Friday, 21 May 2010
Father Ignatius really didn’t like visiting the nearby City, especially by car. So when he had to go for a Conference called by the Bishops at the Cathedral he took the train and then a taxi to the Cathedral.
The Conference itself was somewhat long and tedious with many people too fond of their voice and ready to hear it pronouncing pearls of wisdom ad infinitum. Father Ignatius took notes in order to report back to his Bishop when he returned to his Parish at St Vincent Church.
When the Conference was over Father Ignatius stood by an empty taxi stand and waited for a cab to arrive.
Within a minute or so a large black car parked by him and two burly men came out from the back seat.
“Would you please get in the car Father?” said one of them.
The priest hesitated, “This is not a taxi …” he mumbled, “Who are you?”
“Let’s not make a scene in public …” continued one of the men politely, “please get in the car … here’s something to show our good intentions …” and the man put his hand in his jacket inside pocket and pulled out a bunch of notes; “there’s £200 here as a down payment … now get in the car.” And handing the money to the priest the two men eased him gently but forcibly into the car and sat one on each side of him; whilst the driver moved away quickly.
Still clutching the money Father Ignatius said, “What’s going on here … what do you want with me?”
“Relax Father … just cooperate with us for a while and all will be OK … put our little donation in your pocket and we’ll give you another £200 when this is all over … now if you don’t mind; I have to put this over your head. Just as a precaution you understand. It won’t hurt I assure you.”
The man put a hood gently over the priest’s head and tightened it round his neck to ensure he couldn’t see.
“We won’t hurt you Father …” he continued gently, “you have my word, now please relax.”
Father Ignatius had no choice but to sit there between the two giants whilst the car hurried in city traffic. At one stage the car stopped for a while, possibly at traffic lights, and the priest heard the sound of a church clock beating two quarters “it must be half past five” he thought to himself.
He tried to concentrate and listen carefully, but, not being familiar with the city, any sounds he heard meant nothing to him. However, he tried to recollect them in the order that they were heard; and he counted slowly in-between sounds to record the passage of time.
“We stopped for a few minutes at half past five … then we drove until I counted about one hundred, then I heard the sound of an ambulance or police car, then I counted to two hundred and twelve when I heard the sound of a passing train …” and so on went his thoughts.
The car must have joined a motorway or highway at some point or other because the priest heard nothing specific and felt the car pick up speed. This lasted for a long while when eventually he felt the car slow down as it drove over gravel for a bit and then stop. He then heard the sound of two barking dogs nearby. They must have been big dogs by the sound of it … Alsatians or Dobermans perhaps.
He was led by his guards holding him by each arm over the gravel for a short distance, then up two or three stairs and into a building. There they stopped and took off his hood.
It took him a few seconds to adjust his eyes and see that he was in a splendid large hall of some luxurious building. There were magnificent paintings on the walls and beautiful chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. He was surrounded by several large marble statues and ornaments.
With both his bodyguards on each side he waited there whilst another man dressed in a black suit came out of one of the rooms on his left.
“This is not Father Bernard Breally,” said the man approaching him, “who the hell are you?”
“I’m Father Ignatius …” replied the priest feebly.
“Are you Catholic?”
“I suppose you’ll do … one priest is as good as another … what happened to Breally?” he asked the two burly men.
“This was the only priest standing by the taxi place … you told us to get the priest waiting for a cab and this is him …” replied one of the men apologetically.
“OK … take him over there.
“Father would you please mind waiting in that room and make yourself at home. You are not a prisoner here … just our guest for a moment or two … Help yourself to tea or coffee and biscuits; there’s a drinks cabinet in there too if you wish to have something stronger. There’s a rest room in case you wish to freshen up.
“And please … don’t even think of escaping through the windows … the dogs out there would tear you to pieces in seconds.
“I’ll be with you shortly.”
Father Ignatius was led to a side room as richly decorated as the hall he’d just been in. He was left there alone for about twenty minutes or so, where he sat in a comfortable luxurious sofa and prayed silently.
Eventually the man who greeted him on arrival returned and asked him to follow him. He was led up the stairs of this palatial mansion and into one of the rooms.
It was a spacious bedroom as richly decorated as the rest of the house. In bed was a pale looking man sitting up surrounded by a few people. There was a young lady in a nurse’s uniform and another middle-aged woman. Two other strong men stood guard by the door.
“Leave us alone …” said the elderly man.
Everyone left the room silently and closed the door behind them.
“Come over here and sit down Father …” said the man.
The priest approached the bedside and sat in a chair nearby.
“I’m sorry to have disturbed you Father … I needed to see Father Breally but my idiots got the wrong man. They tell me you’re Catholic … so you’ll do I suppose. Do you know Breally?”
“No … I don’t …”
“Well never mind … he’s a priest I knew long ago … I’ve known him since we were Altar boys together. Then as we grew up I got into the wrong company whilst he decided to become a priest. Many a time he warned me not to break the law … to leave my gang and get a good job …” the man chuckled quietly and wiped his mouth with a handkerchief he was holding.
“Do you think if I followed Breally’s advice I’d have this mansion and all my riches? I bet he is as poor as a church mouse …
“I haven’t seen him in years. I was led to believe that he’d be at the Conference and that he’d wait by the taxi stand … instead my men got you.
“So you’ll do I suppose … I need a favor from you!”
“What is it that you need?” asked Father Ignatius gently.
“I’m fifty-nine and I’m very ill. The doctor who was standing here doesn’t think much of my chances … I want you to forgive my sins and prepare me for Heaven …”
“I don’t understand … why all this secrecy and why did you have me brought here?” asked Father Ignatius gaining a little confidence.
“Do you know who I am?”
“No I don’t … I don’t even know where I am … your men blind-folded me in the car …”
“I’m sorry for that,” interrupted the man, and then after a short silence went on, “it doesn’t matter who I am …
“Suffice it to say that I don’t have a glorious past, but I guess you’ve already worked that out … I haven’t always been what you’d call a good Christian … not since the Altar boy days … ” he chuckled again reminiscing on his childhood.
“Don’t get me wrong Father … Ignatius is it?”
The priest nodded silently.
“Don’t get me wrong Father Ignatius, I’ve never done anything really bad myself you understand … but I’ve often asked my boys to do certain things for me … I’m sure you understand what it’s like.
“Sometimes in my line of business you need to be a little forceful in order to be respected by your peers …”
The priest said nothing and waited for the man to continue.
“So there you have it … will you forgive an old gangster and get him to Heaven?”
“It’s not as easy as that,” replied Father Ignatius.
“What do you mean? My boys gave you a handsome donation which we’ll supplement with another one when you leave. What else do you want?”
“Confession is not bought with money …” said Father Ignatius still holding his gentle yet firm tone of voice, “you may well confess your past sins and I may well absolve you of them … but that in itself is no guarantee to entry in Heaven.”
“When I was an Altar boy I was told that a priest can forgive your sins and all is well again with God. That’s what Jesus said to His disciples to do …” protested the man sitting up.
“Yes … that’s true. But with Confession there should be true repentance and regret for what we have done. It is no point just confessing one’s sins and hoping that all is well.
“God is not an insurance policy. Providing we pay our premiums by way of Confession, Communion and attending Mass every now and then; our place in Heaven is guaranteed.
“It just doesn’t work like that …
“Tell me something …” continued Father Ignatius gaining confidence all the time, “suppose you were one of the victims of the many things you claim to have done … how would you feel if you knew that the person who committed such crimes against you suddenly said sorry on his death bed, recited a prayer or two as a penance and got entry into Heaven?”
“What else can I do? My crimes are done and gone … I can hardly turn the clock back … You’ve got to help me Father … that’s what you priests are here for isn’t it?” pleaded the man his hand shaking a little.
“I will pray for you … and I will absolve your sins by the power given to me by our Lord Jesus …” said Father Ignatius.
“But I will not give you a penance … this is not a matter of asking you to say a Hail Mary and all will be well again …
“I’ve never been in such a situation before … and they never taught us what is an appropriate penance in these circumstances …” Father Ignatius bit his lip, thinking he’d probably overstepped the mark.
The man laughed heartily.
“A priest with a sense of humor … I like that …” he said after a short pause.
Father Ignatius continued.
“I will leave the matter of final absolution in the hands of God, since only He knows your heart, your intentions and your genuine repentance.
“I will also leave the money your men gave me right here … the Lord’s absolution is not for sale … it is given freely by Him alone.”
Father Ignatius heard the man’s Confession and prayed with him for a while. He was then driven back, hooded once again, to the city and dropped at the railway station where he caught a train home.
Weeks later he read in the newspaper that the man had died. The papers had his picture, which Father Ignatius recognized, and they named him as an infamous gangster who terrorized the city for many years. The papers also said that he had left large sums of money in his Will to various charities and Christian churches.