of professorship. He spoke in grand lyceums with an articulate resonance, transformed subtly by his nebulous accent. His students brazenly surmised he was Canadian of Irish parents. They expressed shock to hear he hailed from California. He spoke little of his childhood, afraid his unique youth might impugn him legally somehow. Therefore, mystery imbued his persona.
Bert worked hard, researching avidly. He often labored entire nights, enjoying the conviviality of his colleagues. They shared in their delicate observances of the universe’s glory. They routinely huddled in a dark, cozy observatory, disseminating dry data in the eerie glow of a muddling computer. All of his scientific friends were men, which mildly surprised Bert, given the active crusade by the state to make every discipline sexually equitable. This inequality concerned Bert’s research team at least.
In his teaching work, a fellow of the opposite gender accompanied him. He had the privilege of a female understudy named Mary. A rare name for a rare lady. Acquainting himself with her between lectures and exchanging papers, he indulged in a paradox of passion. For him, he sought purity to the extent that the feminine sex presented an attraction and a repulsion, some illogic of magnetic forces. He was like a penitent in a restaurant who offered the meager quantity of the meals therein up as a sacrifice but could not forbear from enjoying the excellent quality of the eatables nonetheless. Bert often shunned the company of women, not out of a lack of charity for their tender souls but rather due to wariness of the temptations against his own salvation. The comely maiden’s troth panged his senses. He could say: “The more I reject you, the greater am I drawn.” Such was a similar dilemma of some saints. Those acutely called often flee the fastest until they realize that they run from the source of their happiness: God.
Bert declined this regular diffidence in the case of Mary. Her modesty melted his scrupulous inhibition. He loved her as a mother, a sister, a bride, all the more so when she divulged, on the sly, that she too practiced an orthodox Catholicism.
One afternoon, as the pupils dispersed, Bert suggested he take some of her papers to grade himself, which she appreciated delightfully. A moment of romance transpired between them. He made a habit of guarding his intentions, even in the most minute manners. He prided himself (though that term should be avoided in application to so humble a personality) in holding out the door without looking at who came behind him, wanting to be kind to whomsoever he should meet and to avert besmirching his generosity with any proclivity to flirtation or ingratiation. In fact, he had heard a nun speak of modesty of the eyes, focusing on prayer without distracting oneself by discovering the identity of those who came in the church. Well, Bert prayed in everything he did and that included courtesies, so he did not look for the identity of those he aided always.
However, this case proved different, and distinct in his memory, as we shall see. Doing such a subtle kindness merited a subtle gramercy and to whom kindness he offered, thanks proffered.
A meek but beautiful voice murmured, “Thank you.” The voice encapsulated the very reflection of Bert’s own disposition in feminine form. Delicately entrancing yet immaculately modest he returned the politeness with an overt glance into her eyes. His parents had told him to make eye contact after all. Her eyes were different from his. They emanated a much lighter shade of blue, like a cloudless sky at noon, or a virgin’s mantle. They smiled at him. Can eyes even smile? he wondered. In her case, they could. He lifted the corners of his lips and bowed his head slightly.
Behind his eyes, one could detect the potency of his mind while behind her eyes, must be not her head but her heart. Her eyes were like a pool you can see the sandy bottom of.
“You’re the first person in quite a while that has thanked me for a dinky thing like that,” he chuckled.
“Well, it’s just plain manners.” Her voice titillated him. He felt as he gazed at her intermittently that with each sporadic glance the waters of that lagoon of her heart behind her eyes was dipping into the ocean of his mind slowly purging it of any salt in his tumultuous sea.
In fact, this analogy does not do justice to the extent of their commonality. When their eyes first met, they saw in each other’s lineaments the universe. His eyes were peepholes into a vast ocean. Her eyes were keyholes that peered not into the interior of a room but rather the entire light blue sky on a bright day. And where the sky and the sea converge, one can barely distinguish between them. They are intricately connected. The skies rain on the sea in lugubrious climes and evaporate this water to the clouds on better days.
In the space of a second, the cycle of sky and sea passed between them.
The way she spoke was like the Circe or Sirens. The voice did not resound but glimmered on the waves of his ocean, and like the moon, drew them, calmed them. As Miranda would say, “Eternity was on our lips and eyes,” except in this case only on their eyes.
For young Bert gazing in her eyes was not a temptation. Whenever seduced by a woman, he would focus on her eyes in search of her soul. For every soul is imperfect and that ugliness would dissuade passion. Instead, he would be able to transcend physical attraction in favor of spiritual affinity. In those who drew him, he replaced sensual love, the eros, with an unconditional sally for their well-being eterne, his agape. As to philia, he rarely kept company with women.
He was an atavism of the chivalric epoch. His docility before the Church merits only naivete in our modern society. But such was courage that his peers appraised unphased his noble aspirations.
Three months later, he proposed and a secret marriage was arranged.
On a sultry eve in spring that next year, a disguised priest led them to an underground chapel. It had the ambience of a catacomb, but dreams of martyrdom only sealed their amant sentiment. The priest, only 23 (they ordained earlier in days with such a dearth of priests), exuded a youthful savoir-vivre that nearly exceeded their own. Bert’s parents were allowed to act as witnesses under strict conditions.
As they scampered from the nuptial Mass, Christ vigilant in their hearts, Bert had ample opportunity to see his parents’ faces for the first time in a while. His mother’s face showed no wear, but his father’s downright jarred him. His father did not appear aged a bit. He was only a man of some 42 years and aged gracefully. But his eyes, once aglow with an exuberance for life, seemed to flicker with deathly impassivity for an indistinguishable second.
Married life went well for the couple. It was as if Saint Louis had married Saint Elizabeth of Hungary and both of them dedicated their studies to natural philosophy.
It was summer. They stole away to Our Lady, Star of the Sea and made frequent communions at the rail. They also went to confession often. The more Bert received these mystical nourishments, the more he craved that which the state had denied him – aromatic chrism glistening on his forehead and confirming him as a knight for God. For all the bishops had to swear to take an oath of allegiance to the nation over the Vatican under pain of execution. Most of them had the courage to put God before king. Bert abhorred the clerical purge. He knew priests in general were next. Their public office infringed upon the privacy of the nonbeliever though the believer was equally afflicted by the state. It was a private imbroglio of ideology being broadened to the public realm.
They were happy, indeed, and reserved ample finance and energy to make a holy pilgrimage to Rome. Though they reveled in being able to see for the first time Catholic art, preserved from secular authorities merely as monuments of cultural interest. One thing particularly struck their fancy. They toured the Vatican Observatory, administerd by Jesuits. Then, Bert remembered. With a frenzy, he suggested to his wife that they abbreviate their marital excursion. She complied eagerly, intrigued herself with her husband’s sudden whim. It was no whim. Bert had seen in his father’s eyes, a reflection of the stars, a decadent longing for days long past, and he connected the papal stadium with the school his parents had attended. They returned to California to find it.
“So your parents went to this college,” Mary asked sweetly.
Bert responded with like congeniality. “Yeah, back when it was a college, at least.”
“What do you mean? What is it now?”
“Oh, I’ve heard part of it’s turned into a secret monastery. They sut it down because it was too religious. The school focused on Western Civilization and that had to offend someone. It’s like the public schools. They avoid even talking about the humanities – Shakespeare, included – because it’s too faith-based, right and wrong, truth…they want nothing to do with it so they can keep legalizing sin. Boy do they hate that word.”
“Yep. Well, at least we found each other, right? So we can discuss matters…candidly.” Her blue eyes glinted beneath the lustrous auburn hair. They both smiled and looked up to admire the scenery in resumed silence.
They sauntered on a crisp, paved road in a rural region outside of the town. The tall, sprawling oak and maple trees sheltered the couple from the day’s radiance. A few cumulous clouds ambled across the bright horizon beyond verdant, undulating hills around them. The trees vaulted, as high as a chapel. The sun warmed them, but they walked in light shadows on the dusty shoulder of the tortuous pavement.
The blue sky looked to Bert like the Blessed Virgin Mary’s azure mantle, arching over him and his wife. They had been walking for three days, luncheoning over a loaf of bread, a wheel of cheese, a gallon of water, and clumps of fruit. They tired and Bert’s feet pained him. He grinned to Mary wryly though, secretly uniting his subtle suffering with the nails through Christ’s feet. He stood the irksome pain silently, as did she. But regardless of how much they wished to conceal their inner heart, their pace slackened considerably. Bert was lost.
“Whew, I followed the directions, but…I can’t make sense of where we are.” They were nestled in a peaceful valley, ants scavenging in a serpentine path between two far-flung ant mounds. On their right, a wall of grass sloped to the sky. On the left, an aggregate cliff plummeted after a curving guardrail. The valley rolled curvaceously. It was four in the afternoon. The golden honey of sunrays, tinctured with citrus tones, glazed the sinuous, green earth. It looked like a painting of a 14th century Italian villa. Or Eden.
Suddenly, a passing van ruptured their reverie. As t he car thrummed past, ruffling their hair and clothes with the disrupted wind.
Mary mentioned something strange. “Did you see those people?”
Bert, with usual indifference, denied anything unusual. Mary continued. “Well, I saw a few kids in the back, but the two men in the front were looking amorously at each other. Except one was dressed as a woman…”
Bert wheeled on her. “What?”
“I may be wrong. I hope I’m wrong, I – “
“Oh, no. You’re pr’y right. It’s legal after all. And this is California. Weirdo stuff. Whatever. What can ye do?” He sighed, with unsettled, unrestrainable complacency.
After another hour of exchanging doubts and contradictions, just when they were about to forfeit and go back, they arrived. In the dusk, the odor of oranges permeating the purple twilight breeze, they came to a pair of wrought iron gates between two red-brick posts, all entwined with ivy, undergrowth, and choking weeds. It was rusty and a bit disturbing.
After some mighty manipulation, they breached the entrée and walked wearily up the crunching, circuitous path. A few mission-style ruins dotted the glistening sward, mottled by violet, indigo, and carmine flowers. It looked like an abandoned mission but for three closely aligned modulars at the far end where the square plain morphed into mountain. In the increments of dark stillness, the three enclosures flickered with fluorescent light and shadowy human profiles. Nearer to them, where the path forged into dilapidated sidewalk, an old belfry loomed. About it, lay mounds of dust and shards of stone. The ruins of Oxymandias prostrated themselves before a merciless sky.
“I think this used to be a church,” Bert remarked.
Awestruck, Mary spoke with the tone of one whose eyes overpower their lips. “I’d imagine.”
Only the belfry retained its regal, ancient rite of Angelus and Hours, except some malediction had left its summit, hundreds of feet in the sky, bereft of a cross.
“Shall we go up it?” Bert inquired, almost jovially.
They circled about the obelisk thrice, touching its brick walls, veined with crevices, and mortar, crumbling betwixt warm fingers and becoming wet yet rough to the touch. One brick toppled out of place and exploded on the sidewalk with the pop of a firework.
“We’d better be careful. It looks unstable,” Mary objected.
“Fine, then. You stay here.”
Bert peered inquisitively into the infinite void broached by the accidental aperture. The belfry’s entrance had long since been caulked up, presumably to impede rascals from the neighboring agricultural town from vandalizing the abandoned structure. Bet clawed while the bricks were weakest until he had a foot square passage to climb through. Being slim, he had little trouble wiggling into the pitch black. He fell headlong and smacked his head on the floor within. Panic seized him. He could not extricate himself from the absolute black swathing about him let alone right his inverted frame. His calls to his wife, while heard by her, did not elicit any appeasement to his will because her responses could not penetrate the belfry’s eternal quietude. Finally, with a thrashing of the feet, Bert writhed himself into normalcy. He sat panting and tried to orient himself as his eyes weaned themselves from light and became useful even without a touch. As of now, it mattered not whether he closed his eyes. It made no difference. He was blind, in the keenest meaning for a seeing person. He felt sleepy. The soporiferous silence, intensified by the musty ether enveloping him, made him feel like one who stumbles in a blizzard and has no will to free himself from the hot blanket of snow laminating his stiffening limbs. This was his wahnspannung, his gegenhalt, and, finally, his witzelsucht as he began to chuckle at his predicament. He stood in the cramped space and unsheathed his phone. He shed its electric luminescence upon thinner walls confining him. The man-contrived cormorant led him around, examining the architecture. Basically, he was situated between the wall he had entered through and a stone pillar. A grey stone stair wreathed itself upward around the pillar. Bert began hooping up the steep steps, trying to let the whitish glow guide his feet. Once, he tripped, splitting his nose on a block and rattling all the way to the ground again. When he had regained this position and clambered beyond it, he tripped again, slamming his knee into a wall. He howled, losing gradually his initial forbearance in adversity. When he had scaled at least 50 steps, he slipped and knocked his forehead against another stone. He dropped his phone. It broke. He restrained himself from uttering an obscenity in this holy place. He groped on all fours, feeling like a worm in a rotting skull or a mouse in the voracious clutch of a smothering snake. Such were the venomous predilections that penetrated his thoughts against his will. He only heard his own breath and the whistle of the wind in the decaying wood vaulting that formed a skeleton to this tower. It was the height of a small rocket.
He must have ascended a couple hundred of steps by the time he reached the top. He found himself in a solar with a small archery window on each of the four sides of the square room. He bellowed to his wife from one of these openings, and he saw her wave.
He felt like a man waking from a dream and still savoring its otherworldly pleasantry, the type of dream that suffices one for an entire day with renewed hope in humanity before reality reawakens. He inspected the myriad of clarion bells, choked by chains that inhibited their ring. He reflected wistfully on how the countryside would never revel in the toll of the time, what with fettered bells. The room, with a creaky wood floor and a wood ceiling whose rafters sun, rain, and excrement had ill-maintained, recalled to him Merlin’s or Erasmus’ scholarly tower, with all the erudite fixtures therein. A clock revolved by the coreolis effect eerily swung. The clock of God went untolled.
He thought of what his father, in a laboratory indefinably like this chamber, had said about that principle, how God had invisibly blocked the Spanish cannonballs with that same principle of the earth’s principle.
He looked at a desk strewn with classical literature: Roger Bacon, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, William Oakham, Kepler, Galileo, Copernicus, Brahe, Aristotle, Newton, even Einstein, and the like, were some of the names he recognized. Books by men whose intellects I could never exceed, he commented to himself. He also saw more modern equipage, still ringing of Lavoisier’s workplace, nonetheless. He saw bizarre brass scales, yellowing globes of parchment, glass orbs and tubes and burners, manometers that seemed hewn of gas themselves (as if vapor had crystallized into bubbles), golden astrolabes, stellar parallaxes, and other rarities of astronomy and seamanship. He marveled as he irreverently examined instruments he had only read of . He sighed in the way of a scientist who appreciates the giants he perches on.
The red rays of growing evening, the approach of the Cimmerian lands, siphoned through the four windows at once, drenching all the fine things with the resplendent red of martyrdom, and draping the gigantic bells with a kingly robe. He had to return to his wife. He sprinted down the stairs in a third of the time it took to climb them.
They left the belfry, pigmented like a rubicund complexion of a child’s cheek after play, to swelter in the unfurling rose of night. They went to the three habitations. They walked meditatively on the wharf-like plank ramp leading obliquely to the rickety door, which they tipped thrice.
To their surprise, and glee for that matter, a surpliced cleric opened the door. He spoke through a lattice. They were in absolute seclusion.
A whisper filtered through the grate. “Dominus vobiscum.”
“Et cum spirito tuo,” they responded in unison.
“Very well. What do you need?” The monk spoke with an aery voice.
The solemnity reflected off Bert’s answer: “A night’s lodging.”
Chanting thrummed hypnotically in the background. It was weird how the manly song echoed in a house of such ill audio.
“There is a hut in the hills there. It was once occupied by the groundskeeper who passed away. It should suit you both.”
“Thank you very much.” The door shut slowly, concluding the mystical encounter.
In the growing, prowling darkness, Bert and Mary commenced their hike. They trudged in cheerful silence, absorbing the religious atmosphere like a drowning man who finally breathes air. It refreshed them.
A fog settled over t he land, obfuscating their perilous journey up a precipice.
They clawed up the craggy cliff, bruising their hard knees and the heels of their hands on rocks strewn over the path. A chill prickled their damp skin.
Just as the creamy fog darkened into a black smoke, they could distinguish the cabin, a sanctuary amidst the conifers of the thickening, mazy forest and verdure. The gardener had fashioned the mean domicile of amorphous granite stones, precariously stacked upon another to form four walls and roofed with flat, wooden boards. They opened the door.
Cobwebs netted over the dusty corners of the one-roomed guest house like a neural plaque. There was an ancient crucifix propped in a niche in the stones in the far wall. They lit a match on the mantelpiece on the perpendicular wall and ignited the long-decayed offal in the hearth. A scraggly rug matted the dirt floor, a cassock was draped on the fourth wall, opposite the fireplace, and a table and chair adorned the cornice between the crucifix and the cassock. They huddled near the irradiating flames and unveiled the last of their foodstuffs for a quiet meal. In their unspoken fervency of soul, they communed with God. To them, the fire in the pit portrayed the fire of charity for God and others; the tongue of fire that flickered on the Apostles’ foreheads at Pentecost; the fire of Elijah’s chariot; the ball of flame that took Saint Robert of Newminster to heaven. The love between the Father and His Reflection, the Son, became the dove, the heat of the Holy Spirit, Love made personage.
A misconstrual of Saint Augustine has rendered generations of poor ignorant to presume Catholic abhorrence of sexuality. Now, as of late, Bert and Mary had yet to consummate their holy matrimony. The connubial state simply afforded them an opportunity to grow in the utmost virtue of humility, bearing especially one another’s loving idiosyncrasies (rather than annoyances) in a way similar to that of a brother and sister. Recently, their confessor had deemed their religious sentiments worthy and invited them to ascend to the more corporeal aspect of union, having already been much conjoined with the Third Corner of the triangle of marriage, God, through a communal recitation of the Rosary.
That glowing eve, in the heat of the fire they slumbered before, they completed their relationship, becoming one body never sundered. In sooth, the majority of this generation was loath to connect the means to the end, in everything from science to sex. Saint Ignatius, he of the flame, had known. But Bert and Mary did in both. Each of them had abstained unto now not out of priggishness but rather a higher reverence for the sexual act than that of their contemporaries. They respected their bodies enough to wait to save them for their spouse. But why? Besides being instructed to follow such wholesome practices by their Church, it only made sense to be pure. They regarded it as inane to separate pleasure from its purpose. If one licked food to savor its flavor but did not consume it to nourish oneself, one would soon perish for lack of sustenance. The same applied to this situation, as C.S. Lewis might agree, Bert thought. Enjoyment may proffer a higher plane of amour but only in its proper context: children. They saw this marital act as a participation in the creation of new souls to be brought up for Christ in the Church to attain heaven. A noble mission, indeed, so they thought. However, this end was more difficult to accomplish than they anticipated, in this society.
Presently, they collapsed into a fit of love, eros serving agape and fed by philia, that would merit a canticle not capable of authorhip. Lo! the heaving ecstasy surpassed any temptation they had faced in single life. All images avoided, faces scorned, bodies and voices escaped from the mand melted away in their mutual embrace. Prayers muttered in times of need and vigorous pursuit of vocation reaped what they sowed tonight. Bert knew what it meant when the prophets mused, Inter ubera mea commorabitur.
They knew this act to be one of holy chastity, given their state and intention. They also knew that the Canticle of Canticles was a bodily reflection of the spiritual affinity Christ has for Mother Church. For now, they indulged in a contemplative composure as the sky lightened from the coruscating orb that peered over the sublunary axis. The angels sang their prothalamion.
On the morn, they dined on meager yet succulent fruit before taking a brief tour of the premises under the humble direction of the monk who had abetted them on the prior night.
In radiant splendor, he trod, and they followed. They heard the restive aviary of twilight ruffle the breaking mist that enshrouded the three. The monastery itself could not boast of much. Thus, the wedded novices were free to wander and inquire as they pleased, regarding dreamily the mystical quadrangle they walked across.
“We’re actually looking for something specific. You wouldn’t happen to know where the secret cave is would you? We mean no mischief, of course,” Bert spoke stiltedly.
The monk nodded, a look of cheery tranquility, a fading, wry grin, passed over his visage, almost unnoticaeably. He was the type of man who spoke as infrequently as prudent.
“Hmm, yes of course. You must be aware of the college, then?”
They affirmed this.
He smiled in the shadow of his tonsure. “Yes, I was a student there and partook in many a covert convention.” He caught himself, restraining his boyish complacency in clever alliteration. “It’s quite a ways, over the bluff to the north, but I can show if you’d like.”
“We’d like it very much.”
“Well, then, we’re off. I’m not busy till midmorning prayers, so we have plenty of time.”
Mary spoke for the first time. “What order are you, by the way?”
“Order of Premonstratensians.” So many syllables silenced her.
Their peaceful, affable chittering coursed like a stream sucked by swallows. It ebbed from the world and nourished the curious beaks of religion, and academia. The monk, a Norbertine, denied any teaching position, dedicated his nonspiritual studies to astrophysics, certainly intriguing Bert and Mary. They spoke for a while about natural philosophy and the theology it hailed so elegantly as they hiked on the path to the hut, this time with the intent of rounding the mountain’s shoulder to the wild opposite. The sun was dispersing the cool fog, blowing sea smells on the breeze of Bert’s birth.
With aching shin and wetted brow, they neared the arcane locale. Hidden amongst a host of thorn and nettle and blooming bud, they could just distinguish a slight aperture in the rocky ledge.
Cutting his hands, leathery by much “meditation in action,” the monk opened the passage and painfully allowed the young couple to enter first. The monk lit a candle, reminding Bert of a retreat: “Christ is the light of my life.”
It took a youthful amenability to be led by that monk, for it seemed the darkness alone supported their feet. It was the paradox of standing over the abyss. Some invisible medium seemed to elevate them from wading in the rivers of Styx and Oblivion. This Charon knew the way, the truth, and the life, in his persona Christi. They trusted, and he commanded. They were carried by the Thrones of Humility.
Finally, after traversing the void with the wariness of one falling backwards hoping one’s spotter catches him and forbears from any tergiversation, they stopped at the wall within the cavern. The monk’s lantern yielded the message inscribed at the top of this rufuscated palisade: Deus ubique conservans mundum.
The monk translated the sentence (which he had found in a book by Berlinsky) for those unknowledgeable in the language of the dead. “God is everywhere preserving the world.”
“That’ll be hard to see today,” Bert muttered.
The monk’s sweet cadence whispered into his ear though each of the three felt as if conversation traveled through the vacuum of outer space, with the monk’s candle the remnant of a supernova. The monk possessed a sobriety so grave that it escaped slight or jest. And yet, he was contented, for who can solemnly pronounce the ubiquity of the Divine without feeling His consolation whether he has ascended the heights of holiness or plunged into the depths of sins. Bert smiled, and so did Mary. They understood, but it scared them a little. As the three turned back to confront the colloidal twilight once more, Bert spoke again.
“So, was there ever a club, a society of some sort, held here? My dad told me about something.”
“Yes, there was. I was a member in fact. What’s your father’s name?”
“Gerard Bellarmine. He be a doctor now. In prison.”
“He would. I recollect him well. His presence flickered upon us all almost like the candles we carried.”
“So you even knew him?”
“That I did. My vows won’t restrict me from speaking freely now that I’m in the company of the kin. Whew, he was brilliant, but a good, orthodox Catholic, too. Fancy you take after him?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I suppose.”
“Hmm, you’re a young couple. How’d you support yourselves in these times of turmoil, eh?”
“Astrophysics. We teach over at Cal Tech.”
“Uh, huh. That’s interesting. I myself got a Ph.D. in astronomy and cosmology before I entered the order. I don’t teach it now or anything but I have an observatory up in the bell tower.”
“Sorry to intrude, but I think I’ve already chanced across it. I thought it was no longer in use.”
“Oh, no bother. I’m certain an esteemed personage like yourself would not muck with the delicate instruments. They’re archaic after all.” He lilted with a merry wistfulness resigned to the vicissitudes of existence. He could just as easily have managed as an astronomer with a broken telescope, a painter without a brush, if God so ordained to deprive him of the tool of his trade.
Bert continued. “So where’d you go to school?”
“Oxford. I went to daily Mass though and befriended the Blackfriars there. I thought I could use my gifts best as a religious, so here I am today. Of course, the persecution has worsened much since those days.” A silence warmed the cave with triune breath. “Indeed, it has.” It felt like they were sailing over the Mediterranean in the Holy House of Loretto, resting with the Holy Family on the wings of angels. Such is the nature of good company.
Bert and Mary were strolling though a bookstore during Christmastide. A café vended hot chocolate adulterated with caffeine, nicotine, propranylol, hallucinogens, and other mood-altering potions (and Ritalin, for any student preparing for finals). Medicine had advanced far enough that such chemicals’ more pleasant properties had been retained with an enantiomeric refinement of side-effects. A life not worth leading was thus prolonged.
Blazing pennants billowed and snapped in a wintry breeze outside the shop in downtown Ojai, to mark the secular holiday. Dusk settled over the cool landscape. Christmas was illegal, even saying the word proved a hate crime to the atheist. Books, even Shakespear, that hinted of faith were disallowed publication.
Bert spoke to the encient Mary. They feared, lest the smiling babe’s brains be dashed upon her mother’s knees by a doctor having to melt his population quotient. They would have to fight just to baptize their baby. They had discarded every contraceptive pill the doctors had prescribed. Anyone was worthy of death, since life was not defined actually. Still, they thought of Christ’s birth in their hearts and beseeched the Holy Innocents of this sacred season.
A priest visited their modest mountain home for a private celebration of the Mass. The Eucharist reminded them that Christ was born to die, for His Kingdom was not of this world.
During Epiphany, as school re-congregated, Bert commenced some controversial studies. His work proved a statistical preponderance on behalf of intelligent design. He had earned tenure for his previous papers; he figured he had nothing to lose. At least he could retain a position of professor emeritus, humorous for a man of 2 and 20. Yearning to search the souls of his students as he stared into their eyes from his podium, he desired to divulge the truth. He had taught them what, but not why. He also gazed at his colleagues’ twinkling, almost childish, eyes as they perused numbers on a computer screen, marveling at a universe without purpose. Like solving any math problem, information had to be collected before a solution was reached. Jesus had to suffer and die before He rose from the dead. They observed without reasoning. They saw without understanding. Lo! the ignorant babes with minds like steel traps and hearts of the same!
And so, before unveiling the nail of his coffin, the centurion of his tomb, he consulted three trusted fellows of the university for a series of debates within the cave at the abandoned college.
Mary, her womb enthralled with being, and her face refulgent with maternity, pondered how the parthenogenetic new Eve bore He who the heavens could not contain. Bert thrummed with the Tarrasa of his hamaufrasune just as she was to tremble in birth pains. She was to imitate the Virgin Mary in the labor of the apocalypse.
The monk and two others arrived, knocking on the makeshift portal and chanting the Latin motto.
The monk stood present to ascertain that all arguments proved sound and worthy of any canonical speculation.
The first professor, an instructor, conductor, and composer of music, entered floridly. He forever concealed a baton at his breast. His sandy blond hair congealed to his high, pale forehead, dewy with the perspiration of the notes that scaled incessantly within his mind. Currently, he was at work on his magnum opus, a Mass to the nine choirs of angels in their own celestial vernacular of Latin. Needless to say, the slightest provocation from a second fiddle per se would aggravate the powers that be to depose if not slay this renegade Meistersinger. His amiable mien barely hid his burgeoning genius. His motions were facile, his words felicitous, and his mind find indeed. When his lithe fingers stroked the three keyboards of his pipe organ like lightning to produce thunder, he claimed to see a flaming angel standing above his head and smiling at his keys, like Saint Cecilia.
The next academic, a pedagogue of social sciences, embodied a queer compilation of Machiavelli and More. This dichotomy of Satan and saint was enough to disconcert secular and religious persons alike. Neither side in the epic war over minds, hearts, and souls knew how to cooperate with a being so bifurcated. He had short-cropped brown hair on a protuberant skull. He was short but fiery. He was presently pursuing a Ph.D. on the just war theory.,
Finally, there was Bert, and his loyal bride. Here, arts, science, and the humanities that embrace both intellectual aspects formed a forum for Catholic dialognue.
In a few months 2 of the 3 learned men would be dead in one way or another.
This musical man, grasping past Verise and even Stravinsky, strove for the fusion of Baroque frivolity and Gregorian sobriety in the luscious flowing of Yanni or Vangelis. He, as a youth, heard the tale of the lady converted to the Catholic Church by a classical masterpiece and resolved to assume what Haydn dubbed a “happy” way to serve God.
His dutiful symphonic members refused to betray him. That October, his elaborate piece was performed to popular acclaim and critical shame. So, the censorship authorities sought him out. He consented to their interview. One of the critics sued him for breaking the first amendment (or shall one say commandment) of the Constitution regarding religion. He had corrupted young ears with melodies to sweet for human ears, too reminiscent of a life of the future that is not to be remembered ever again.
The poor man, the composer that is, was of a mild but moody temperament. They imprisoned him. They fed him oatmeal every meal and made him pound stone every hour of daylight. He dwelt in a sable, grey cell with the haunting effluvium of dysenteric toilet. Light seeped through the rusty steel bars not from the sun but from an electric lamp in the hall. His roommate beat him every night. A tutor came to brainwash him from his traditionalism every morning. He offered all these up as penances, but his singular pleasure, his last consolation, the only vestige of his vocation was the music he listened to, prayed through in his tortured soul. As the pressure, the external oppression compressed his battered imagination, he started to hum, to whistle, always, so much so that all his fellow inmates ostracized him further. He started to have auditory hallucinations, hearing his music in actuality. It was very pleasant for him. He could warm himself by the hearth of a heart of art.
Sadly, the prisoners and wardens failed to appreciate his brilliant psychological demise. They put him in solitary confinement. There he sang and danced outright. He pleaded for the guards to give him a piano with a recorder to keep his music for posterity. The denied him. He beseeched them for paper merely, to transcribe his memory in notation. They denied him this too. Au contraire! They demanded that he stop making “noises.” He refused. They tried to place a muffle on his voice but he bit that officer.
Eventually, they managed to seal his lips. He fell into a deep depression. He couldn’t hear himself or God as the song within him burned his spirit until it became a remnant, like Schumann’s A, the ashes of greatness. The minor scale drove him literally insane. While shaving, he accidentally bled himself to death trying to slice his deranged ears off.
Thus, an artist with a gift he cannot employ self-destructs evermore.
The next pedant, of a more aggressive air, met his spiritual rather than physical demise. The former academician died in song whereas this latter did not die but ceased to sing.
His thesis incurred the wrath of latent resentment unbound from some learned persons of his university, and even from his fellow supporters. Tenure, and immediate salary, denied, they set him before the federal tribunal of constitutionality. Good (morally sound, not sophisitical, that is) lawyers were not to be had in a totalitarian democracy, in which free-speaking students were shafted into carpentry schools. Maybe it was for the best, in their case, but not for their potential clients. The majority of depravity denounced an assertive, young scholar with all-too-prim moustaches and overly erect gait.
He was sentenced not to jail time (physical confinement); only he had to report to a bureaucratic chief for ideological reassessment, a legalistic euphemism for brainwashing. The sessions resembled our own driving lessons for the ticketed, only in the realm of natural law and the government’s take on it. Basically, law was infinitely mutable, such that no law but that of its absence existed. Wherever dogmatism, moral absolutes, doctrine, rules, authority – any semblance of right and wrong – infiltrated an institution, the inculcators of morality were re-taught lessons of a pluralistic society. Dualism, black and white, light and darkness, good and evil – all were cast out in favor of a relativistic, monistic outlook that actually jeopardized the unity it purported to achieve by questioning the one thing each human being possesses in common: a soul. A soul with a conscience to relate its mind and heart to the Divine, whether recognized or not.
This re-schooling induced such a marvelous conversion in the penitent rebel that in the very first day, he conceded his intolerance: the next class, he acknowledged the evil of intolerance according to his own faith; but the final day told him that faith itself was too intolerant to be held as a repudiation of intolerance. Thus, he became gentle to the strident and strident to he gentle; only faith protects the gentle.
They renewed his salary and returned his tenure to ensure for a life of happiness and a death of perduring perdition.
The Enemy loves the vague, the nebulous, not for itself (a neutral entity) but for its capacity to confuse the wise to delude the simple, at the stake of their souls. For the supposedly shrewd, the former class, know and do evil whilst the latter remain ignorant and not responsible for their being led astray.
Who starts the chain reaction of supernovas, the trail of penumbras in the universe of the university? He who seeks never to be known, not out of humility but hatred for He in Whom all things come to light.
This tale does not plumb the depths of scientific worship, but only serves as a dystopian exemplum that such harmony between art and science, and faith and reason, is not only possible but natural. Both religion and reasoning seek to obtain truth and if Leibniz was correct in that this is the best possible of universes, we must dwell in a world where seemingly divergent approaches to the same Truth can not only compromise with each other but coalesce. Sense moves grace as gravity makes the brook bubble down the valley.
But before the inevitable construction of Bert Bellarmine’s thoughts and prayers can be addressed in this oft-stifled codex, the state of his progenitors must first be related.
Without a friend in this world excepting his dear spouse, Bert sought human solace from his devout parents. His mother had of late become late to this life and early for glory, succumbing to earthly travail in favor of a heavenly wassail, the absolute inebriation of eternal bliss in God with saints.
And so he ventured upon a visit to his dying father. Poor man! He could not wrest his spirit from the spiritual fatigue and deplorable melancholy that Augustine retracted regarding his best friend’s death whereas Bert’s father could not forego the deathly despair that stole his soul from his battered body. His Church could not rightly ease, maybe even defer his eastward passage as the last sacraments were not to be received in public let alone in a public institution, a penitentiary so ironically named.
Bert, accompanied by beloved and loving Mary, drove up to the gate in the barbed wire cordon sanitaire.
“What you young folks doing around a place like this?” The aged guard inquired.
“Visiting my father.” Bert replied with a curt displeasure.
“Very well then. Here’s your pass…put it in the windshield whn you park so you don’t get towed within your hour.”
“Only an hour?”
“That’s as much as I can give you…for your eight bucks, at least.”
“Sir, we really can’t put a time frame on this thing. My dad’s very sick. He’ll die; we just don’t quite know when.” Bert’s eyes were starting to well up with tears. Passion made not only his words but his glances tremulous. Mary winced meekly beside him.
“Well,…you got $26 by chance?”
The man behaved treacly. “Thank you, kindly. Carry on.” The martial bit sorely rubbed Bert, so he jested with Mary: “Thank you, seargent man.” He rolled up the window. “B.S. Just like our degree, eh?” He was in a sardonic mood.
“They don’t have enough parking ‘cause they’re putting any joe blow who looks at you funny in the slammer. I think we’ll even end up there. We…me, at least.”
“Don’t say that.”
“Oh, I disbelieve in jinxes. I’ll speculate to may heart’s content.”
“Whatever you say.” Mary smiled knowingly. “I’d go with you.”
He smiled back, but shook his head.
They parked and extricated themselves languidly. The sun overshadowed the distant edifice of the prison. The glare of its windows and the blinding brilliance of the sun’s reflection off the parking lot vehicles caused Bert to squint and stare at the steaming, denigrated pavement as they approached the entrance.
The imposing bronze of the entrée recalled some doors in Rome long since melded in a kiln for weaponry or something. An officer within creaked their hinges apart. The couple entered, somewhat in trepidation under the almost religious fervor that seemed to seize the secular penitentiary. Inside, the building consisted of 7 stories of barred cells on either side of a long hall way. The architecture was so contrived that the hall had no vanishing point. A prisoner entering for the first time might very well be disturbed by the subtle choice. The hall followed a lateral and vertical blueprint of Yeats’ gyre so that from either end, the hall maintained the same width as far as the eye can see. There was no light at the end of the tunnel, just an infinite chain of confinement. The far end would be the starting place of the Incarnation whereas the nearest end was the inception fo evil. As one entered, evil grew exponentially from the voracious mouth of the sluggish beast while good became more concentrated infinite in finitude, like the ouraborus of evolution and devolution.
Bert, probably one of the few persons to make such delicate observations, simply muttered, “Interesting.”
“What’s that?” Mary looked up at him more beseechingly than inquiringly. The fluorescent lights and eerie shadows of the chilly, grey place shed a pallor over her rosy cheek and made her more emotionally distraught than intellectually questing.
“Oh, nothing. The architecture is trying to be symbolic of Yeats or something. That’s all.” He repeated to himself musingly. “Higher and higher, the widening gyre.”
She shuddered. “This place is creeping me out.”
Bert ignored her apprehension with a stoicism that irritated her and himself eve,. “Hmm. He’s up on the seventh floor, all right. Pr’y where they put the tough cases.”
“Wouldn’t be surprised if they put a guy like him in solitary confinement,” Mary remarked.
“Nothing wrong with that, seeing as the company society usually offers.”
“For sure, it’s a credit to his virtue.”
Sure enough, Bert’s father could be found in the last cell in the leftmost corner of the gyre, the cornice of evil in room 666. The officer, brandishing his AK-47 too readily, almost shoved Mary into the room, followed by a glaring Bert.
“Dad, hi.” Bert cleared his throat and edged to the wall where his father was nestled in a frumpled orange jumpsuit. He was wimpering in this pitiful fetal posture.
“Yeeaa!” He yowled like a babe about to fall asleep in a lazy afternoon. “Aneurysm. Berry-aneurysm of the…basal structure…eh…could’ve…myself. Raccoon eyes, damnit,…stress, overwork,…in this ******* place. Godforsaken? No, no, heha, even God was forsaken.” Gerard dribbled insanely, unawares of his son who observed the wreck frantically, pleadingly. Mary looked very scared. The fear distorted the features of every one in the room. Even the guard’s icy eyes started to thaw, contradicting his voice: “Shut up old man. Ah! He’s always up to this crap these days. He don’t got much longer.” Bert stared impassively in response before crouching beside the wounded man.
“Da.” He slid swiftly into that sweet monosyllable of his boyhood. He looked up at the guard, Mary restraining imminent lacrimation. “Sir, we need to get him Last Rites; he, he needs the, um, Anointing of the Sick, ye know?”
“No, em, I don’t. We don’t allow none of that here. Bound to offend somebody.”
Bert spurted into the air and clutched the man’s collar. “Double negative. So you will?”
“No, what? Get off me dummy!” He jostled Bert away but Bert sprang to his side again, speaking fast and ignoring the illogical insult to his intelligence: “Sir, you’re bound to offend me, and her, and my dying dad if you don’t get us a priest!”
“Can’t do that, sorry.”
“Bull **** your sorry! You’re willing to risk a man’s soul to make others lives less guilty!” Bert was screaming now. “Bloody! Bloody,….why in the hell do they do this to him?” He looked at his wife and his blood cooled.
His father gasped, so Bert released his hold on the guard to return to his labored side.
“Dad, father, Gerard, I love you, God loves you. Remember JMJ, okay. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Jesus, Mary, and, …” Bert simply repeated this chant in the mellifluous voice of God through his dry larynx and moist lips. Mary’s sweetness coalesced with his own and then, Gerard began to join them as his throat rattled and his sallow, sweaty eyelids shut over his glassy orbs. “Just like anesthesia, sliding into sleep, da,” Bert whispered softly, slowly, in the caress of death, as Mary continued the chant. “Except it will be synesthesia unto fantasia, and then all you can do is cry when you look the Maker in the eye, and He looks back at you.” His father was sobbing with joy not angst now. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph…” And so the Catholic lullaby, the ancient meditation, the living and moving and breathing triune reality of a triune God swayed the three at a solitary deathbed, assuaging guilt and expurgating sin summoning saints, heralding angels, vanquishing the harassing fiends! And disheartening the guard on watch.
“I’ve had enough,” said the guard. Saint Michael, present to convey Gerard to Paradise and presently engraving his name into the Book of Life, withdrew his sparkling sword and flapped his golden wings to silence this earthly guard, so his voice trembled as the seraph’s boomed. “Be quiet,” he declared weakly.
Mary was closing her eyes in conversation with God. Bert was out of his senses, not capable of listening. Bert’s father was more in heaven than on earth.
Finally, the officer burst into the celestial brigade with billy clubs wielded and pepper-spray disbursed, to futilely expunge the delectable vapor of prayer. “Shut up! Shut up, already. That stuff isn’t allowed her!” He approached Bert, the instigator who ceased not his trance until a blow fell at his jaw as his own father’s jaw went slack in corporeal death but ethereal ecstasy.
Bert drove alone down the sinuous highway. He felt only the thrum of the wheels whizzing over the anfractuous road that tortuously torturously wound around the curvaceous hills of California. Dusk was settling over the wine country in azure, velvety splendor. The window was slit open slightly to seep in the odoriferous valley of colorful, purple light and its citrus-flavored gusts. Bert dwelt in, smelt the inebriated sobriety, the reasonable suspension of logic, the verisimilitude of faith, as he coursed about the gravel path, not a car to be seen. If only the fruit of this beautiful land did not enslave but liberate the drinker as faith does!
Lately, Bert had steeped himself in a turmoil of previously unforecasted proportions. Since his father’s death, he had plunged himself into his labor. But with his witness of what the secularly humanistic culture does to a person at death, he was unable to distinguish any longer between work and prayer. Defiantly perhaps, Ora et labora, work and prayer, the Benedictine motto, had consumed his life. Gradually (insidiously, if such a disingenuous matter could be so deemed), unbeknownst to him, theology permeated his cosmology and his students reported him to the police for violating their intellectual rights. They sought knowledge without wisdom, and Bert would no longer, would never again subscribe to such a dangerous division. He had lectured and written on the anthropic principle, which was the notion that had the numerical constants of the universe been altered infinitesimally, life on earth would never have existed, thereby intimating an intention behind life.
He justified intelligent design multifariously, seeing entropy as merely a natural reflection of man’s fallen nature.
One night, whilst slumped over heaps of scientific labyrinths, he came to this conclusion, calculating an asymptotic curve towards infinity, without bounds without limit, a meditation upon society in math: “Hell has enlarged its soul and opened its mouth without any limits” (Isaiah 5:14). That Faustian eve he realized what he was up against, confronting the abyss with only Mary (in heaven and earth) to accompany him. Saying nothing was akin to denying, deserving of eternal torment. Then and there, he committed himself to save the souls of his students, even if he could not manage to salvage his career in the least. As midnight waned and morning, father of Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12), rose in his window, he threw himself before the feet of the Blessed Virgin, his wife’s namesake, who Cardinal Newman beautifully described for any astrophysicist in “The Glories of Mary” of his Discourses to Mixed Congregations in Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, as were many of the allusions that came to his feverish mind that night: “not the earthly beauty dangerous to look upon, but like the morning star which is its emblem, bright and musical.” Morning star I abandon myself to thy light! Bert prayed as he leaned against the cool softness of the Tower of Ivory.
Were it not for this infused contemplation, Bert would have ended up in the sanatorium at that point. Instead, a new resolve to pursue faith in reason overwhelmed his soul and drenched him in sweet sleep. He longed to hear the golden voice of Saint Michael, defeater of the Antichrist, proclaim him as one of the little stars in heaven for eternity. He recalled the Son of God appearing to Saint Faustina Kowalska with God the Father peering through his ebullient wounds as Jesus said, “No man will ever fully understand the essence of God,” in his ring of lightning. Likewise, did not this same God-man expatiate the wonders of the universe to his contemporaries, the motions and effects of the stars, in Blessed Catherine Anne Emerich’s account?
Pantheism, panentheism, whichever and withersoever, were the basic tools to circumvent the agnostic mind: either an infinite universe is God, or that which lay outside a finite universe is God, at the most basic, coarsest level. Creation sings his everlasting hymn of praise, ignored by the ears of his creatures.
No problem proved too imposing for his intellect. Where simpler minds were inclined to pronounce string theory immediately heretical, what with multiple universes and further paradoxes, Bert took a scientist’s stock of the situation. For though some compared creation to a loaf to be cut into slices, or parallel dimensions, could not God still be the baker? In His infinity, who can even imagine His imagination let alone limit or discredit valid possibilities, improbable though they may seem to finite creatures? For the Ptolemaic universe was no less a brilliant conception, but God’s creation was even more illuminated with the Copernican model.
Nor did chaos theory pose an issue. Niels Bohr did indeed reply to Einstein, “Who are you to say what God does with his time?” He might play dice. Regardless, finitely perceived disorder may be God’s unseen, as yet failed-to-be-understood, order. Were not so-called probabilities immensely in favor of a universe with a purpose? Did not Einstein befriend Catholic priests because Transsubstantiation is possible by his theory of physics? Stars exist, even if daylight conceals them; so with God and His heavenly host. The sun’s radius shrinks at 5 feet per year, far faster than the evolutionary notion of a billion-year-old earth would allow for. Creation became a metaphor for the Creator. He lusted after the luster of the stars. Bert halted at the rusty gate of the abandoned college. It had a murky ambience. When he parked on the shoulder of the road, golden in sunset, he noticed a cooler breeze make the deciduous trees shiver in sunlight. In the quad, mottled by shadow and fading light of the lambent, verdant valleys, the grass had been scarred with what looked to be tank tracks. These vermiculated ruts that vomited grass and erupted in soft mud and dust latticed the field like the stitches of Frankenstein’s monster’s temples. He followed this unwanted, unwonted trail to the opposite side, the mobile modular.
He listened for the monkish music as a doctor might for a fading pulse. He could not hear their chant of vespers.
He knocked tentatively on the door. No one answered, and quietude screamed in his whistling ears. He knocked the door down and collapsed, sprawled in the dark threshold. He flicked on a flickering fluorescent bulb to illumine a horrific sight. He wept and trembled at what he saw.
The icons, the delicate renderings of angels, saints, the Holy Family and the Holy Trinity lay in disarray, some torn, others battered. One had a frame spattered in the blood of a reverent monk perhaps. Bert knelt to respect the remnants and organize them as best he could.
Likewise, the desks were cluttered with their tomes and papers cast everywhere. Gaping holes let the wind blow in, chilling Bert. He didn’t even venture to look at the chapel. He fled from the scene of utter sacrilege and blasphemy, stumbling down the steps and scraping his knees on the sidewalk pavement, soiling and ripping the knees of his pants. His knees, the body part the devil lacks, burned with offended devotion.
In spite of their sting, the glow and oozing, burnt warmth that Christ shared thrice, Bert sprinted in fury across the meadow to the old belfry. The entrance was boarded up, so he turned towards the other side, facing west, to find another loose spot in the bricks. The reeking cloth of a person hanged from the spire of the aspiring lightning rod of the tower met his already inflamed nostrils. In sheer disgust and not a little fright, he looked into the physiognomy of the victim. Vernal fireflies swarmed as a halo about the deceased’s treasured head, bearing the resplendent crown of martyrdom. Despite the slightly decayed, ashen flesh, Bert distinguished the contours as none other than that of the monk who had come to his secret society’s meetings as confidant and counselor. Bert could not forbear from a shriek of mild despair. Like Stephen Dedalus, the allusion that flickered across his imagination was from Shelley’s “To the Moon,” so apt for an astrophysicist: “Art thou pale for weariness/ Of climbing heaven and gazing on earth,/ Wandering companionless…” This apostrophe to the rising orb of night disheartened him even more discordantly, with the growing, “Wind through the stars” of Yeats.
The sight of the tower as the moon rose at nine o’clock at night reminded him of “The Pearl,” wherein the wanderer of the river sees his beloved in the multitude of the heavenly blessed as the moon appears at dawn. An aura, a halo of white light enshrouded the apex, the pinnacle, the peak of the tower, the most lovely metaphor for faith in the study of the universe. He saw creation as this light that proved but did not show the moon hidden behind it from which it emanated in reflection the light of the sun. For him, it was the natural vision of the host, his veins laced with moonlight that shown in his eyes. It impelled him to run faster to his physical Tower of Ivory.
Worse than a rotting corpse is a sacrileged surplice. The dead monk’s papally immaculate habit was stained with blood and mud, bearing evidence that his body was that which cut the quad.
His pregnant wife and their unborn child were his only human friends now. He took consolation in the example of Saint Joseph, at least. Wait! He hastened within himself. He heard a hum, a definite but distant whizzing noise, faltered like a giant moth. Were they out for him now, too? Who were these people – government, spies of the state, amateur assassinine nutzos?
He crouched and ran for the shrubbery of a shouldering mountain, somewhere above the cave of those seemingly long-hence meetings. Suddenly, the sound became more oppressive, like the growing roar of an approaching waterfall. A megaphone ruptured the already disturbed silence.
“Surrender! You’re under arrest for child endangerment.” The masculine, muffled voice gurgled with policial angst. Bert rushed from his hiding, not knowing whether to flee or to yield. Evidently, his hurry perturbed the men in the helicopter, for the hovering hummingbird unleashed a flurry of bullets. Bert, never the soldier, awkwardly shielded his head and torso with his hands and forearms looking like a boxer in distress. The volley ceased. He looked about him. The bullets had impressed the sand between the hill and quad, like meteorites on the moon. He picked one up warily. The helicopter still hung over him, a vengeful bully or hunting beast over its prey. He did not heed it. He felt the bullet and examined its make, his eyes accommodating the increasing blackness. It was rubber. He cast it aside in a relieved fury and sprinted for the bell-tower.
Bullets rained upon him, leaving a trail of uprooted grass and spattered mud on his heels. He was hit several times but ignored the sting and the dull ache that followed each hit. Several struck his head, but he strove to remain conscious, despite the dizziness and nausea. He thought he knew something now of how it felt to be flogged like Christ. He was the new protomartyr, Saint Stephen, so he tried to smile as an angel through the pain. His was a martyrdom of the mind.
Finally, he rammed into the wall and kicked open the boards, diving into its cozy darkness. Immediately, the overpowering onslaught became a distant echo. He heard the radio messages from the helicopter but shut them out from his battered brain. He walked up the stairs in a stooped fashion, determining to reside in his accidental scholar’s tower until they ran out of fuel at least.
He dozed in a rickety, creaking throne between a globe and an astrolabe until the echo of footsteps in the corridor roused him from gentle slumber.
“Hello up there!”
He recognized that voice. The hollow, faintly Anglican, breezily affectionate intonation only one person he knew could produce: his long-lost brother, Jude. Bert stood up, suddenly languid by his predicament. A year hence his prodigal sibling had matriculated in the police academy fresh out of secondary school. By now he was a full-fledged officer, commanding dozens of constables to catch priests speeding for Last Rites, mothers tutoring their children, devotees to overt in prayer. Free will, liberty, American virtues supported by God were employed to restrict that sublime right of choice from others. Bert knew that to freely surrender one’s freedom – to conjoin one’s personal will to the Divine – was the essence of happiness. If a man failed in that, the void could only be satiated by subordinating others’ freedoms wherever they conflicted with his own, though this only breached the gap further. Bert mused on this as he sat. He decided to wait for his newly seemingly omnipotent brother to come to him for once. Familial seniority had dissipated in favor of state authority. Bert realized that a role reversal had really taken place, and if someone was to arrest another, Jude would be cuffing his eldest brother’s wrists.
He detected the slovenly gate evaporate up the stair, with a voice trailing in beguiling transgression. Something concerning the fair weather lately, perchance.
“I’m up here alright, my friend!” Bert sighed with a touch of agitation, an undertone of dismay, not with his imminent predicament but with his brother’s. The captor not the captive concerned him most.
“Oh, I know that quite well, me dearie. I be comin’ to get ye!” For some queer reason, Jude had decided to spin his speech with an antiquarian Irish dialect that moved affected, despite an authentic mixed-accent upbringing.
“Shut up,” Bert muttered to himself as he stood to regard the pleasant nocturnal perch for the last time, the halcyon quietude marred by the lingering rotors.
Jude’s dark, sharp features jutted from the pervading darkness, his black eyes glinting like the mystical feline of death in the glow of a candle. Bert had lit in the mirrors of his brazen instruments. The stars, the lunar friends, were peeping from the black blanket draped over the hills outside.
Without raising his eyes, Bert offered his conjoined fists for detainment. Jude, evidently seeing this as the boxer’s sign of peace before a bout, thrust his own palm on Bert’s before leaping into his pugilistic stance.
“C’mon man, give me your best shot.” Jude spurted guttural American now, sniffing as he started to strut about.
Bert burst out laughing. “What are you…” A crunching blow burst in Bert’s jaw, splitting his sentence and throwing him with a clatter over his beloved desk. He stumbled and stammered from the cobblestone floor, gazing with pathos upon his violent sibling. “I don’t want to fight you. I was giving my hands up so you could put cuffs on them.”
“Yeah, right. So you’re sarcastic now, too! Tink you’re so bright, eh. I was raised in a pretty tough neighborhood myself!”
“Oh, we both had the best parents we could wish for, so be quiet! Tha’s exactly what I want to save you from, I…” Bert’s speech became slurred as he heard a biting crackle in his jaw. He saw warm, sticky blood all over the front of his shirt. It tasted salty in his mouth. In disgust, he rose to leave.
Jude shoved him back down. “No, buddy, we’re fighting this one out. I have orders to take you jack*** professor alive but not if I can help it. ****** intellectual pussy.”
“What the hell has gotten in to you?” More to himself, Bert remarked, “They’ve brainwashed you.”
“No, mom and da brainwashed us. I’ve been rewired to perceive what’s really real.” In his derangement, he was at a loss of words. “Don’t you see there is nothing after this life, and you’re deluding your students into believing the lie they railed in our brains?!”
With infinite gentleness, Bert knelt. “Pray, Jude. Pray to your patron, to Mary. Tha’s all you can do when you’ve lost your faith. God is the only thing, person, that isn’t a lie. I could tell you scientific discoveries I’ve made about the cosmos that would make your hair stand on end with your finitude, your limitedness, but I don’t have the time to go into the logic behind it…Oascal, Opus Oxeniensis, Spinoza, Aristotle, Plato, Aquinas…” Passion pitched his muffled voice, “but let me leave it at this. You are just a particle in the tail of a comet. You…” Jude rushed at him but this time Bert tossed him over his shoulder into the wall.
In fury, Jude arose. “I know how to kill you, you sanctimonious *******.” He turned about-face and dove out the window.
“No!!! S***!” Bert heard an ugly splat and thud that made his own skull explosively ache. He almost vomited before he had time to think. The helicopter men will suspect he’s the culprit. Mruder! Ay, but in this society, informing another’s choice against the bad, the false, and the ugly was a crime worse than manslaughter.
Dante’s tower of hell and tower of heaven intersected in this moment. He decided his secular servant needed a funeral, so in a batty rage, he wrung the chains from the bells of the tower and began to wrench furiously on the suicidal rope dangling from their curvature. All was tongue, and the bulb was tonsil that struck so vehemently 6, 9, 12 times for Jude. Bert felt the spirits of the long-hence Angelus kneeling about him, sentinels from the helicopter without. The deafening gong numbed his senses but strengthened his soul to remind everyone outside the village nearby, the hollows of the world, that a life without God ends in death whereas the religious life concludes with birth. The bells resounded in his temples with the sound of a copper shield in an ancient feud, one in which those whom he fought he defended most, and in which the dead decry the living. He tolled for all, for all were vulnerable. The bells tinkled with golden tintinnabulation, a memento of the Mass. He wrung the sibilant sap from the silver of his Martello Tower of faith. He wove the helical band of braid theory in change-ringing, that accords with minds universally as an application of the Riemannian manifold to the fluctuation of each EEG. It was a hatchment from the hatch, bearing Jude to an unknown end. In that brief moment, footsteps in God’s ears echoed thorugh the Cantabrijian campanile, collegiates chasing their meed of glory and timing their trek towards an auditory glory eternal.
Just as he rang, pathetic fallacy converged to accompany him with a Beethovian thunderstorm. The thunder of the chariot to lead him to heaven or hell as the heavens wept with joy or with sorrow. Bert feared not electrocution, like the stolid Gabriel Oak upon a haystack in Far from the Madding Crowd. Instead, the lightning rod from which his favorite monk hanged conducted the electricity not to Bert’s rope but to the bells in a flurry of emerald luminescence, Saint Elmo’s Fire.
Bert’s ringing glowed tremulously in the expanse before that cliff, rusted bells dinging with the spectral languor of whales in the sea’s abyss, unheard by human ears but still real – “till human voices reach them, and they drown.” The tower Jude had launched from was the cliff bastion of their island childhood. Thus, perisheth the man of the world, was the archaic phrase that leapt to the mind of Bert.
In the hidden presence of God is the beauty of this life, in the visible presence is the beauty of the next. Bert saw his wife as through a veil on Sunday, and conjuring up a picture by Tissot, he saw Jesus as a gardener watching over him behind a flowering, viny lattice. The art of Bougerau made Mary present in his heart, as the only person to have faith while in heaven.
The prison of his father, the prison to be his, was the new Tower of Babel, constructed by language intended to confuse, the new Tower of London in its torture of innocents, the new Tower of the Bastille (this time stormed by those of independent mind), the phallic pillars of the new Coliseum in its worship of man divine. He hated the confusion, he hated the coercion, he hated the concupiscence of this secular monastery. Bert longed for his spire to the sky, his scholar’s tower, the internal and eternal Tower of Ivory.
As the 12th dramatically dissipated, he regained his sense o time and place, that he himself was endangered. Evidently, they took his mazimob escapade as roguery, not appeasement; seditiousness, not surrender.
He fleed down the stairs. Just as he departed from his ancient study, it exploded like a supernova, the force of the grenade launcher blast carrying him all the way down the stairwell with hideous brisance of the bombazine bomb. He groaned as the dust and debris of the florid fire drizzled upon him in his throne of crumbled brick and floating mortar. Deafened and obfuscated, he scrambled out the hole in the wall s the belfry collapse, vanquished. He dashed backwards, glaring like a regardant lion in heraldry at the destructinon, before stumbling over a rut.
He fell, prostrate in the mud, entrusting the cascading thunder of offal and ordure from the wreckage would not visit his person. As the rain drizzled on his bruised back, reminding him of contented afternoons in the cottage of his youth, he reflected dreamily that to see the tide of humanity rise and fall, to watch the globe appear in earthrise, one must dwell on the dark side of the moon. In this physical and psychological fog, a policeman wrenched him into the aircraft with the crackling of the mound of rubble obscuring the stygian miseen-scene. Lucifer ex machina. It was Beelzebub lifting him from the sulfurous fumes and over charred ashes of an intellectual hell, an existential nightmare projected upon the stout of heart. Bert nibbled the Lotus, drank of Lethe, floated upon the river Oblivion as the helicopter sailed to starker seas.
He would rehearse this last conversation with his brother in his mind for years to come, his face adopting the mien it had then assumed. He would remember it, mournfully, as parallel of Michael throwing Lucifer into the pit of Hades with the simple query, “Quis ut Deus?”
When he awoke, he surveyed his surroundings. The bibulous and the bibliophile found themselves as company in this dreary dwelling. A modern dungeon it was – only the flicker of a dying fluorescent tube in the ceiling divulged the 20 foot square environment for its residents. A quadrangle of grey cement enclosed with electric barbed wire for one wall served as the shelter for 20 men, drunkards mostly. Bert’s mathematical mind could not resist calculating the 2 square feet each man had to occupy therein. Often, even the most complex of equations whispered their answers to Bert’s brain before he had even thought of them. Rather than merely attributing these internal intellectual feats to the preconscious alone, he saw it as a reminder from the Holy Family. For he certainly had not labored or even decided to think about it for his own part. The answers just came.
He listened mutely to the moans of indignant thieves, midnight perpetrators, sullen villains, and “revolutionaries.” Bert comprised the last category, together with a small, wry man who introduced himself as an accountant and a more artistic-looking personage who confirmed all suspicions with his confession of being a writer. Still, Bert’s role as rebel amongst the rabble unnerved him.
He stared for the remnants of the night, or day, or whatever time it was, staring in meditation upon the fluorescent lamp, encrusted as it was with an aura of rust around the ceiling. Gradually, the end proximate to Bert was tinged with the color of flame. First, an amygdaline yellow that deviated from the irritating white of the rest of the tube infected this closed juncture, ribbed with a metal lid. Without Bert realizing it, this anomaly became saffron, and finally, a sizzling scarlet, reddest rage.
Just as sleep came to comfort his drowsy eyes and frowsy hair, just as the hypnogogic state began to merge reality with reverie, the bulb exploded in fiery light, scaring everyone (except the artist) out of their wits and sprinkling ash on stinky shoulders of the men in the vicinity.
Bert tepidly unshut his lids. Right as he almost dozed off again, cheek on chest like Alphonsus Ligouri he mused dreamily, an officer outside tinkled his keys at the rattling lock as he called out, “Doctor Albert Bellarmine.”
Bert’s meekness frowned upon the appellation of doctor, but he was a teacher after all. Rather than vocally, responding, he stood with a gasp and groped past his cell-mates towards the gate that constituted a wall.
“You’re coming with us for an interview,” the policeman informed him warmly, as if it were a collation or something. More like an interrogation, Bert feared. “Follow me down this corridor and to the first right.”
“Aren’t you going to cuff me?”
“Should we? We don’t worry about you intellectual types. This’ll just be a conversation of sorts.” The officer spoke jubilantly, like a Nazi not burdened by a crematorium. His affability was ominous for Bert, but he tried to be amiable nonetheless. “That sounds fine. So what’s the charge against me, anyway?” He asked this as if it were a query about the weather.
“Oh, corruption of youth.”
Bert spoke without moving his parted lips. “Same as Socrates.”
“Nothing.” He muttered, “Some would drink hemlock, that’s all…” before addressing his usher again. “What do you mean like, um,…”
The man abbreviated his speculation. “Well, you’ve been accused of violation of the separation of church and state in an academic setting, formally at least.”
“Hmm. Wouldn’t be surprised.”
“Yeah.” The officer turned his old, blue eyes confidingly to Bert. He chuckled, “Wouldn’t be surprised if I end up in prison myself some day. Ope, here we are. You just go right in there. And remember, ‘You have the right to remain silent’!” He laughed his way out, leaving Bert to a cold, ill-lit room, the next chamber of Hades.
A slight, bespectacled investigator entered warily and closed the mahogany door brusquely before fumbling with a heavy chair at the large, square stainless steel table, across from Bert’s own stolid throne. Bert’s mind wandered as the little man filtered his files disheveled.
Bert conceived with much practiced ease of the four-dimensional bubbles of the universe that Whitehead himself could barely picture. In this self-vindicating vein of thought, his mild, though well-repressed, capacity for vanity swept him to that famed astronomer royal’s much favored pupil, Bertrand Russell. Not only had Bert long reflected on the name shared with this mathematical master; his life had begun to mirror Russell’s. He, too, plumbed the doubts of ages in an isolated youth, except Bert had the grace to triumph in understanding not only the universe but its purpose early, as Russell had accomplished only as an octogenarian. Furthermore, however, both had been cast into prison, and denied university posts for endangerment of morals. Bert was presently concluding these defences of his intellect from his persecutors as the timorous man spoke. Lost in thought, Bert seized upon his reflections in speech.
“Have you ever read Russell?” The man stopped speaking (too readily interrupted, Bert thought) and glanced up at the now standing Bert in confusion. “Bertrand,” Bert clarified to his listener’s mild recognition, marveling at his own encyclopedic definition before continuing. “Well, anyway, you remember that part in Philosophy of Nature or some such thing, wherein the talks about the table?”
The one who was supposed to be doing the talking nodded “no.” “Well, look here at this table.” Fixated, Bert gazed as he swayed back and forth to shift the blinding bands reflecting the bright light above. “When I change position, the locations of the colors of the reflection – see the white streaks right there – and where you see them are different than where I do due to altered purviews.” He tried subconsciously to enliven his monologue with more pedantic terminology, befitting a professor, an erudite intellectual, not any peasant-believer so decried in the common era. “See? And so the table (creation) stays the same, but depending on one’s perspective, these truths – particular and universal – are understood differently.” He slammed his fist on the table and closed his eyes, straining. “Thus, is the conflict between faith and reason, lamp and table. This semantical feud,…” (here, he clenched his fists to his bosom, in almost Hitleresque zeal).
He collapsed in his chair with passion enacted to the acme of amnesia. “Oh, well, never mind.” In an attitude verging upon the psychotic, he persisted with his loosely associated theme, a verbal attempt to resolve the cognitive dissonance beleaguering him, in his new situation of incarceration. “Have you heard of quantum mechanics? Dang, that takes as much faith. Here, you’ve got radiographic images of atomic routes and theoretical proofs up the wazoo, but the things – the components – quark, gluon, all this, has yet to be seen, yet we scientists trust they exist. Like pi bonds in ethylene. They would seem to be there, right? Why not God? You can’t prove He exists, but neither can you prove He doesn’t exist.”
This summarized his teleological aspirations. He barely knew what he said, it burgeoned from his lips so hastily. He sat in stupor, resigning himself to coming confinement. Seeing Bert’s need for peace, his silent hearer left him. He heard a murmur through the door, allowing Bert to discover that the man was a psychiatrist. He mistrusted psychiatrists because they mistrusted his own sanity.
They allotted him the corner cell on the sixth floor. Bereft of befriending a fellow prisoner, he was left in solitude to contemplate the admirable diorama of his iron-striated window. Each morning the sun crystallized droplets of gold as it deflected off the mist. This heidegenschein made fog beautiful; so does God ennoble moral haze as long as one’s mind, the sun, is in the business of dispersing it. The vague becomes vogue but for a time before it breathes into the ferment of the skies, to rain upon, moisten the faces of, quench the throats of the human race. Bert smiled and inspired this breath of God that melts the mists.
Again, the ceiling and floor and four walls were grey concrete with a barred door occupying the wall that faced the hall of the prison, opposite his private vantage. On the left wall, he had a rusty white porcelain sink below a grimy mirror and to the left of a dingy toilet. He had one bunk on the right wall, dilapidated. It squeaked whenever he reclined, and his deflated pillow little cushioned its uneven surface, warped with tension by a much more massive ward than himself.
Each morning, he said his plenitude of prayers before managing his toilette. Then, he breakfasted, most mornings on mildly sweet gruel (a gustatory memento of his childhood), overhard eggs, or wheat toast hastily consumed in the cafeteria. Bert did not mind the food, but he detested eating in company, especially with rogues less academically inclined.
After the communal meal, they trudged to the exercise yard, enclosed with grey cinderblock walls fringed with a glinting lattice of barbed wire. Fracas regularly ensued, with some racial slur igniting a hulk of a man to violence. As Franz Joseph was an inmate, a chain reaction swarmed over the blacktop.
Bert would sit listening above profane confabulation and tinkling dumbbells, to the flitter of falcons or the whistle of the wind, God’s whisper in Mary’s may mantle. He saw beyond the glistening figures in saffron negligee to the cherubic contours of the clouds billowing over a whitish-blue dome of sky. He sniffed past the sweat and testosterone to inhale the vapors of wild flora, straggling to survive in cracks of asphalt. He would rather walk meditatively about and around the square than blister his hands on the abrasive, ansulary weights, or grind his knees with the bursts of basketball games. He rarely interacted with anyone of any ethnicity, prudently presuming that the majority of his fellow criminals had been convicted for less astute violations than his own. He spent time on the walks talking with saints that had undergone similar deprivations – especially, Saint John of the Cross, a prisoner of kindred Carmelites.
The afternoon consisted of a polite mode of brainwashing, a counseling session designed to transform the prisoner’s thinking to the state’s through a rigorous supplementation of the already instituted public schooling. In this society, schools and prisons commensurate each other, regardless of innocence. Bert’s ideas, presented in his most pleasant manner, warmed the hearts of his interrogators to the degree that higher authorities abandoned any “conversion” attempts with one so sclerosed by treason. Bert rested comfortably in his immunity, his grace-imbued invincibility. Satan flees those who are not cowards.
Bert suffered the inexorable burden of thought without speech. Prolifically, ideas seized him, but he lacked a pen to seize. He experienced the predicament of Homer in memorization of his narratives. In one dream, he dreamt he wrote Latin in his sunny bench at home again.
Confinement rarefied rambling thoughts into aphorisms. Bert’s main conclusion was this: Justice protects creation. As a corollary: When knowledge outpaces wisdom, creation becomes vulnerable to violence. In his cell, he further realized that time does not exist. In his mind, he performed a variety of thought-experiments to adduce his points.
He commenced with renewed speculation as to Einstein’s query: What would it feel like to ride on a wave of light? Perched on the frizzled heads of past physics professors, Bert imagined that traveling at lightspeed would make time stand still. Time was not only relative. It did not exist! God, outside of time, resided in heaven, on oasis of pure light emanating from the Trinity. Furthermore, in accordance with Saint John, Bert lucubrated, Lorentz-Fitzgerald contraction ordained that an object shrinks in perception as it approaches the speed of light. As the Eternal Now looms, in the presence of the Infinite, one shrinks and cowers in gilded delight. Here, the mote’s finitude is acknowledged but glorified in the felix culpa.
Another thought crossed his mind: an eldritch son et lumiere of the Platonic circle changing dimension into varying ellipses, planetary orbits altered along the space-time wave. A movement along an ellipse simulates a graph like an electrocardiogram. The beating of every human heart resonates with the movement of the heavenly bodies. The star particles that constitute DNA illuminated as the serpents of the caducis intertwined to succor not to sting beneath the silver wings of the Holy Spirit. It reminded him of youth. A boy perusing a life science text on the limb of a leafy tree realized that the scala naturae became his Jacob’s ladder. He no longer believed in God. He knew Him.
Bert conceived of another thought experiment that attempted to reconcile the Nietzshean self-contradiction in his application of Hegel. Namely, resorting back to pre-Christian orgies rather than adhere to Christianity. Bert imagined the philosophical situation as the Newtonian quandary of a moon oscillating betwixt two spheres. The synthesis of the Catholic Church revolved chaotically about the Dionysian thesis (passion) and the Apollonian antithesis (reason), seeking to challenge the hedonist (at the expense of all others) and the utilitarian (at the expense of oneself) to teach each the Golden Rule. To the materialist, of course, the seemingly random wavering of the lone moon appears meaningless, disordered, founded in empty probabilities when really those probabilities are just human explanations for the inscrutable ways of an Unseen Hand. Yes, this motion formed a figure eight cycle throughout history, to conjoin mind and body with God in that triad of nature, whose balance is the essence of celestial beauty and truth. Only when humanity written in the heavens enters heaven, will gravity towards that which is below be abolished and will all three rest. As for now, Bert boarded the moon of thee Church, whatever aberration may come, trusting that God manned the helm to navigate the forces of the present life. And in this, Bert relished a foretaste of heavenly bliss, infused understanding. Passion transformed in Art, and reason applied in Science, both sought the glory of God in the Church.
Charity transmuted mind and body, instead pertaining solely to the soul. Further, Bert realized three truths. Art needs faith. Science hopes. Religion requires charity. These virtues, embodied even in secular endeavors of man, perfuse his being. But a religion without love is no religion; a secular humanism with love is not secularism. Where charity is lacking, society will crumble. Bert found this all experientially verified in his own life a droplet of condensation in the cosmic view. His consuetude, his cacoethes, became to find in the cochleate galaxies not the glare of the cockatrice but the glance of a benevolent Creator.
As the reader knows by now, Bert’s mind abounded in metaphysical lucidity. But anyone may very well meditate after this manner if confined all day. Staring at a blank wall all day allows for such profundities if one only imagines the crucifix therein. His thoughts, this interior monologue, were his only friends at the human level. But God heard his thoughts, and smiled. Bert knew this, so he held his peace, hearing the wind rap on his cell window, the manly murmur through the cement walls, the silence monks crave. The stereotypes of femininity of art and masculinity of science are abolished in an institution at once deemed the Holy Mother Church and the Mystical Body of Christ. Yet again, he also meditated that the Father creates, the Son enters creation, and the Holy Spirit inspires one’s interpretation of either person.
The Trinity could be adduced logically employing pre-school geometry. It could be drawn as an equilateral triangle that could be turned in any direction; three sides in one figure just as t here persons in one God, except in a triangle, the angles can be so compressed to form an infinitely straight singular line. It forms a cross. Likewise (but not equal in hierarchy as it marks devotion, hyperdulia and protodulia respectively), a triangle can constitute the Holy Family, forming a manger. The first triangle goes from God (broad) towards man (acme) and the second is inverted, overlapping at the side of the Son, looking from Man to God transposed to form a Star of David.
Moreover, triangles prove essential to many math applications. In doing calculus, the cross of the Cartesian plane forms pi number of triangles that become a circle, each angle’s derivative alternating as infinitely repetitive as a prayer between sine and cosine. Then, the Host conveys the altar cross. Creation, Incarnation, and inspiration, these three aid any scientist in his calculations.
Bert drew an asterisk in the middle of his star in his mind, so that it became reflected and transposed Pascalian pyramids, but his thoughts flowed more deeply still. Each big triangle had 9 component triangles. This number was symbolic of birth, a novena, the hierarchy of angels, compounded by the twelve small triangles in the whole structure. For Bert, it embodied the birth of God into time and man into eternity by the Mystical Body of Christ in the twelve apostles, descendants of the twelve tribes. This vinculum o the divine and the mundane so discovered in the Morning Star, Mary, and the Star of Bethlehem, inebriated him with light. Far from being an occult superstition of the New Age, Bert marveled at it as the whimsy of a religious astrophysicist seeking an elaborate analogy for the nonbeliever. Not evidence, merely mystical metaphor in the image of a rose window and a mosaic in the floor. Incidentally, it appealed to Bert as the amphiaster of a bifurcating nucleus as well. Sacraments effect what they signify, just as DNA builds what it encodes.
Bert thought about these things in the absolute silence of his cell. He peacefully relaxed on his stiffened bed and closed his eyes in bright wonderment. It was only ten o’clock in the morning, and he had the rest of the day, the rest of his life, life eternal, to think about truth and beauty and God in the endless ways of doing so.
Angels transpire in the spiritual realm as facilely as electrons in the quantum mechanical realm. Even if demons be a construct, scientists possess Maxwell’s demon.
Besides, parallelism in string theory would not be the appropriate term because infinite variablitiy entailed one’s own nonexistence in the other ten dimensions.
Magnetic polarity in the physical world metonymizes moral polarity in the mental world.
Tasting spittle of the persecutor mixed with tears for the persecutor on his lips, Bert realized his vocation. He was to emulate Saint Longinus, who presumably endured the renunciation of his Roman peers, when the blood and water of the side he lanced rendered sight unto his blinded eyes and led him to proclaim amidst the tumult of the sky and menarchical moon: “Surely, this was the Son of God,” deducing this from creation encapsulated in creator on a cross, the Corpus Christi. Erstwhile, Christ whispers to the men casting lots on Him, attributing to chance the universe, “Forgive them, they know not what they do,” to the Father who created all, His Suffering Servant and Son, the King of Creation, scoffed at.
God was a drowning man that no one could see but for the subtle ripple in the water. Men of faith risked welfare to dive after him Even if we are products of chance, mere beasts, God watches us as through a one-way mirror. Once again, we may not see Him but He sees us.
Just because a blind man cannot see what exists does not mean that it does not exist. Just because a scientist lacks proof for what exists does not entail that it does not exist. He sought to apprehend with the Hegelian immediacy of angelic beings, once regarded, charmingly, as spirits of stars.
His thoughts gave way to emotions gradually. They would probably file a murder suit for Jude’s death eventually. Bert had to ratiocinate his beliefs as the death penalty loomed. Innocents are killed right and left, not criminals. At least he would become a martyr of faith, charged with martyring a secular ironically. He knew his death in faith would be peaceful due to birth in faith, but just because he was born Catholic and would die Catholic did not mean that if he were born Muslim, he would die Muslim. Catholic means universal, embracing the truth, the full truth, and nothing but the truth, whereas every other faith only viewed one facet of the diamond of God. The Church, according to the Pope, is composed of members who stand in for Christ, not over Christ.
In God we trust, not in man is our interest invested. For when that is the case, man supersedes God, and humanity exercises supreme superstition. Bert would evaluate the Catholic Church to be the best means of reaching God, not the only. He was thankful for the gift of finding the best way more easily than others by the inscrutable graces of God. Each possess grace; God simply requests an act of the will to accept it.
He also tried to picture the end of space. He pictured a rather irreverent but well-intentioned thought experiment of a God who chews bubblegum. God, swathed in His Own Light, masticated on the sticky notion of creation before blowing a bubble of this gum. Imagine black gum, transparent from the outside but not from motes of dust and gas within. The universe expands indefinitely from the initial expulsion of divine breath. The ruakh and pneuma, then, conceives everything into being, even with modern scientific exegesis in section with handwritten JMJ. Loneliness dissipated in the warmth of faith’s hearth. He recalled as a child afraid in the darkness of night though tucked in bed that it was almost more consoling to hear the murmur of his parents’ voices across the hall rather than see figures that could be apparitions in obscurity. Hence, Bert listened in his heart’s ear to the mellifluously gentle discourse of the Holy Family resounding through the heavens and earth and in his soul even though he lacked visions. They constantly accompanied him unseen. He sensed the Trinity as well, the prefigurement of his triune equation, in the cross he bore and in the joy that permeated it. God the Father shed his light through the bars of his quarters in the morn. God the Holy Spirit existed in the musty air he inhaled. God the Son, His Sacred Heart, enveloped his own heart.
Mary’s hands were his own, in praying the Rosary eight times a day on his fingers. Joseph’s feet became his own, treading wearily with his own wife and child to evade the slaughter of the Holy Innocents. He recited every prayer he ever read including the Divine Office with his prodigious memory. He saw the constellations from hours beneath the sky and on his Stargazer program while hearing the prim cadences of Mozart’s “Symphony of the Planets” in his Baroque skull. The tranquil ecstasy of his physiognomy haunted the officers who tended him.
The prisoners saw Bert wander in cogitation about the communal courtyard each day with restrained awe. Bert, attempting civility to men of brutal temperament, found that showing respect that they did not deign to grant themselves irritated rather than eased them, so Bert withdrew solely into his own speculations, gradually acquiring an outward grimace and disheveled mien that dissuaded the boldest amongst them from approaching him, let alone addressing him. Let them think I’m a serial killer or something, he thought. At least the dangerous type will just stay away.
One morning, however, pacifism could not prevail. Three bulky malefactors were grouped around a man with hundreds of pounds of circular metal weights stacked on his chest. He was groaning in agony as the air exhumed from his crumpling ribcage and collapsing lungs. Tears were welling in his bulging eyes from a purple face s his tormentors jeered in glee.
“Hello, gentlemen.” Bert stood, looking over the shoulders of the three men to their dying creature.
“Hey, professor dude.” Gradually, the other inmates had bestowed this epithet upon Bert, first from derision and then out of respect, and not a little fear. The men stepped back in a deference pregnant with violence. It made Bert’s heart almost explode and his stomach boil.
Bert smiled rakishly, as if partaking in the sadism, to establish a certain camaraderie. The dying man stared pleadingly as sweat saturated his whimpering visage. Many a man in need of a miracle must have looked so vulnerable to Christ. Bert recognized this. Instead of going to the warden and earning the eternal enmity of his incarcerated brethren, Bert had decided to intervene. He lived by what he read, the Bible, the Catechism, no exception. He would defend the unborn, the children, the adults, and the dying.
“Now, what did this fellow do to merit death by crushing.”
“Nothing, man. We’re just having fun. He’s a cop.” The crushed began to sob. “We’re…we’re.” Like my brother, Bert remembered. He must have stood up for something to end up here.
“Yes, well, teacher says to let him go. Each of you, please get these weights off him.”
No one moved. Their black eyes glared with latent savagery ready to actualize in murder with bedspring shard or zip-gun. Bert said a quick prayer as he stepped resolutely forward, bending over to reach the first weight and relieve the man’s pain.
One of the three threw him a sucker punch, making Bert plummet to the ground with a sickening jolt. Here we go again, Lord, he thought. This same man, the least restrained of the three sociopaths, kicked Bert hard in the liver. “Aahh!” Bert lashed his leg out from the ground, tripping his assailant. He got up again and pushed all three weights off with a clatter that alerted all the prison yard to the battle at hand. The other man brandished a fragment of glass and rushed for Bert’s throat. Bert punched him so hard that his nose literally split in two.
The third man just watched. Bert grimaced before confronting his original attacker, who had clutched him about the waist. Bert knew he wanted to get him on the ground to beat the living daylights out of his esoteric skull but Bert knew too well from his own boyhood bouts. He threw the man into the wall, preserving before his memory the Catechism lesson about defending oneself. Hurting others to defend others or oneself was noble as long as force did not exceed requisites and constituted an indirect effect of inquiry from the direct effort to save a life, in Thomistic thought.
This fighter was relentless though, so Bert dealt him a series of sever blows with knees and elbows that rendered him utterly unconscious. Some men only obey in death. As his opponent sagged down the wall behind him, Bert faced an enraptured prison yard with steely eyes. HE knelt beside the man he rescued like Father Madeleine and held his hand like a mother. “Are you all right, good sir?”
He muttered weakly, “Thanks to you.”
After the incident, the officers placed Bert in solitary confinement, to reflect upon his lashing out at the community. But silence caresses the clean conscience; it thrashes the tortured mind. Bert preferred no contact with his fellows; he had nothing to gain from criminals morally, spiritually, or intellectually. But they could gain from him, and his wrath emanated from the negation of this charity. The walls did not seal the screams of his fellow captives, albeit for horrendous crimes. He empathized with the mental collapse he heard about him that was meant to induce his own.
He heard a sobbing man next door, crying for his mother, begging her forgiveness for whatever he’d committed. Bert wished he could see a priest but Bert decided to solace the suffering gentleman. He raised his soothing, tranquil voice, speaking into the wall, “She’s here. She’s coming. She still loves you. Have you heard of Mary? She’s your mother, too. We’re brothers…” The man next door relapsed into lachrymose muttering that eased into sleep. America was indeed becoming a mental asylum about Bert. The guards heard him, too, so they opened the door, and his trials commenced anew. He hid beneath his mother’s veil, and the babe concealed therein smiled, enshrouded by the baldachino of the prayerful heart. In times when a layman must commune with God directly, to be both witness and celebrant of the sacrifice, a fiaccheto, a trade of knight for bishop, occurs to confront the pawns of Satan.
They tried to make him build missiles to incinerate the theocratic maniacs of the Middle East. Bert bluntly refused. He was no pacifist; he just wanted to kill the right people. Besides, at least the Muslims integrated religion into their lives still, albeit in a fashion that violated their own faith and seriously jeopardized that practice of faith as unworthy of religion anyway. The West voided itself of faith; the Middle East asphyxiated itself with it, and the Eat became the faith. Bert simply wanted the moral dictates of faith in society without imposition of faith. Truth in practice without theory, as in the American past. One can still be an atheist in the Vatican.
Instead, he thought and prayed about space and time throughout his sidereal immurement. He pretended to be a monk, despite the heavy rock music and obscene alterations in his Circadian rhythm that were contrived to break him. All the while, he sang a song his mother sang, Creator alme siderum:
Creator of the stars of night,
Your people’s everlasting light:
Jesus, Redeemer, save us all,
And hear your servants when they call.
Now, grieving that the ancient curse
Should doom to death a universe,
You heal all men who need your grace
To save and heal a ruined race.
At whose great name, majestic now,
All knees must bend all hearts must bow;
All things in heaven and earth adore,
And own thee King forever more.
To God the Father, God the Son,
And God the Spirit, Three in One.
Praise, honor, might, and glory be
From age to age eternally.
This he chanted as deranged guitarists hoarsely screamed a cruder term for intercourse. They also tried to seduce him by forcing him to watch pornography. He sang to himself, receiving the grace to see without attachment, to love those portrayed all he more in desire for their repentance of sins he abhorred. God showed Bert his soul as a flickering flame in the mirror, through a camera oscura, engulfted but not overcome by demoniac darkness.
Some of the music was sheer mockery, like having him listen to Queen belt out “Galileo” when he himself was in the same position. Seculars teach (falsely) that the Church imprisoned a secular man. Now, secular men imprisoned a man of the Church. The tables had been turned.
Bert felt like a Charles I strolling through the Banquet Hall of Peter Paul Rubens on the way to execution as he heard one hundred times over, “We don’t need no education,” from Pink Floyd, muddled as to whether he should sympathize or take offence to the lyrics.
Anyway, he analyzed the recent history of American strife. Either Hume’s “moral sense” or a genuine belief in a deity compromised the power of established rulers by being a higher law. Society denigrated as relativism, then secularism developed. People in power developed democratic despotism, rule of the majority even when the majority abjured the principles of human nature as crystallized truth in the constitution, accruing in understanding like stalactites that drop like daggers upon the brain and stalagmites that pierce the feet of every moral wayfarer. They might as well have warned him, Violators will be persecuted.
Atheism was a practical refutation as an atheist lives his life in denial of the Divine whilst maintaining an innate recognition of intellectual entities synonymous with that very God (the notion of the good, the true, and the beautiful, love, the transcendence of one’s capacity for emotion). When that occurred, it cleverly permeated the legal system within the restraints of the Constitution. First, they ignored divine Law. Then, they set aside natural law, so that anarchy became law. Ironically, atheism demonized religion while acting as the most pervasive religion of all. It promoted the void of something rather than its presence (nihilistic). It sought sin (emptiness), skepticism (incapacity for attaining wisdom about sin or knowledge about anything), and evil in general (as the devil yearns to generate unacknowledged, as nobody rather than somebody, a lack not a gain, “I am who am not”) and must enforce this not thorough limitation of government in monarchy (as a Catholic mindful of individual conscience would promulgate), but rather excess bureaucracy, one bureaucrat for every 32 people. This was the same proportion of priests to people in medieval Spain, except these were priests of secularism.
Either an atheist believes in morality (an unwitting profession of God), or he refutes it (in which case society crumbles quite speedily). That was the remnant of political dichotomy in the USA. Morality the subconscious in an inkblot, the portrait in the wall of stucco, the heaven or hell depicted by an abstract painting, comprised the blind who pretended to see, leading America to a slow death pro-lifers wished to euthanize. Thus ran Bert’s stream of conscience (not conscious), the treatise of his fecund mind. He resolved this dismal prospect by recollecting that the flux of good and evil in society ebbs and flows like lunar draw on the tides, like the revolution of the harmonious spheres. For every eve there is another morn until time becomes eternal, the everlasting dawn of heaven. At present, society was simply in transition, wading through the Cimmerian lands, lost in twilight.
Wine appeals to the soul by the senses. One tastes its sour sweetness to attain a mild euphoria. God would brew in the ferment of his soul this union of mind and heart, animus and anima, reason and faith, science and art, the endeavors of man presented at the marble altar of the martyr’s relics. Sanctifying grace, attained by prayer and sacrament under God’s will, embodies the only inebriation that procures sobriety.
Chesterton, Bert recalled, wrote that modern thinkers stood on their heads. If one crouches with his crown between his legs, sky-gazing makes him feel as if he will fall off the face of the earth, so petrified he will clutch all the more firmly to the earth than the heavens. Bert experienced this many occasions as a youth. But Bert decided that he would make his jailtime a mortification, penitence in the penitentiary for the sins of his captors.
He kept his father’s reminder foremost in his mind, that the Holy Family dwelt with him in this humble abode of ignominy. He scrawled with a broken piece of pipe in the corner beneath the sink, the material symbol, flowing grace: JMJ.
He smiled to himself. Chesterton and some Jesuit once got at, sinners need saints to survive. If a saint had not stopped the abortion of an abortion advocate, that advocate could not triumph their cause. Some will and must always be good. Per aspera ad astra, through hardship to the stars!
People commonly disregard that which pertains to internal reflection, tossing variability up to differing perceptions. Thence, science is seen as the great equalizer, when in actuality, science, like art, is also just perception. Maupassant, Balzac, Baudelaire, and Proust each reflected in differing ways upon he love that all those in a romance experience, just as 2x+6=10x+13 could be rewritten as -8x=6 – 13 or 2x-10x=-6=13, all in pursuit of the solution: x=-7/8. Even the answer could be rendered as -14/16 or likewise the square root of 49/64i squared, if one does not possess an appetence for the simplest form. Both science and art portray religious truths in foreign forms equally correct. Yet that truth remains immutable, regardless of one’s perception. People say only science can claim objectivity when even science has its subjective properties, as per human nature to be individualistic, to approach the same conclusion in novel ways. Religion is a matter of perception, but no more so than any secular field. Those who naysay this fact only illustrate a practical refutation as they trust their own perception in criticizing this. As the Pope wrote, each of us will enjoy a different view of heaven.
Equally valid solutions, some more refined than others in the commonality of perception, the sanctity of true reason, the faith in imaginary numbers. Bert happened to regard the Catholic Church as the most concise formula, the purest answer, the soundest arithmetic. But he did not deny that others must figure out the problem for themselves with the assistance of the Divine Pedagogue whenever they were mired in the math of life. The seemingly stoic secular scientist espouses that science studies evidence in creation, that faith is mere imagination. But if, as it is said, all creation is your own imagination, the neutral postmodernist (paradoxically metacogitative) would proclaim both faith and reason to be trying to render sense out of a bleak existence.
Every Sunday, Bert found in the shelf near his bed a small piece of bread, really the Body of Christ, the Eucharist. Next door, it was rumored a priest awaited the death penalty in the adjacent cell because he had prevented a man’s suicide and the man had sued him for impeding his rights to death, slavery, and the pursuit of sadness. His face was as ashen as the incense from his censer ages hence. It was Father McMurtry, who had been accosted by the winesacks that one night, one of which was the Coast Guard member Gerard had treated. The officers looked the other way when the priest passed by on his weekly walk to put God on Bert’s shelf. One day, the communion ceased to be on the shelf.
He was in a cathedral. The light of the constellations he had memorized under his father’s tutelage glittered through the roseate stained glass windows of the huge church. In the front right pew his family sat smiling at him. Even Jude. And, of course, Tarcissius. In the other front pew, he recognized Galileo, Brahe, Kepler, Copernicus, Mendel, Pasteur, Pascal, Lejeune, Saint Albertus Magnus, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Joseph Moscati, and Saint Robert Bellarmine, famed supporter of the first of that illustrious catalogue. The priest saying Mass looked vaguely familiar. He was the priest that his father had saved that one night. He was the celebrant of the secret cell Masses for Bert. Father McMurtry.
He had gray hair frumpled over his brow. His congenial face radiated warm wisdom through his blue eyes peering over an aquiline nose. He was stocky in age but his gilt chasuble smoothed his frame. An aureole enveloped his body as he stood at the altar, ad orenz, viewing dawn.
Suddenly, the consecration transpired. As the host was raised, Bert contemplated how accidents change without substance changing; so, too, can substance change without accidents changing. Matter veiled reality as the moon veils the sun in an eclipse. Then, Bert flashed to transposition of an eclipse over the Consecration, such that the searing rays of the sun blinded him past the blackest orb of the moon. As an astronomer, he studied the sun with the help of the Son who created it; not paganism, pantheism, but Catholicism the universality of both matter and spirit as God’s creation. And in the darkness, all was light.
Next, he remembered an old physics teacher of his at the university explaining that an inexperienced chess player may not know about obscure moves like en passant, but it does not mean that the rules are being broken. The universe is God’s chess set, and we do not fully comprehend the meaning of it yet, he had said. We all will in heaven. Out of this daze Bert saw a white board with an elegantly simple equation written. He worked a few derivatives on paper and saw that it was the equation, the one that encapsulated the mysteries of material existence in a mere three characters, uniting the fields of quantum mechanics and Newtonian physics seamlessly. Near the white board, stood the priest of his dream, of his life, evidencing Einstein’s interest in the sacerdotal sect, for their idea of existence aligned with his own with regards to the Eucharist. The deistic God of physics merged with the God of the Sacraments, just as two people who walk west and east will meet on the other side of the globe of understanding, revelation.
Bert awoke in a dizzy furor and scribble all night on toilet paper with blood he derived from his finger by slitting it slightly. He concealed his masterwork in his pocket and hopped back into bed, exhausted.
Bert faintly remembered an apostate’s allusion to Newman, that fit his own predicament: “giving utterance, like the voice of Nature herself, to that pain and weariness yet hope of better things which has been the experience of her children in every time.” Bert saw some of Stephen Dedalus in himself, and for that reason, souls like him were the ones he most yearned to save from the perdition of skepticism. It was his equation for the equilibrium of the hypostatic union translated into everything from the inception of the galaxies to the conception of a child.
The next morning, he tried to hide his exultation until the scheduled visit from his pregnant wife. Head bedraggled and eyes darkly aflame with passion behind the glass pane in the visitation centre, Bert smiled uncontrollably, unceasingly to Mary as he handed her his ream of toilet paper. She glanced quizzically but a discreet glimpse of his intent, unvoiced to evade the authorities, the men not ready to accept the truth as they silenced it when they heard it and imprisoned its exponents. He held hands with her, looking at her eyes bright with unflagging optimism in the understanding that God brings good from evil. They needn’t speak. They just prayed together, conversing with each other’s mutual presence to renew themselves before enduring divorce, “gold to airy thinness beat” “not dull sublunary lovers’ love.” The silence anticipated the quiet conversation of heaven. He spoke three words, to her immediate assent. “Go to Rome.”
She stood abruptly and said she loved him. Mary’s task was twofold: first, she was to support herself and their baby in a milieu free from manipulation at the Vatican Observatory. There, public schools couldn’t convert the tabula rasa, quite the sin-marred palimpcest, of their child’s intellect and will and affections. Second, she was to present an edited and cleanly screed of Bert’s work to the Vicar of Christ on Earth, the Pope, in the only place on earth free from either purely state or purely church, a place where God contacts man until the end of time at His established Rock. She was the only person in the universe capable of either task, a flower on the bank of a raging river.
It was a luminous night. The endlessly stretching void was replete with disparate stars. But for a few light-years away, the universe was empty, a dark abyss like the depths of the sea.
The political climate seethed with the pitch of the dragon’s belly, but ever so often the glint of a dead knight’s armor reminded the new inhabitant that to perish in a world that consumes you with hate is not to die in vain but to be reborn in glory more overwhelming than the stars. Even in Revelation: “They shall no more hunger nor thirst; neither shall the sun fall on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb, which is in the midst of the throne, shall rule them and shall lead them to the fountains of the water of life: and God shall wipe all tears from their eyes.” Every century, saints dot the spectrum of history just as stars in a summer sky.
“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” Material worlds will dissolve but the theology of the inhabitants therein will sustain their immortal souls forever and ever.
This was more than consolation for Bert that very same night, after his wife departed for the Vatican sanctuary. It was infused knowledge. God had deigned to show him the secret formula Pierre-Simon de Laplace (Postman, 76) yearned after:
“A mind that in a given instance knew all the forces by which nature is animate and the position of all the bodies of which it is composed, if it were vast enough to include all these data within his analysis, could embrace in one single formula the movements of the largest bodies of the universe and of the smallest atoms; nothing would be uncertain for him; the future and the past would be equally before his eyes.”
Bert recalled a psalm, a motto for himself incidentally: “The heavens shew forth the glory of God’ and the firmament declareth the work of his hands. Day to day uttereth speech: and night to night sheweth knowledge” (Psalm 18:2). Evil contrasts good in greater relief.
He recalled also, that night on the beach when his family read Genesis: “And God said: Let there be lights made in the firmament of heaven, to divide the day and the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons” (Genesis 1:14). Yes, indeed the sign of the times seemed maleficent; the season, bearing ill-will. But Bert remembered this world is demonic domain, that a new age will ensue in the everlasting epoch of Christ, the King of all Creation.
Apart from family, faith, and nation, he felt like crying, but what tears came as he regarded the silent stars could only arise from joy at a God who loved a man like himself, a speck in time and a grain of sand. The God who supported this firmament preserved his own pulse, too! So tears traversed the visage of this winsome world winner. As the moon and the sun interact, he learned in college, they from an analemma, a geometrical, three-dimensional figure eight. Eight, symbol of the eighth day of creation: heaven. Eight, transversely the sign for God in math: infinity.
He coped with anomie by renouncing Pascal’s lament. He loved his persecutors, his own countrymen, his fellow citizens of the world. He wanted them to know that now, we are blind to the spiritual whilst seeing matter, so why couldn’t there be a next life when we are blind to matter but see the spiritual? If this life is wonderful, the next is even more so, with the nexus of matter and spirit in God. A universe of matter without spirit reflects a world of spirit without matter, for every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
He wept contentedly in quiet stillness. He longed for, nobly pined after, eternal life, perfection of he will and understanding. His equation bore infinity in the smallest spaces, just as God became a babe beneath a compound star that still hovers overhead throughout the sky in dispersed form. God gave him genius that he might sacrifice it by being lowly, humble, hidden, as a hermit in his cell, as a student in his citadel, as all, “Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,/ Should find brief solace there,” he quoted from Wordsworth for his own enlightenment.
If Jesus went to prison, so could he. He felt His presence, in fact. He felt that no matter what happened, he would come to regard God in that Eternal Morning when tribulations of the night cease, when God allows the clock to stop, when Bert would be a child again nevermore to grow up, when he would obey unceasingly, please God easily, and bask in the saturating, titillating, scintillating warmth of a God who loves those who become small, meek, good, beautiful, and true for Him, like Him, when: “They shall see the Lord face to face and bear his name on their foreheads. The night shall be no more. They will need no light from lamps or the sun, for the Lord god shall give them light, and they shall reign forever.”